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The Nose

Volume Two

Posted 4/11/2001

The Nose thought we'd heard the last of Charles Villager Jane Shipley in 1997, when a judge threw out a suit filed by her and others challenging the Enoch Pratt Free Library's decision to close the St. Paul Street branch. But the activists' efforts led to the creation of the Village Learning Place, a lending library and tutoring center on the old Pratt site, and Shipley hung up her gloves and returned to her life as a Johns Hopkins University writer/editor and mom.

Until this past March 7, that is, when Pratt director Carla Hayden announced the planned closure of five to 10 more branches, a move Pratt officials attribute to budget cuts and an anticipated decline in its revenues. Within days Shipley was marshaling her forces and filling the Nose's e-mail box with updates and calls to action. Same Shipley, new weapons.

Last time around, Shipley spent hours in the Pratt Central Library's Maryland Room, studying state law and combing the system's bylaws for legal and PR ammo. This time, she's augmenting racks and stacks, with bytes and sites, combing online news databases and other Internet stores of public documents for information she'll use to make the case against shuttering neighborhood libraries in a series of upcoming public meetings on the Pratt's future, and spreading the word via a rapidly growing e-mail network.

Shipley started out simply by notifying folks she thought would be interested with a March 7 "Dear friends" missive. From there, she quickly developed an extensive list of like-minded souls, many of whom forwarded her messages. More people and groups signed on to Shipley's list, including the local chapter of the national activist coalition ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), which is best known for its work on housing issues. On April 2, she created a list-serv--save-libraries-info@yahoogroups.com--to broaden her reach, and she and her allies are working on a Web site (www.savelibraries.org).

If Shipley's strategy has become more sophisticated, her motivation remains down-to-earth and her emotional stake comes through clearly even in a famously cool communication medium. Growing up in Pigtown, she wrote in a recent e-mail, "we used the Mount Clare library. I remember learning to write my name so that I could get my first library card. . . . In January 1960, when I was 10 years old . . . [the] Pratt closed our library with no warning or explanation." Twice in the next few years, her family switched to other branches in outlying neighborhoods, only to see them close as well.

"I work on this issue because I have been a victim of branch closures," she continued, "and I don't want another child to lose a library, especially a child who won't be as lucky as I was and will, thereby, lose library service entirely."

Public meetings on the ³Future of the Enoch Pratt Free Library² are scheduled for April 12 at the Brooklyn Branch, 300 E. Patapsco Ave.; April 18 at the Reisterstown Road Branch, 6310 Reisterstown Road; and April 19 at the Patterson Park Branch, 158 N. Linwood Ave. All the meetings are from 6 to 8 p.m.

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