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Closing a climactic, hopeful chapter Library head leaving after funding secured

The last stretch of Michael C. Mahaney's 33-year career at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library has been the bumpiest.

The 2005 county budget crisis forced the closing of 15 of 52 library buildings and the layoffs of many librarians. The pain from that episode lingers at the library and in the community.

But Mahaney, 54, who announced Friday that he will retire as director Dec. 31, believes he has engineered a partial turnaround, including a $500,000 uptick in county funding and passage of the Library Protection Act, which will leave the system in better shape for his successor.

"We're building on the ground we gained last year," Mahaney said. But he admits the budget turmoil took a personal toll.

"Leaving will be a good thing for me, and the library will be in good condition for the future," he said.

Mahaney, who lives in Elma with his wife, Lee, and daughter Caitlin, 19, plans "to pursue other personal and professional projects that have been on the back burner for a long time."

But he won't seek full-time work. "I plan to make myself useful. If somebody has a truly exciting project, I might consider [consulting]," he said, "but that's not my intention." His five-year tenure saw the 170-year-old system reach its zenith in 2004, when the budget hit $29 million, and its nadir the following year, when the operating and capital budgets were slashed by more than $7 million, leading to the closings and layoffs.
He considers passage of the Library Protection Act, a local law that safeguards library funds after the county's annual budget is adopted, the hallmark of his administration. Library officials had worked for 14 years to make the law permanent.

The Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library on Jefferson Avenue, the first new city branch in two decades, also is part of his legacy.

Mahaney deserves the community's thanks "for guiding one of its most valuable assets through some of both the most exciting and challenging times in its long history," said W. Lawrence Buck, library chairman.

A Western New York native who received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University at Buffalo, Mahaney started as a page shelving books in the Central Library in 1973. He entered the administration in 1990 as assistant deputy director of communications and rose to deputy director and chief operating officer before succeeding Diane Chrisman as director in 2002.


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