Enoch Pratt Free Library

The Enoch Pratt Free Library is the free public library system of Baltimore, Maryland. Its Central Library is located on 400 Cathedral Street (southbound) and occupies the northeastern three quarters of a city block bounded by West Franklin Street (U.S. Route 40 westbound) to the north, Cathedral Street to the east, West Mulberry Street (U.S. Route 40 eastbound) to the south, and Park Avenue (northbound) to the west. Located on historic Cathedral Hill, north of downtown, the library is also in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere-Mount Royal neighborhood and cultural and historic district.

Enoch Pratt Free Library
Location400 Cathedral Street, (between West Franklin and Mulberry Streets)
Baltimore, Maryland
TypeFree, (Municipal/State) Public Library
Other information
DirectorHeidi Daniel, President and CEO [3]
Websitewww.prattlibrary.org Edit this at Wikidata
Central Library
Enoch Pratt Free Library, Central Library building (second structure - built 1931-1933), Cathedral Street main entrance.
General information
Construction started1931
Construction stopped1933

The Cathedral Street Main Library is the flagship of the entire Enoch Pratt Free Library system, which includes twenty-one neighborhood branches, it was designated the "Maryland State Library Resource Center" by the General Assembly of Maryland in 1971.[1][2] Central Library operates as the state library for Maryland.



Its establishment began on January 21, 1882, when the longtime local hardware merchant, banking, and steamship company executive and philanthropist Enoch Pratt (1808-1896) offered a gift of a central library, four branch libraries (with two additional shortly afterward), and a financial endowment of more than $1 million in a significant piece of correspondence, letter of offer to Mayor William Pinkney Whyte and the Baltimore City Council. His intention was to establish a public circulating library that (as he described it) "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." The grant was soon accepted by the municipal government and approved by the voters in an election on October 25, 1882.[1]

One of the early hires at the library was William A. Williams, the first Black Catholic seminarian in America (who later dropped out due to the prevailing racist attitudes of the day).[4]

From 1993 to August 11, 2016, Dr. Carla Hayden (formerly of the Chicago Public Library) served as the CEO of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and since has been the Librarian of Congress in Washington, DC.[5] Hayden and the staff of the Pennsylvania Avenue branch were praised for keeping the branch open on Monday April 27, 2015, after protests and the civil strife over the death of Freddie Gray. The library's location, at the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North Avenues in the northwest center city Sandtown-Winchester community, found itself at the center of the protests drawing nationwide and international attention, giving community members a safe place during the troubled times.[6][7]

Following Hayden's departure and promotion on August 11, 2016, the acting director of the library has been Gordon Krabbe, who served as the library's chief operating officer since 1989.[8]

In July 2017, Heidi Daniel was named the new president and CEO of the public library system.[9] Under Daniel's leadership, the Pratt became one of the first fine-free public library system's on the East Coast. In 2017, the Enoch Pratt Free Library was named one of Reader's Digest and Good Morning America's Nicest Places in America. Daniel also helped expand the library's social impact programs, including Social Worker in the Library, Healthcare in the Library, Peer Navigators, and Housing Navigators. Daniel sits on the Board of the Urban Libraries Council.

In June 2022, workers across the Pratt Library system voted to form a union named Pratt Workers United with AFSCME Council 67, representing over 300 workers across the system, calling for improved wages, benefits, career advancement, and increased staff input on their work environment.[10][11][12] The council would also represent workers at Baltimore Museum of Art and Walters Art Museum if union campaigns at those institutions are successful.[11] Workers within the library system have been organizing for a union since May 2021.[11][12]

Central Library building


Original (1886–2015)

Former branch number 5, now a church.

The merchant and financier Enoch Pratt, in a letter to the Baltimore City Council on January 21, 1882, offered to donate and construct a free public library with several neighborhood branches open to all the citizens of the City of Baltimore (and its surrounding environs). After some debate and discussion which was also widely reported in the local newspapers,[13] [14] the mayor and council accepted the gift and the terms of its conditions later that year, which were subsequently approved by the citizens in a referendum held during an election that October, 1882. Pratt’s donation consisted of $250,000 for land and building for the central library; $50,000 for land and building for four branch libraries; and $833,333 in cash for an endowment whose estimated annual return of $50,000, he anticipated, would finance expenses for management of the library system.[15] Construction of the Central Library began 1882; it opened on January 5, 1886 .  The first four branches also opened in 1886. Subsequently, Pratt gave funds for the construction of two more branches; one opened 1888 and the other in 1896. In 1899, Robert Poole, a Baltimore industrialist, built and gave to the City of Baltimore, a seventh branch located in Hampden. [16] [17] In 1905, steel-maker and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie gave $500,000 for the construction of twenty more branches. [18] Because of closings, relocations, and reallocation of space, the Pratt system now has twenty-two active branches.

