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Central Library, jewel of the system, changes with the times

The Buffalo and Erie County Central Library has anchored downtown's Lafayette Square for nearly 55 years, embodying the hub of a library system that circulates more than six million materials a year.

In that time, the 400,000 square-foot library building has undergone tremendous internal change, though some of its legacy remains untouched.

The jewel of the library system remains home to the region's most precious printed materials collection and a starting point for research scholars. It also remains the administrative headquarters and backroom support hub for the library system's three dozen branches and bookmobile.

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But with book circulation numbers falling and funding opportunities limited, the Central Library has been forced to change with the times. Over the past decade, administrators have removed thousands of books from the shelves and consolidated browsing sections.

At the same time, the library has upgraded its technology, Wi-Fi and computer stations. It has added a cafe, grown its ebook and other media offerings, and invested in resources that connect and educate the community, like meeting and training room spaces and a new second-floor exhibition gallery, administrators said. It's also begun offering more programs to support job seekers and literacy needs.

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"We certainly want to make our library as warm as possible, as welcoming as possible," said Director Mary Jean Jakubowski. "We've restructured to become the living room outside of one's personal home."

The Central Library also offers high-tech equipment that average residents might never find outside a school or music studio.

In what was once a book sale room, the county now offers Launch Pad MakerSpace, a high-tech digital area that incorporates two recording studios, a green screen, mini remote-control robot, 3D printers, a synthesizer keyboard and circuitry discovery kits among other features.

The Central Library also now rents out space to tenants like Young Audiences of Western New York, Literacy New York Buffalo Niagara, Project Flight and the Hispanic Heritage Council. These nonprofit organizations offer complementary services to the library system and, aside from paying rent, provide free programming for library users, Jakubowski said.

Erie County has earmarked $1 million this year from its capital budget for ongoing rehabilitation and restoration efforts at the Central Library. That includes mechanical, electrical and plumbing updates, administrators said. Much of the money, however, is being funneled toward ongoing restoration of the library's auditorium.

Contractors have already installed a new ceiling, lighting and fixtures in the lobby of the 324-seat auditorium. Later this year, the library will install more accessible seating and improve the stage lighting and sound.

Also, the library will open a new glass-enclosed elevator and open an outdoor reading park later this year.

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