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It's clear that lots of people in Erie County want to save the public libraries.

A big rally is being planned Tuesday in front of the Central Library, to show support for the libraries -- which are threatened with closure due to a county budget crisis -- before a Legislature hearing that night.

Still, the crisis is making very apparent rifts in the library's support base. That's why, at a meeting of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Board on Thursday, board members urged library boosters to work together to keep libraries open -- rather than bickering about who came first and who is more important.

Here's the situation:

One group of library lovers, called "Save Our Libraries," calls itself an "independent" booster group working to keep all branches open, especially small neighborhood ones. It is not affiliated with the library system.

In fact, that group, headed by Buffalo resident ElizaBeth Berry, has persistently protested the library system's planned closures of two South Buffalo branches, Cazenovia and Dudley, in favor of building one new branch in that section of the city.

The other group of boosters, called "Citizens to Save the Library," was recently called together in response to the crisis. The group was founded in 1976 by two Amherst residents, during the budget crisis that threatened the library then. Now, it's being headed by Susan Stievater of Amherst, and the library system is endorsing the work of the group as a way for citizens to get involved.

But that's not going over too well with the "Save Our Libraries" crowd.

Berry, at Thursday's meeting, called on library officials to "play fair" by backing her group as much as the other, which she said she had "never heard of."

Stievater, who also addressed the board, emphasized that library supporters need to present a united front when they go before the County Legislature next week. That means calling uniformly for a "status quo" budget, she said, not the "red" and "green" budgets currently being debated by the Legislature.

Under the red budget proposed by County Executive Joel A. Giambra and currently on the table before the Legislature, funding to the library system would be cut so drastically that every branch in the 52-branch system would be forced to close, library officials said.

The rally, officially being held by the "Citizens to Save the Library" group -- although the "Save Our Libraries" group will be there, too -- will take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday on the Washington Street ramp of the Central Library. After the rally, supporters will walk to Erie Community College for the Legislature's public hearing, which begins at 6.


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