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FALLS LIBRARY'S INNOVATIONS INCLUDE PRESERVATION OF PAST

Two years ago, when some of the 37,000 registered borrowers at the Niagara Falls Public library explained how difficult it sometimes was to return a book on time during the unpredictable winter season, something was done about it.

Library officials initiated a system that would permit borrowers to make book renewals by phone.

"That has been very successful," said Library Director Betty Babanoury. "We started the program when we realized that a lot of our patrons just couldn't make it through the snow to bring the borrowed items back on time. Unless someone is waiting for the book, we have no problem making the renewal by phone."

It's just one of the programs the library, located in the Earl W. Brydges building on Main Street, has begun to become more accessible, active and entertaining.

In fact, the Falls library is the central library for the NIOGA Library System, which supplies 20 other libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Niagara counties, Ms. Babanoury said.

She explained that the acronym "NIOGA" was created out of the names of Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties.

"Our status allows us to have a very large book collection from which we can provide the other libraries in our system."

The central library has about 350,000 holdings, including books, videos, CDs and audio tapes.

Its children's book collection has about 55,000 volumes, large by any standard in cities of comparable size.

"Right now," she said, "we have about 15,000 offerings in our audio-visual department, but hope to have about 20,000 videos alone in our collection in the near future. We also have about 8,000 magazines available to the public and 300 newspapers from around the country."

The library is a great research source as well as the source for education and entertainment. In fact, it was research that led Ms. Babanoury to her career as a librarian.

The mother of two grown children, she said she graduated from the University of Illinois and started her career as a researcher with Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

After stopping at a library upstate and finding it had no research facility, she said, "I decided there and then that research was a solitary and lonely job, and I'd rather be in one where you can meet people. That prompted me to make a career move, and it's been one that has been fun and interesting for me."

She worked at libraries in Texas and Illinois before becoming head of the main library in Charlotte, S.C. Three years ago, she took the job as director of the Niagara Falls Public Library.

"We've been able to make some changes, but there is much more we want to do," she said.

"Because we have an excellent children's book collection, we've moved that department from the second floor balcony to the third floor, making it more accessible to the public.

"We're putting a lot of emphasis on our third floor history department and hope to add a third-floor museum of Niagara Falls history."

Ms. Babanoury said she hopes local corporations and community interests will come forward to help the library accomplish its goals. Although no name has yet been selected for the new museum, she said with a smile, "When it comes to contributions to help our library grow, we're very flexible."

"Last year, we had about 7,000 young students attending programs here and in addition to our borrowers, we get about a half-million visitors here every year. We've provided an automatic catalog, a major data bank called Dynix.

"We're automating more and more but we haven't loss sight of the fact that people may enjoy videos and CDs, but the majority of them want to take a book home and turn the pages at their leisure."

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