Activists renew cherished library; Charles Village: Neighbors perform a little miracle on St. Paul Street, chasing the city blues away.


I WAS GROWING more than a little depressed about my view of old Baltimore this week. For starters, two blocks of St. Paul Street not far from my home were bound up in police tape because of a shooting near Lafayette Avenue.

Earlier that morning I left my house to find three Northern District police officers emerging from my side yard. They were chasing down a tip that a prowler was afoot in the neighborhood -- this several weeks after the arrest of the neighborhood burglar, apprehended three doors north of my front door.

I was still afflicted with a case of city blues when I started off to work on foot yesterday and spotted a group of workmen around the former Pratt Library branch on St. Paul Street near 25th.

It was the library branch where I was taken as a child to check out my summer reading books. It was the place where I learned there were books other than the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and school texts. It's a spot that registers an emotional response.

The Pratt's trustees closed this little neighborhood branch a few years ago -- an action that annoyed me more than my own recent home burglary. It's not easy to re-establish a place of learning that had been doing business in the same spot for 100 years.

The workmen welcomed me into the former Pratt branch, now being made into something called the Village Learning Place. I walked around the alley and saw a trim new addition. This miniature add-on sports a real slate roof and copper flashing. New windows are going in. There's fresh paint on the place too. I saw evidence of a new furnace and plumbing systems. I'm told a new circulation desk is on its way.

The idea is to have a new neighborhood-based library, with shelves stocked with decent books and after-school programs.

The credit for this little miracle must go to my neighbors, who obviously believe that it's better to stay the course, think positively and rebuild than to damn and curse budget-chopping trustees.

Credit also must go to the city's private foundations that put their dollars behind the philosophy of reading and learning -- even if it's in a small structure that by all accounts was outmoded, inefficient and worn out.

As I walked down the stretch of St. Paul Street where the police cars swarmed a few nights previous, I was now in a better mood. We don't have to throw in the towel. Sometimes it's better to stay, rebuild and do the right thing.

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