FINALIST: Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, MD

"Your journey starts here"

The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore is more than a library these days. It’s a social worker, it’s legal aid, it’s whatever the community needs, a place where lives are changed.

Named a Finalist Because: This library is going way beyond the call of duty to bring light into the lives of the citizens of Baltimore, a city struggling with violence.

From the Editors: In 2018, when you’re infinitely more likely to Google something you don’t know than you are to go to the library to look it up, libraries have adapted, and none better than the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Already a beloved institution in a city ravaged by some of the highest rates of violent crime in the nation, the system’s historic downtown Central Library and its 21 branches have become havens and providers of critical community services.

As our nominator shared: “If you go around Baltimore, nearly everyone has a Pratt story. This year the Social Worker in the Library program was launched to help connect people to the social services they need without ever having to leave the library. One social worker was able to help a gentleman begin to learn how to read. He stood up during a group session and told everyone that he was able to pay a bill on time because he could read what the bill said. He then proceeded to read aloud from a children’s book. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. These stories happen every day inside the Pratt.”

The Power of Libraries is an award for libraries bringing change to their communities, and Pratt just won for its Mobile Job Center. It’s a modern twist on the old book mobile: a bus that travels the city offering the same kind of job-seeking assistance you can find at branches—computer terminals, dedicated staff, and other resources to help people find opportunities that match their skills.

Now folks across the city can get the kind of help Thomas Higdon told Reader’s Digest he received at Enoch Pratt when he needed it most.

“Years ago, when I was homeless, I spent most days at the Pratt tweaking my résumé and applying for jobs,” he said. “I would take breaks from the job hunt and just read whatever looked interesting. It was such a wonderful place to spend the day. It helped me maintain my dignity and sanity until I got back on my feet.”

If this doesn’t sound like a library to you, don’t worry—you can still check out books at Enoch Pratt. But as of this year, if you’re late in returning them, you won’t have to pay a fine. Now that’s nice.

— The Editors

The main branch of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library. (Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library)

The Enoch Pratt Free Library is a haven in the city of Baltimore. With 22 locations across the city, the library provides vital services, information, and opportunities to all. Where else can a homeless person, a mother with a child, a business executive, or the mayor walk in and all be treated equally? The Pratt is a place where civil discourse happens. Librarians are trusted by the community and turned to for help. The Pratt helps people be their best selves.

Stories About Enoch Pratt Free Library

If you go around Baltimore, nearly everyone has a Pratt story, as it’s opened up doors for the community. This year, Social Worker in the Library was launched to help connect people to the social services they need without ever having to leave the library. One of the social workers was able to help a gentlemen begin to learn how to read. He stood up during a group session and told everyone for the first time that he was able to pay a bill on time because he could read what the bill said. He then proceeded to read aloud from a children’s story book. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Another program that’s expanding at the Pratt is Lawyer in the Library. Attorneys provide free legal aid to community members for things like expungements. One woman came in with her young daughter and was shocked to realize in a short time she could have her record expunged, which would open up employment opportunities she’d never had before. She looked at her daughter and said, “Today you have a new mommy.” These stories happen every day inside the Pratt Library.

Testimonials

“Enoch Pratt Library is an anchor institution in a profound way. This community treasure and its 22 branches circle and embrace the city as a mother embraces her child. The library provides the opportunity to learn about your interests, and a safe space to explore and exhale. It is also a hub for community members and service providers who want to assist their village in moving forward. The collaboration between Enoch Pratt Library and the University of Maryland School of Social Work is innovative and impactful. It’s what a good neighbor does when community members are in need. As the Faculty Clinical Instructor for this collaboration, I oversee eight graduate students who provide direct services to patrons in four branches across the city. They don’t need an appointment and receive the services on site at the library. Completion of forms, aid with workforce development, or homeless assistance are a few of the services rendered. Over 500 individuals have reached out in some form to access these services. While there are many libraries that are starting to bring on social workers, Pratt is the only library providing direct services in multiple branches. This community gem is interested in being a good neighbor and has extended these services free of charge. Immediate plans for expansion are in progress. Enoch Pratt is a true Baltimore treasure and an awesome neighbor indeed.” — Kimberly Street, Clinical Field Instructor, University of Maryland, School of Social Work

“Enoch Pratt Free Library has been my refuge and escape ever since I came to the U.S. at age 17. I had no friends and had not established ties to a new neighborhood. However, after school, I would go there and just find a sense of peace, purpose, and quietness. Developing a love for books inspired me to write, and when I authored my first book, I was selected to come back for a Writers LIVE lecture and book signing. The opportunity granted to me will be forever cherished. There’s nothing quite like Enoch Pratt.” — Devon Blackwood, Author

“There were two churches in my youth: Dickey Memorial Presbyterian and the Enoch Pratt’s Central Library. The difference is that I still go to the Central Library. I don’t know who I would be without the Pratt, and I don’t want to know.” — Laura Lippman, Author

Using the technology at Enoch Pratt. (Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library)
One of the littlest library card holders. (Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library)
More kids at the library. (Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library)
Libraries make laughter. (Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library)