About The Library

History of the Library

The Enoch Pratt Free Library is one of the oldest free public library systems in the United States. How did it get started, what has it accomplished, and whom has it influenced over the years? The following chronology lists the major events in the 120-year history of Every Person's Favorite Library.

Who is Enoch Pratt? - More information on the life and philanthropy of the Pratt Library's founder.

Highlights of Pratt Library's History:

1882-1926: The Beginnings


Enoch Pratt

January 21: 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. The General Assembly of the State of Maryland enacted a law to accept this gift and establish a Board of Trustees.

Baltimore citizens voted their approval on October 25, 1882.


Old Central Library

The Pratt Library's Board of Trustees organized with Enoch Pratt as President.


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


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


January 5: The Central Library on Mulberry Street opened.

Within the next three months, the Pratt Library would open:

Cummings Library Card
  • Branch 4 (at Canton and O'Donnell Streets - the Canton Branch still exists today)
  • Branch 3 (at Light and Gittings Streets)
  • Branch 2 (at Hollins and Calhoun Streets)
  • Branch 1 (at Fremont and Pitcher Streets)
  • October 15: the Pratt Library issued a borrowers card to Harry S. Cummings of 935 North Eutaw Street. He was the first African American to get a Pratt Library card.


November 4: Branch 5 opened on the corner of Broadway and Miller Street. The Broadway Branch was relocated in 1971 to the corner of Broadway and Orleans Street. In 2007 it moved again to the corner of Orleans Street and Central Avenue and was renamed the Orleans Street Branch.


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


Less than 10 years after opening, the Pratt Library was one of the largest and most active public libraries in the United States.

  • Only 3 public libraries (Boston, Chicago, and Cincinnati) had larger book collections.
  • Only 3 libraries (Boston, Chicago, and New York) had higher circulation counts.


The Central Library undertook its first major technological upgrades:

  • Electric (versus gas) lighting (1895-1898)
  • In-house and long-distance telephones (1900-1903)
  • Typewriters for the Cataloging Department (1903)
  • Connection to the City's sewer system (1906)


July 2: Hampden, Branch 7, on Falls Road (below Fourth Avenue) opened. The Hampden Branch is still in operation.


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.


The Pratt Library secured a donation of $500,000 from Andrew Carnegie to build 20 new library branches. With Carnegie's support, the Pratt Library built its branches at:


September 3: The Delivery Station at Walbrook moved to a building at 11th Street and Liberty Road. A branch was later built in 1957 on North Avenue and became the new Branch 8, Walbrook, which is still in existence.

The City of Baltimore gave its first appropriation to the Pratt Library. Up until now, the Pratt Library's funding came solely from income of Enoch Pratt's original bequest, other gifts, and any fees that the library collected.


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


Roland Park Branch (25) is dedicated on land donated by the Roland Park Civic League.

1926-1974: Building for a New Era


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
  • Hiring an Assistant Director for Public Relations to help boost the library's visibility
  • Increasing the library's holdings in business and economics, science, practical social issues, education, and fine arts


Today's Central Library

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.


The Pratt Library staff, services, and 400,000 volumes vacated the old Central Library and moved to temporary quarters at Redwood Street and Hopkins Place.

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 "Technology")
  • General Reference (later called General Information Department)
  • History, Travel, and Biography
  • Literature
  • Popular Library (later called Fiction)


Margaret A. Edwards

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

  • In 1937, Edwards began Young Adult collections and services at the Pratt Library branches.
  • By 1943, Young Adult Services had become a full-fledged department.
  • The Pratt Library now serves adolescents mainly through Student Express, a new service that opened in the mid-1990s.


Horsedrawn Book Wagon

The Library began a horse-drawn book wagon service.


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.

Ca. 1942-1956

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).


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


The Pratt Library published the first edition of its Reference Books: A Brief Guide. For the past 50 years, many library schools have used it as a teaching tool. The 10th edition, The Enoch Pratt Free Library Brief Guide to Reference Sources, was published in 2000.


April 1: The Central Library opened a Films Department and began to circulate films.

  • In 1953 films for children were added.
  • The Films Department later changed its name to the Audiovisual Department (1972), then Sights and Sounds (1990s).

The Pratt Library's first bookmobile began to make rounds, bringing a collection of 9,000 books to neighborhoods of Baltimore.



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


July: A new branch was opened at Edmondson Avenue, which still exists today.


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


Library Bond - Vote Yes!

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:


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


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.


The Central Library reorganized 6 of its subject departments.


Reference Wheel

October 2: Telephone Reference opened.


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


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


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

Marianne Doctor and Elaine Kunz organized the Pratt Library's current Friends of the Library group.

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.
  • The Library now offers dozens of databases to the public.

1975-today: The Modern Pratt Library


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


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.


The Pratt Library remodeled the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch and opened the system's first computer center there. In the first year, more than 500 adults completed computer education courses at the center.


November 26: Night Owl started providing late-night reference service to the entire state.


April 15: The Pratt Library opened a new branch in Washington Village, which still exists today.


Carla Hayden

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


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.

The Central Library/SLRC created a new Periodicals Department, which pulled together materials from the subject departments and the Microfilm Center.


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


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.

December 3: The Library's Cherry Hill Branch moved into a new facility as part of a Catholic Charities community revitalization project.


September 8: The Central Library/SLRC reopened to the public on Fridays, with support in funding from the Maryland General Assembly.

The Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Children’s Garden opened to the public.


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.


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.

August 29: General Information Department became Information Services.


The Annex

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

August: The Pratt Library’s Web site displayed "e-stories," featuring streaming videos of professional storytellers.

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.


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.


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

September 21: The Pratt Library held groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Southeast Anchor Library in Highlandtown.


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

May 14: The new Southeast Anchor Library on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown opened to the public.

August 20: The new Orleans Branch opened to the public.

Frank Zappa Bust

December 17: After nearly two years of renovation, the Roland Park Branch reopened.


April: Patterson Park Branch celebrated its 100th anniversary.

September: Bust of Frank Zappa unveiled at Southeast Library.


August: Pratt Library began lending Nook e-book readers.

August: After more than two years of renovation, the Reisterstown Road Branch reopened.


November: Pennsylvania Avenue Branch reopened after renovation.


August 31: After a year and a half of renovation, the Waverly Branch reopened to the public.


Canton Branch

February 12: After being closed for nearly four years, the historic Canton Branch, one of the first four original branches, reopened. This marked not only its 130th anniversary of service, but also the first time in ten years that all twenty-one branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library were simultaneously open to the public.

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

June: Groundbreaking ceremony for historic $115 million renovation of the Central Library. 

Central Library Groundbreaking

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

Carla Hayden and President Obama


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.


Pratt Central Library Reopens

September 14: Pratt Central Library Reopens after an historic $115 million renovation.