Carla D. Hayden, the executive director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, recently spoke at The Sun with Richard C. Gross, the editor of the Opinion Commentary Page. The discussion focused largely on future plans for library services to Baltimore.
You have been Pratt's executive director for seven years and Pratt's resources have been dwindling during that time. How frustrated are you by that?
It has been frustrating in one sense because I know what the Pratt Library can do for this city and what it has done. So to see the conditions of the city deteriorate and then how that's reflected in the library has been frustrating. It's not just the library, though. It's the city itself, and I think coming from another city that's thriving now, it's sad.
You mean Chicago?
Yes, there were times in Chicago when things didn't look as good and the late '60s when they had gangs and there were gang wars. I've seen how cities can turn around, and so I'm optimistic in that sense. But it is frustrating because it's hard I can see the horizon.
How far is that?
I'd say five to 10 years. I'd say that in five years ... some of the vacant properties [will be] torn down. There are upswings. You've got all the sports things happening. It may seem incidental, but Chicago really benefited from the Bulls and that whole championship thing -- [the] champion mentality and what was going on with that and having a winning team.
So if the Ravens keep winning, it's going to be good for the library?
It's going to help the city. What the people don't think about sometimes is that we're just a part of the city.
You're planning to close five of 26 neighborhood branches and you plan to open a regional branch in Highlandtown. Are regional libraries the future for Pratt?
It's part of the future to have that mid-range facility. We want, and we are committed to, and we'll have neighborhood libraries ... and we'll have a few regional libraries and we'll have a strong central library. So it's like a pyramid when you look at it: the neighborhood library, regionals and then the central library.
How many regional libraries do you foresee?
Maybe two, possibly three -- in the next five to 10 years.
And will you stay at 21 neighborhood branches?
We're committed to doing that right now and we need to look at how that will relate to the regionals as well. Because we need to not only have those 21 but we need to do something with them. We need to expand them, we need to strengthen them.
Chicago is making libraries into community centers. Is that something that can be done in Baltimore?
Yes, and you have to have the physical size to do it. Our largest branch is only 14,000 square feet -- the Pennsylvania Avenue branch.
Compared with what size for a community center in Chicago?
Twenty-five thousand to 30,000 square feet.
Double the size.
Yes. You can have more things in it when you have more room.
And more money.
That, too. Most of our branches are 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. You have a children's section, an adult section and a meeting room. That's it. It doesn't leave you much room for other functions.
Because we're going to have books for the next 20 to 25 years, they are still going to be a major part of what is going to be in libraries and bookstores. Then we have to have room for the computer terminals and then you need some space for programming. So that's one of the major impediments -- that we have to be so multipurpose. We're small. We've got one of the smallest physical systems in any city.
Does all the heat that's been generated about the library closings mean that people care?
Yes, we're front-page news. That's good. It's not often that the library gets to be front-page news. People care about it, they're concerned about it, and I think that's a good sign.
Is that something that can generate fund raising or interest among the foundations to help?
I think so, and also interest from the communities about getting a dedicated tax or working to make sure that we have stable funding. I've heard that talk, and I think that that's going to happen.