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NEW NORTH TONAWANDA PUBLIC LIBRARY DIRECTOR READY FOR THE CHALLENGE

Margaret A. Waite, who has worked for North Tonawanda Public Library for 31 years, was recently appointed the new director.

Waite, who previously served as assistant director and children's librarian, was named acting interim director when Daniel R. Killian retired from the position last September after 27 years with the library.

Before joining the library at 505 Meadow Drive, Waite was an elementary school librarian in Euclid, Ohio.

Let's start with the most controversial issue in the area. The Niagara Falls Public Library may be forced to shut down in the coming months because the city says it has no money to keep it open. Do you see this happening?

It's a frightening possibility. Betty Babanoury (the Niagara Falls library director) is fighting valiantly to keep it open, and I don't envy her. She needs the support of the public. Everyone in NIOGA (a cooperative association of 22 libraries in Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties) is pulling for her.

The City of Niagara Falls plans to hold a referendum in June asking voters to pay an extra library tax to cover the $1.8 million operating budget. You operate under that funding system here, and it's worked for you, right?

There's a huge advantage to being a school district library. We're at the mercy of the voters, not the City Council. We get some voters who vote no, but so far, so good.

Your operating budget of $1.3 million is not that much less than Niagara Falls, but the population of North Tonawanda is about 20 percent smaller than the Falls. The voters in North Tonawanda don't mind funding the library?

We have a very supportive community. People use the library. Our daily average in March was 903 patrons. Last year, 290,777 people visited the library.

What does it cost the average homeowner to keep the library operating?

The average assessed value of a house in North Tonawanda is $80,000. It costs property owners an average of $80 a year to keep the library open. I think the average cost to property owners in Niagara Falls would be about $60 a year.

The argument in Niagara Falls is that there are a lot of elderly people scraping by on fixed minimum incomes and they can't afford another tax. But North Tonawanda has its share of senior citizens on fixed incomes, so what's the difference between the two communities?

Obviously it comes down to the people and what they want. There are smaller communities that don't have libraries, but it's extremely rare for a community to close an existing library. It's totally inconceivable for a community not to have a library.

Niagara Falls has had a library for 110 years. How old is the North Tonawanda library?

The library was charted in 1893, so the two libraries are the same age. I can't imagine North Tonawanda without a library.

Most of your time here -- 27 years -- was spent working in the children's section. Will you miss that?

The children's department will always be close to my heart. It was fun to work there. The children are so enthusiastic and eager to learn, and so are their parents. I will miss seeing the little ones.

You don't mind leaving a fun job for the tough job of running the whole show?

I'm ready for a new challenge. The months I served as interim director gave me the opportunity to realize that it is a natural progression for me to move into this position. We have a great library board and staff here, and I'll be relying a lot on my administrative assistant, Deborah Marshall. She's my right-hand person, and often my left hand.

Did you always want to be a librarian?

Yes. As a child I was a big reader, and today I always have a book with me. I have two daughters and now five grandchildren who live in the area, and they all use the library and programs such as story time hours and after-school fun clubs. We try and get the little ones aware of the magic in books. My grandchildren are quite proud of me, I think. They come in and say, "This is Nana's library."

Is your audio books program well patronized?

Many people don't realize what a wonderful service this is. Visually handicapped people apply here for audio books, and the State Library in Albany sends them directly to their homes. My late father-in-law, Albert Waite, was blind, and he looked forward to receiving the audio books. We try to help people in other ways. Our Friends of the Library volunteers deliver books to shut-ins, for example.

Do you have any immediate plans to change anything?

We have a pretty smooth operation here. It's a busy library. I just want to keep it hopping.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com