New library continues 'Year of the Pratt'

The Baltimore Sun

With a high school across the street, a college to the west and a medical center to the east, the theme for Baltimore's second new library branch to open this year is clear.

"This is really going to be our education branch," Carla D. Hayden, executive director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system, said yesterday. "It's going to be like a little campus around here, an urban campus. Our collection reflects that."

Visitors will get their first peek at the new library - which is in the 1300 block of Orleans St. and cost $4.5 million - when it opens today. The 15,000-square-foot building will house 18,000 books, magazines, newspapers, audio books and DVDs. It will also offer free Internet access from 16 computer stations, as well as two meeting rooms, one of which can accommodate up to 200 people.

The library also has a children's story room and an area in which teenagers can congregate. It offers a computer training room with 25 monitors, wireless Internet access and six-week computer classes.

Its grand opening continues a revitalization of the city's library system, which before this year hadn't opened a new branch in 35 years. Six years ago, the system closed five branches, and two others were shut down in the late 1990s.

Library officials are calling 2007 "The Year of the Pratt" and say they hope that the new libraries will invigorate their surrounding neighborhoods. In May, Southeast Anchor Library, a 27,000-square-foot facility, opened in Highlandtown.

"We hope people will see state-of-the-art new libraries in this city and will want more. We hadn't had a new library since 1970, and a lot has happened since then," Hayden said.

The Orleans Street branch is across the street from Paul Laurence Dunbar High and is also near Sojourner-Douglass College. The new library, funded entirely by Johns Hopkins Medicine as part of a project that began five years ago, replaces the area's old library, which was on the corner of Broadway and Orleans Street, facing the 53-acre medical campus.

The library's relocation is part of a land exchange between the city and Hopkins, which is playing a key role in a huge redevelopment project in East Baltimore. That project includes the makeover of blocks of decaying rowhouses and the creation of a biotechnology park.

Pratt officials said they expect to see some Hopkins students at the new library but believe that most visitors will come from the high school and Soujourner-Douglass College.

"We know that they're all going to use the computers quite a bit because a lot of the kids might not have computers at home," Hayden said.

Curiosity might also drive a number of visitors to the building: a portion of an outside wall is painted many different bright hues.

Inside, nearly everything is computerized, including registration for public computer classes, which are scheduled to begin next month. There is already a waiting list for the classes, officials said yesterday. The area for teenagers is stocked with the latest manga books - Japanese comics that are popular with youths.

Even the library's furniture is modern, with some tables and chairs sized to accommodate 2-year-olds.

In the children's reading room, there is a large rug that could double as a Twister mat.

"This isn't your grandmother's library," Hayden said.

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