Share this article

print logo


County Executive Joel A. Giambra says he is ready to take a shot at convincing residents that consolidating the county's libraries is a good idea.

"It's all about leadership," said Giambra, who is eyeing libraries as a major initiative of his second year in office.

But library officials -- who just weathered a firestorm of public opposition over a similar consolidation plan -- have one response:

Good luck, Mr. Giambra, and have fun.

"There is no question, as we conducted our 22 community meetings, that the public does not want libraries closed," said Diane J. Chrisman, library director.

"We will not close any libraries until there is sufficient reason to do so."

County Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli, chairwoman of the Legislature's Community Enrichment Committee, said the proposal was thoroughly examined during the 22 public forums.

While more discussion always is an option, county officials should realize that residents want to keep their neighborhood libraries, said Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda.

"To resurrect what we've just been through with the public seems a little curious," she said.

"The community clearly told us they want their libraries open," she continued.

"Now the question becomes: What do you want to invest in? How will our libraries be different for our children's generation?" she said.

Erie County's library system has 52 branches -- more than any similarly sized area in the country -- and faces rising costs for keeping some aging, cramped branches open.

A consultant's plan, considered last year, would have closed 21 branches and built some big new "hub" libraries; library officials scrapped that plan in October.

Now, a Giambra-formed review committee called the Who Does What? Commission has suggested that consolidating and upgrading the system might be a good idea.

And Giambra said he thinks he can sell that idea to county residents who love their local libraries.

"You have to talk to the constituents and show them what they're going to be getting and that it's not going to cost them any more money," said Giambra, a Republican. "This will be top-shelf, upper-cabin. We may not be successful -- but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try."

Giambra says a consolidation and streamlining plan could save $10 million across the system -- which currently operates on a budget of roughly $30 million a year.

That $10 million could be used to leverage $100 million in borrowing, money that then could be folded back into the library system to improve and upgrade all branches, he explained.

The county executive said individual deals could be worked out with each community, giving towns and villages the opportunity to build big new libraries at little cost.

Towns and villages could own the new buildings, or the county could pay for and own the new libraries, he said.

Partnerships between libraries and schools also would be a workable solution in municipalities looking to build both types of facilities, he said.

"There are no cookie-cutter solutions," Giambra said. "The scenario in Marilla could be very different from the scenario in Tonawanda, which could be very different from the scenario in Newstead."

In any event, he said, the county will continue to pay for staffing and materials at the branches.

There are no comments - be the first to comment