This is a love song to libraries, one in particular.
Last week, Al Jazeera aired a documentary on the aftermath of the April riots in Baltimore. Its focus, people working hard to save the city. Revealingly, it featured no politicians.
But one of the organizations it did highlight was the branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library at the corner of North and Pennsylvania Avenues, the corner that the media dubbed “the epicenter” of the rioting. The infamous burned CVS stood in the same intersection. And while a store was burning, while CNN and MSNBC were reporting that Baltimore was on fire, a library stayed open. While a mayor dithered and sought someone to blame, a library stayed open. While looters pillaged the very stores that served their neighborhoods, a library stayed open.
In a forlorn neighborhood where hope was in short supply, a beacon flickered that represented hope, and caring, and a future.
My own love affair with the Enoch Pratt and its books started many years ago, when my father “exaggerated” my age so that I could get my own library card before I was five years old. I used the Central Library then; it had not only its own Children’s Department, but its own entrance on Park Avenue. Later, while at Grace and St. Peter’s School, my daughter would experience those same delights, including the special entrance.
In high school, I discovered Thomas Wolfe at the Edmonson Avenue Branch, and faked a three-day virus to read Look Homeward, Angel. Years later, my love and I sat in the Towson Branch writing our wedding vows. Most recently, the staff of the wonderful Maryland Room in the Central Library provided not only information, but a sense of belonging as I researched my book.
I left Baltimore years ago, though I go back for research trips. But even if there were no book, even if I never get back to Baltimore, the Pratt Library will stay in my heart. For while the city was burning, the library stayed open.
Spoiler alert: Shameless Self-Promotion Ahead: The Enoch Pratt Library is featured prominently in my historical novel, Another Sunday. It will be available later this fall.