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“My library shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color, who, when properly accredited, can take out the books if they will handle them carefully and return them.”

— Enoch Pratt
The Beginning

19th Century

1882
Enoch pratt

On January 21, Baltimore businessman Enoch Pratt offered a gift to the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore of a Central library, four branch libraries, and an endowment of $1,058,333.00.

"My library," Mr. Pratt is attributed to have said, "shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color, who, when properly accredited, can take out the books if they will handle them carefully and return them." Later that year, the City of Baltimore accepted Pratt's gift. Baltimore citizens voted their approval on October 25, 1882.

The Board of Trustees would organize in 1883 with Enoch Pratt as President.

1884
Lewis steiner

November: The Board of Trustees chose Lewis H. Steiner to be the first Librarian (i.e., Director) of the Pratt Library.

1885

February 25: The Pratt Library purchased its first books, and Assistant Librarian Charles Evans began to catalog them.

1886
Central ibrary exterior 1886

January 5: The Central Library branch opened. Within the next three months the Pratt Library would open four additional branches throughout the city of Baltimore. Notably, the Central Library building had an open floor plan and no steps leading to the door, allowing for easy access to the Library.

October 15: The Pratt Library issued a library card to Harry S. Cummings, the first African American to get a Pratt Library card.

1892

Bernard C. Steiner was appointed Director, replacing his father, the late Lewis H. Steiner.

A New Era

20th Century

1904
Central library public card catalog

The Central Library created a public card catalog. Replacing the printed Finding List, the card catalog was placed in the registration room at Central Library.

1905

The Pratt Library secured a donation of $500,000 from Andrew Carnegie to build 20 new library branches.

1923

Central Library established a "Consultation Desk," which would later become the Information Services Department.

1926

Joseph L. Wheeler was appointed as Director of the Pratt Library, replacing the late Bernard C. Steiner. Wheeler led a transformation in many of the Pratt Library's services and operations, including placing reference books and popular titles on open book shelves.

1927
Childrens services storytime

May 3: Baltimore voters approved (by a margin of almost 3 to 1!) a $3 million loan to build a new Central Library building.

Children's Services (now the Children’s Department) began at the Pratt Library, when Director Joseph Wheeler appointed Mary S. Wilkinson as Director of Work with Children.

1930-1933
Central library exterior construction

The Pratt Library staff, services, and 400,000 volumes vacated the old Central Library while construction on the new Central Library began in June 1931.

The Pratt Library formed specialized subject departments before occupying the new building:

  • Education, Philosophy, and Religion
  • Civics and Sociology
  • Business and Economics
  • Industry and Science (formerly called Technology)
  • General Reference (later called General Information Department)
  • History, Travel, and Biography
  • Literature
  • Popular Library (later called Fiction)
1932
Central library young adults

The Pratt Library began providing services specifically for young adults, hiring Margaret Alexander (later Margaret A. Edwards).

1943
Pratt library book buggy

The Library began a horse-drawn book wagon service.

1941-1945

During World War II, the Pratt Library's goal was to "make books more useful to win the war." The Brooklyn Branch became an information bureau for Civil Defense, a headquarters for Red Cross and air raid warden meetings, and it operated a day-care center for working mothers. The Central Library's sub-basement was designated as an air-raid shelter.

1942-1956
Hl mencken room

Baltimore author H. L. Mencken deposited his scrapbooks and papers at the Pratt Library. The H.L. Mencken Collection opens to the public once every year, on the Saturday closest to Mencken's birthday (September 12).

1945

April 6: Emerson Greenaway succeeded Joseph L. Wheeler as the Pratt Library's Director.

1949
Pratt library bookmobile

The Pratt Library's first bookmobile began to make rounds, bringing a collection of 9,000 books to neighborhoods of Baltimore. An immediate success, it circulated more than 132,000 books in its first year. The Bookmobile still makes scheduled stops in Baltimore neighborhoods today.

1951

Amy Winslow replaced Emerson Greenaway as Director of the Pratt Library, becoming the first woman to take on the position.

1957

Arthur H. Parsons became Director of the Pratt Library, following Amy Winslow's retirement.

1950s-1970s
Library loan campaign

Baltimore voters approved a series of bond issues that allowed the Pratt Library to examine, redistribute, and improve its branch services, including opening several new branches.

1960

July 1: Edwin Castagna became the new Director of the Pratt Library, replacing the late Arthur H. Parsons.

1964

February 11: President Lyndon Johnson signed the Library Service and Construction Act into law, which, along with other Great Society programs, provided funding for many of the Pratt Library's initiatives in the late 20th century.