Designed by Charles L. Carson, "Old Central" occupied a fraction of the same plot of land as its successor 47 years later, facing West Mulberry Street near the corner of Cathedral Street. The structure's elaborate Romanesque Revival architecture became a target of criticism from journalists during final years of existence: H. L. Mencken of The Baltimore Sun, a frequent and prolific user of the branch at Calhoun and Hollins Streets, judged it "so infernally hideous that it ought to be pulled down by the common hangman" [19]



By the late 1920s, Old Central could no longer hold the library's continually expanding collection, even though an annex had been added at the rear.[20] Baltimore City voters approved a loan for $3 million by an almost 3-to-1 margin on May 3, 1927. The Central Pratt Library's staff, services and 400,000 volumes were relocated to temporary quarters at the old Rouse-Hempstone Building at West Redwood Street and Hopkins Place (now the site of the Royal Farms Arena for a two-year stay during 1931–1933. At this temporary location, the Central Pratt was able to reorganize and plan for its future arrangements of departments and try out its soon-to-be famous "department store windows" displays[1] It was razed in 1931, along with several townhouses facing Cathedral Street, including a significant one formerly owned by Robert Goodloe Harper.

The replacement structure occupies the entire block facing the Old Baltimore Cathedral.[19] Construction began in June 1931, during the darkest, most difficult days of the financial Great Depression and along with other major construction projects occurring at that time with the building of a new U.S. Courthouse and Post Office at Battle Monument Square at North Calvert and East Lexington-Fayette Streets, and the new Municipal Office Building on Holliday Street, across from the old Baltimore City Hall and the new Federal Courthouse/Post Office, offered an important source of desperately needed employment to the hundreds of out-of-work citizens of the city.[1]

The architects were C. and N. Friz, with consulting architects Tilton & Githens from New York.[21] The building was completed in January 1933, and opened to the public on February 3, with a record of not one day of suspended service since the original beginnings of "Enoch Pratt's Folly" on January 5, 1886.[22] In Spring of 2016, ground was broken on a $115 million restoration of the historic Central Library. The building remained open to the public. February 11–19, the Central Library closed to the public to relocate departments to the newly renovated upper floors, and to begin renovation of the lower levels.[23] The restoration was completed in Fall of 2019. A Grand Reopening block party drew a crowd of 9,000 people.

In 2020, the Senator Barbara A. Mikulski Room, with mementos and Mikulski's Presidential Medal of Freedom, was opened in the Central Library.[24][25]

Maryland Department


The Maryland Department, located on the second floor of the 2004 Annex, contains many of the library's prized collections. These include 275,000 mounted documents (mostly newspaper articles), 2100 maps, 6000 pieces of ephemera, and 24,000 photographs, all relevant to Maryland and Maryland history.[26] The Maryland Department also has a room full of books pertaining to Maryland, with an emphasis on Baltimore.

Most materials in the Maryland Department are non-circulating but available for patrons to examine.


Central Hall, Central Library building.

In 2023, The Pratt Library hit a 12-year high for circulation. That year also saw the highest number of new library cardholders in 7 years, as well as a surge in active cardholders. Summer reading program, Summer Break Baltimore also hit a record high with more than 21,000 participants across the city.



Pratt's branches serve the unique needs of customers in their neighborhoods. There are 21 branches across the city of Baltimore, as well as three mobile units. In 2018, the Pratt expanded service hours by more than 30 percent across the system. Branches include Brooklyn Canton, Clifton, Edmondson Avenue, Forest Park, Govans, Hamilton, Hampden, Herring Run, Light Street, Northwood, Orleans Street, Patterson Park, Pennsylvania Avenue, Reisterstown Road, Roland Park, Southeast Anchor, Walbrook, Washington Village, and Waverly.

