Last night I had the pleasure of attending a gala celebrating two decades of visionary leadership by Dr. Carla Hayden, a period marked by dramatic change, growth, and innovation. I have known Carla since she came to Baltimore from Chicago, when my father, Sol Goodman, befriended her. Because of their friendship, as a labor of love, Sol researched and wrote a walking guide of the history and architecture of the beautiful Enoch Pratt Free Library located in historic Mount Vernon. The library has always been a true love of mine, since going with my grandmother every Saturday after her beauty shop appointment at Andre's and sitting in the Children's Garden (which is still lovely and still has a goldfish pond) to high school years when I would write all of my papers there on huge mahogany tables. I would fill out little slips of paper in the reference room and wait for a librarian to go to the stacks and find the tomes and send them up through a dumn waiter. It was so awe-inspiring every week. And now I go there with my laptop in a lounge area or to the same big mahogany tables and do some writing when I need a quiet place, or I want to do some research about the rich history of Baltimore. I love the Edgar Allen Poe room and the HL Mencken room. The library is definitely one of my top 3 safe and happy places. In addition, I love hearing the speakers there--in the last year I've seen Madeline Albright, Walter Isaacson, and Chris Matthews, to name a few. It is a living, breathing institution which has found a way to remain vital--even in the digital age in which we now live, thanks to the vision of Carla Hayden.
Two visionaries--Enoch Pratt and Carla Hayden. Benefactor and merchant, Enoch Pratt in 1882 was way ahead of his time when he offered to Baltimore a gift of a central library, four branch libraries, and a financial endowment of $1,058,333 and stipulated that the library "shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color, who, when properly accredited, can take out books if they will handle them carefully and return them". The grant was accepted by the municipal government and approved by the voters later that year.
Fast forward to today. Dr. Hayden declared, "Public libraries are the people's university. Anyone can come in and be informed, entertained and inspired. It is the foundation of a free society that encurages the open exchange of ideas."
Baltimore is so lucky. Congratulations, Carla!