1965
Central library reference department

The Central Library reorganized 6 of its subject departments.

  • The Business and Economics Department and the Industry and Science Department merged to form the current Business, Science, and Technology Department.
  • The Education, Religion, and Philosophy Department, the Civics and Sociology Department, and the History, Travel, and Biography Department combined to form the current Social Science and History Department and the Humanities Department.
1967

October 2: Telephone Reference opened, and is still in service today.

1969

The Pratt Library's Board of Trustees appointed Kenneth O. Wilson to the Board. Wilson, the first African American appointed to the Board, was Vice-President in charge of Advertising for the Baltimore Afro-American.

1971

The Maryland General Assembly designated the Pratt Central Library as the State Library Resource Center (SLRC) for Maryland.

1974
Young adult reading room

July 14: Ernest Siegel became the new Director of the Pratt Library, replacing Edwin Castagna, who retired after nearly 15 years as Director.

The Pratt Library got its first online database subscription, the New York Times Information Bank. The Pratt Library was the first library in the country to subscribe.

1981

Assistant Director Anna Curry became the first African-American Director of the Pratt Library.

1982

The Pratt Library ordered its first microcomputer hardware. The computer's name, "EPIC" ("Enoch Pratt Information Counselor"), came as a result of a staff "Name the Computer" contest.

1993

Dr. Carla Hayden, formerly First Deputy Commissioner and Chief Librarian of the Chicago Public Library, became the Pratt Library's tenth Director.

1994

June: Maryland was the first state in the U.S. to offer statewide Internet service to its residents with the introduction of SAILOR, Maryland's Online Public Information Network. The SAILOR Operations Center is housed in the Pratt Central Library/SLRC.

July: the Pratt Library was the first public library in Maryland to offer Internet access to customers.

The Pratt Library's first Web page went live.

1995

The Pratt Library's Director Dr. Carla Hayden was named Library Journal's Librarian of the Year.

1998

The Pratt Library won a $240,000 Urban Library Leadership Grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant enabled the Library to establish a Center for Technology Training at its Broadway Branch. Today, the Center's free classes teach Baltimoreans how to use the Internet, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel.

Summer: Compass, the Pratt Library's bimonthly newsletter of events, published its first edition.

Present Day

21st Century

2001

Eddie and Sylvia Brown donated $1 million to the Library for the Eddie and Sylvia Brown African American Collection.

The Pratt Library’s Web site displayed its first digital exhibit - The Cator Collection of Baltimore Views.

November 14: The Library launched a Book Buggy. This bookmobile service travels to Head Start centers with books, computers and educational materials to promote reading readiness among preschoolers.

2002

April 17: The Pratt Library held groundbreaking ceremonies for the Central Library/SLRC's new annex expansion.

May: The Pratt Library's Director Dr. Carla Hayden was elected President of the American Library Association for 2003-2004.

2003

The Pratt Library received the Exemplary Digital Reference Services Award at the Virtual Reference Desk Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

November 3: Grand opening ceremonies were held for the new annex to the Central Library/SLRC, home to the African American Department, Maryland Department, H. L. Mencken Room, Special Collections and Public Computing Center.

2004

March: The Pratt Library received an anonymous donation of $1 million restricted for use in its 21 branch libraries.

March: The Pratt Library received a gift of $250,000 from the Middendorf Foundation to help maintain the excellence of the Library’s Maryland Department.

2005

September: The Pratt Library unveiled its First Card, a new library card for children ages 6 and under.

2007

February 26: The Pratt Library’s redesigned website became available at www.prattlibrary.org.

2016
Carla hayden president obama

February: President Barack Obama nominates Dr. Carla Hayden as the next Librarian of Congress.

June: A groundbreaking ceremony is held for the historic $115 million renovation of the Central Library.

July: Dr. Carla Hayden confirmed as the 14th Librarian of Congress. Dr. Hayden is the first woman and the first African American to serve in the role.

2017
Heidi daniel

April: Heidi Daniel, formerly Executive Director of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County in Ohio, is named the eleventh President & CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

2019
Central library grand reopening

September 14: Pratt Central Library Reopens after an historic $115 million renovation. The renovation expanded the Teen Center with a state-of-the-art audio and video recording studio and restored the iconic Central Hall, as well as the Children’s Library and Wheeler Auditorium.

More History

Who was Enoch Pratt? Enoch Pratt was born in North Middleborough, Massachusetts, the son of farmers, Issac Pratt and Naomi Keith
Learn More
Location History Learn about the history of Enoch Pratt Library locations throughout the city of Baltimore.
Learn More