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COZY BRANCH LIBRARIES ALLOW US TO INTERACT WITH OUR NEIGHBORS

I am always on the lookout for new ways to market Buffalo to the rest of our peripatetic nation.

Information that has recently come to my attention through a Nov. 5 News article on the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library has indirectly provided inspiration for a motto for our fair city: Buffalo is for Bibliophiles.

Why not seduce would-be denizens with the fact that we have more libraries per person than anywhere else in the country? No need for Amazon dot com here -- just stroll down the street and you are at one of our 51 -- count 'em -- 51 libraries.

And our local government cares so much about literacy and education, we actually spend almost $5 more per person in tax support for libraries than the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, the consultants to whom we paid $137,000 -- Aaron Cohen Associates -- think we should consolidate 11 of our city branches into only four. This loss, coupled with the loss of a few other suburban branches, would reduce our library count to 39.

The Third Millennium Fund, a combination of public and private monies, would pay for the project. As someone who has contributed to the library fund, I am angry that my money might be used to close branches now serving our community.

If we cut the number of city libraries by almost two-thirds, where will all those children go after school and during the summer? Kids who are old enough to walk down the street by themselves are not necessarily old enough to hop on a bus to a "hub library," even if it is a state-of-the-art facility. And it is not just children of whom I am thinking. What about all our residents who use the library so frequently because it is in the neighborhood? If it were farther away, it would lose its status as a spontaneous, quick and easy destination, and become yet another place requiring advance planning.

The community-building aspects of a local, cozy branch library, where people interact with their neighbors, who may be 8 or 80, cannot be measured in numbers. Let's not give short shrift to this simply because it is qualitative rather than quantitative.

Did the consultants do a study on community cohesiveness as a function of having a local library? Our branch, the Crane, acts as a magnet. People come to feel connected, kids use the computers, teens borrow videos or CDs, the friendly staff special-orders books, people read the daily paper, those with poor eyesight get large-print books, commuters borrow books on tape, parents can feel their young ones are in a safe place and volunteers plant flowers outside. This is what Buffalo is all about.

What makes the city of Buffalo (a.k.a. the City of No Illusions) so fantastically appealing and livable is the ease of living here. We are not the suburbs, where the car is king. We are actually accustomed to walking places. If the nearest library is now so far away that we have to take a bus or drive there, we may as well consider ourselves just another suburb.

Let's not wreck a major part of Buffalo's charm. Let's not make another stupid mistake.

The consultants do not live here. While I am sure some of their ideas are wonderful, reducing the number of city library branches is exactly the wrong thing to do.

NICOLE S. URDANG, a psychotherapist and homeopathic educator, lives in Buffalo.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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