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e "History of the Library - Enoch Pratt Free Library". www.prattlibrary.org. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Library Locations - Enoch Pratt Free Library". www.prattlibrary.org. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  3. ^ "About The Library". Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  4. ^ Slezak, Eva (November 2, 2019). "Obituaries for Laurel: From Janitor to Lawyer, David D. Dickson (1854-1908)". Remembering Baltimore. Archived from the original on March 30, 2022. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  5. ^ "Enoch Pratt library names Gordon Krabbe acting CEO". Baltimore Sun. August 11, 2016. Archived from the original on August 6, 2021. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  6. ^ "Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library Provides Haven in Troubled Times". Library Journal. Archived from the original on July 10, 2022. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  7. ^ "Baltimore libraries stay open to provide community support". PBS NewsHour. April 28, 2015. Archived from the original on May 8, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  8. ^ "Enoch Pratt library names Gordon Krabbe acting CEO". Baltimore Sun. 11 August 2016. Archived from the original on August 6, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  9. ^ Woolever, Lydia (September 2017). "Cameo: Heidi Daniel". Baltimore Magazine. Archived from the original on October 22, 2020. Retrieved July 10, 2022.
  10. ^ Cancio, Kat (June 1, 2022). "Workers at the Enoch Pratt Free Library seek union recognition" (PDF) (Press release). AFSCME. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 10, 2022. Retrieved July 10, 2022.
  11. ^ a b c Kirkman, Rebekah (June 2, 2022). "Pratt Library Workers Intend to Form a Union". bmoreart. Archived from the original on June 19, 2022. Retrieved July 10, 2022.
  12. ^ a b "Enoch Pratt Free Library workers call for recognition of employee union". Afro. June 11, 2022. Archived from the original on June 22, 2022.
  13. ^ "Enoch Pratt's Gift". The Sun. January 23, 1882.
  14. ^ "Enoch Pratt's Gift". The Sun. January 25, 1882.
  15. ^ The Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore City: Letters and Documents relating to its foundation and organization (1886 ed.). Baltimore: Enoch Pratt Free Library. 1886. p. 49.
  16. ^ ""Woodberry Library. Mr. Robert Poole Gives The Site and Buildings. Seventh Pratt Branch"". The Sun. August 2, 1899.
  17. ^ Swett, Steven C. (30 June 2022). The Metalworkers. Baltimore Museum of Industry. pp. 341–348. ISBN 978-0-578-28250-3.
  18. ^ "History of the Enoch Pratt Free Library". Enoch Pratt Free Library. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  19. ^ a b However, later architectural historians come to a greater appreciation of the Victorian-era styles of architecture.Zajac, Mary K. "A cathedral of books," Style Magazine (Baltimore), September-October 2011. Archived 2012-02-21 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Gunts, Edward. "A new chapter is opening for the Pratt Library," The Baltimore Sun, Sunday, November 2, 2003". 2 November 2003.
  21. ^ "Enoch Pratt Free Library NRHP Nomination Form" (PDF). State of Maryland. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  22. ^ "Information about the Central Library and its Central Hall – Enoch Pratt Free Library" (PDF). Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  23. ^ "Baltimore Fishbowl | Pratt Central Library to Shut Down for 9 Days for First-Floor Renovations -". February 2018.
  24. ^ "Out of 540 U.S. Capitol rooms, two now are named for female senators. One of them is Maryland's Barbara Mikulski". Baltimore Sun. 8 June 2022.
  25. ^ "Senator Barbara A. Mikulski Room". Enoch Pratt Free Library.
  26. ^ Enoch Pratt Free Library. "Maryland Department: About the Collection". Retrieved 3 December 2019.

Further reading

  • Enoch Pratt Free Library. (1886), The Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore city: Letters and documents relating to its foundation and organization, with the dedicatory addresses and exercises January 4, 1886, Baltimore, OL 7041569M{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Enoch Pratt Free Library (1886), Finding List of the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore City: Central Building (2nd ed.), Sun Book and Job Print . Off., OCLC 48481440, OL 20615304M
  • Enoch Pratt Free Library (1894), Finding List of Books and Periodicals in the Central Library, part 3 (5th ed.), The Friedenwald company, OCLC 48481293, OL 20604122M