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SHELF NEARLY BARE IN MANY LIBRARIES

Buffalo students are growing up in the Information Age. But you would never know it by many of their school libraries.

Libraries are treated as one of the district's many stepchildren -- even though research indicates good libraries promote reading skills, academic achievement and the development of lifelong learning skills.

More than half of the city's high schools and more than one-third of its elementary schools don't have enough books to meet even minimal state standards. In many schools, much of the inventory is outdated.

"I have books with maps of nations that don't even exist anymore," said Kathryn Anderson-Miller, the librarian at School 53, referring to books that show African nations under colonial names.

One-third of libraries don't have a full-time librarian. Making matters worse, librarians spend much of their time doing clerical work.

"The library should be a central part of your program," said Jean Polino, principal at Triangle Academy in South Buffalo. "I need a full-time librarian, but I only have one 2 1/2 days a week."

She may not even have that next year. Superintendent Albert Thompson has proposed laying off 20 librarians.

Technology, like staff, is lacking. Most schools have at least a handful of computers in their libraries, but the libraries are far from being the multimedia information centers that technology now permits. Some libraries don't even have a telephone line to make phone calls, much less access to on-line computer information.

"Kids are willing to engage the machines," said Trudy Gurn, the librarian at McKinley High School on Elmwood Avenue. "I can't tell you the number of times kids who say, 'We need more computers.' "

The root of the problem appears to be twofold: a lack of money and commitment.

"Our district doesn't care about our school libraries," Mrs. Gurn said. She and her library colleagues complain that their budgets haven't increased in more than 20 years.

The State Legislature last year doubled state aid for library materials from $2 to $4 per student. The average cost of a new hardcover library book is $33.

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