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Drive aims for 50,000 books for city schools; Volunteer group's effort will end with 'serv-a-thon' in April


Baltimore's major volunteer organization announced a drive yesterday to collect 25,000 new and 25,000 "gently used" books to fill the barren shelves of city school libraries.

The drive will end with a "serv-a-thon" April 17, when volunteers will spend the day helping to sort and catalog the books, said Jennifer Wittman, executive director of Hands On Baltimore, the city's "volunteer central."

Twenty-seven of the city's neediest school libraries, serving about 15,000 pupils, will receive the new books, Wittman said.

At a news conference at Harford Heights Elementary School to announce the drive, Wittman's organization received a ribbon-wrapped stack of children's books from the Sylvan Learning Foundation.

"Ours is a small foundation, and we have been picking our causes selectively," said Douglas Becker, president and co-chief executive officer of the Baltimore-based Sylvan Learning Systems. "But no cause is more important than literacy."

Becker said he hoped as many as 1,000 Sylvan employees would volunteer for the April 17 event. Other participants are Cellular-One, the William G. Baker Fund, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, the Daily Record and The Sun's Reading By 9 campaign.

Contributors of new books can refer to a list of more than 300 on the Hands On Baltimore Web site (www.handsonbaltimore.org) or visit an outlet of Barnes & Noble Booksellers, another partner in the drive.

Books also can be left at collection sites of Baltimore Reads, the city's major literacy organization, which has collected 450,000 books since 1992.

Maggie G. Gaines, Baltimore Reads' executive director, said her group will hold its annual "Books for Kids Day" at the Poly-Western complex on West Cold Spring Lane on March 27. Books collected in that drive will go to the homes of low-income children.

Robert Booker, city schools chief executive officer, said teachers told him at a meeting Tuesday that some libraries hadn't received new books since mid-century. City school libraries have an average of 8.5 books for each pupil, he said, well under the state standard of 20.

Asked why the city had to depend on voluntary book drives to stock libraries, Booker said, "We just don't have the resources. We have a backlog of $600 million in needs, including new roofs, heating systems and textbooks."

To organize a book drive or volunteer for the "serv-a-thon," call 410-547-8810.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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