Blogger Ellen Riordan

Tuesday Morning

It is hard to describe to those who do not understand libraries, who haven’t been in a library in years, the value of the public library today.

We are community anchors.

Libraries are the center of life, a place of aspiration and hope.

Sometimes that can sound like rhetoric, even to me.

In Baltimore we have 22 libraries. One of them is at the corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenue. It is one of our largest branches and one of our most beautiful. The community it serves is one of our most disadvantaged. Every day the library is open, people of the community come to the library to use computers, attend baby storytimes and relax after school and work. Monday, April 27th was no different. By two o’clock the library had staffcustomers. Children, adults and teens were in the library along with staff when the violence that was taking hold in our city came literally right to the door. The brave and committed staff of the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch kept everyone safe that day. That is remarkable, but what is even more remarkable is that every single staff member showed up for work that very next day, to open the doors again at 10 AM.

When I began working in 1988, the branch manager of the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch was Betty Boulware. She was a dignified and statuesque woman of tremendous kindness and determination. She was diligent in keeping that branch looking its best and the staff busy with programs. Betty believed that it was even more critical to offer a beautiful, bustling library in a community that had so many challenges. Betty understood that if we gave the community something truly beautiful; they would come to love it and honor it.

Penny, the Girl on the WindowWhen the smoke cleared on Tuesday morning, April 28th, the National Guard was in Baltimore. They had come under cover of darkness, amid fire and glass strewn streets. Glass was everywhere. It seemed that every window along some streets was smashed. Local Businesses were in ruins. The CVS across the street from our branch burned all night, hampered by some punching holes in the fire fighters hoses. When the library opened at 10 AM that morning, our CEO, Carla Hayden, came herself to help staff put the sign on the door. It is a glass door. The whole front of the branch is glass and remained intact.

I am greatly saddened by the events that have happened in my city. There is so much work that needs to be done on the road to justice and to making Baltimore the city we who love it believe it can be. It is daunting but I am steadied and renewed by the vison of our branch, its untouched glass windows glinting in that Tuesday sun: an anchor, a center of life, a place of aspiration and hope.

(Photos courtesy of blogger)


  1. Polly

    Thank you, Ellen! I’ve been worrying about all of you (I used to work at DCPL, so you’re practically family), it’s good to know that you and the library are all right, and that you’re able to carry on doing what you do best.

  2. Roxie Munro

    What a wonderful piece, Ellen. Beautifully written, and so eloquent, and powerful. (Though in NYC now for many years, I lived in Baltimore while going to MICA, and grew up south of Annapolis). You are such an asset to your community… And it is so great that you took the time and energy to give us all a glimpse into your world. Inspiring, to use a cliche, but valid and true. Thank you.

  3. E. Keller

    Yay you!
    Blessings upon all your endeavors, your city and the children whose souls you are cultivating!

  4. Dorothy Stoltz

    Thank you so much, Ellen. Baltimore will recover and in large part because of all that’s right about the city, like the Pratt Library.

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