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Keeping the libraries vibrant

By Joyce Kryszak

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-985744.mp3

Buffalo, NY – The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. Later this month, the library system's board of trustees is expected to present its plan for keeping the libraries vibrant for many more years to come.

In recent years, the library system has experienced tremendous financial upheaval. First there was the red-green budget crisis. Then this year the library system's county funding was initially slashed by four million dollars.

Public pressure spurred the Collins administration to restore three million dollars. But Library System Director Mary Jean Jakubowski said there has always been instability under the current federated system that is totally dependent on the county.

But she said the board is considering an alternate form of governance - a consolidated system that would merge the 23 individual library branch boards and establish a new funding mechanism.

Under the plan being considered, a referendum would be presented to the public proposing a special legislative district for the libraries. Jakubowski says the libraries' funding would then be in the hands of the people who use the it.

"This is actually putting the responsibility into the hands of the system board of trustees to determine what budget would be necessary for the services we would be able to provide," said Jakubowski. "And subsequently, it is the voters then who would make the determination as to whether or not they would be willing to pay for those library services."

Jakubowski said such a system would give the libraries greater stability. The board is expected to present a resolution later this month. If this system is chosen, and agreed to by voters, She said it would be a two to three year transition process.

Jakubowski said she already started meeting with public officials to answer questions. She says it would be very publicly driven.

"We believe that the residents of Erie County want and appreciate their library services,' said Jakubowski. This will involve a lot of education to them, for them, as well as keeping the doors open to communication."

In the meantime, library system fund balance and county bridge funding are being used to help fill the library system's budget gap.