Plans for a new North Jefferson Library drew some well-deserved enthusiasm at a neighborhood meeting the other day. The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library's plans for a 20,000-square-foot facility that would boost library services and augment East Side redevelopment are a major gain for the community.
Fears by some residents that the new $4.8 million library could hurt public access to books by forcing the closing of two small branch libraries, though, seem misplaced.
The new library, to be built at Jefferson Avenue and East Utica Street with the help of $2.9 million in city funding secured by Masten District Council Member Byron Brown, simply replaces the existing North Jefferson Library. The other library that would close, the Martin Luther King Jr. Branch at Jefferson and William Street, is a leased storefront with the system's smallest collection -- 9,000 volumes.
It's only open 22 hours a week. And while it is 19 blocks away from the new library site, it's also only four blocks -- just nine-tenths of a mile -- from the huge downtown Central Library. In fact, it shares staff with the downtown library hub.
That's not to say the branch is unimportant. In fact, statistics published this week show it posted a city-leading gain in book circulation, 5.6 percent, at a time when all but four city branches showed drops.
But efforts by Ellicott District Council Member Barbara Miller-Williams to keep the storefront as a study center, and to institute a shuttle service linking it to the Central Library and new Jefferson facility, would turn a potential minor loss for the neighborhood into a huge gain in information and reading access.
Constructing the new library, which would include computers and a better African-American history center, will provide a needed boost for the entire near East Side, and its location adjoining the refurbished Apollo Theater will create a bigger and better cultural complex.
All in all, this is a good plan.