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CATALOG SHOPPING
LIBRARY SELLS OFF ITS OLD DRAWERS

It's a sound that anyone who has ever spent time in a public library would instantly recognize: The smooth hiss of time-worn wood against wood as a card catalog drawer is pulled open by its brass handle.

That sound was heard for the last time Saturday at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, as the library auctioned off 134 old wooden card catalog cases to the public.

Library card catalogs have gone the way of rotary telephones and bankbooks, a reminder of a time when business was done slowly and by hand. The library started replacing them with computerized versions in 1995.

The last of the library's 52 branches were completely computerized with full Internet access in November, representing a $5.2 million conversion to modern technology, said Ken Stone, deputy director and chief financial officer of the library.

Saturday's auction drew about 100 bidders and raised $8,609.50 for the library. Richard W. Bronstein, whose Buffalo auction house ran the event, predicted at the outset that the sale would yield thousands of dollars.

"It's a cabinet that can go into a home or a sophisticated office," said Bronstein, whose company, R.W. Bronstein Corp., has dealt with other offbeat surplus items. "These are unique."

Most of the card catalog cases were wood, a few were metal, and many reflected decades of hard use. Painted finishes had chips and scratches, and brass pulls had shiny spots where generations of fingers had tugged.

"This has got cherry drawers and it's got an oak top," said Daniel Sack, a Buffalo lighting consultant and sound recordist, as he peered inside the drawers of a case painted bright blue. "I bought three of them so far. One friend said they're great for socks."

Sack paid $70, $150 and $225 for his three cases, and he plans to use them in his home or his garage.

Jeff Weisberg, a Buffalo antiques dealer, bought four cases from the 1920s for $75 each. When asked how much he would resell them for, he smiled and said, "I have no idea."

At least one auction-goer was frustrated by the presence of professional dealers like Weisberg.

"All I wanted was to get one little card catalog for my kids," said Buffalo native Karen Lillis. She arrived thinking she could get a small cabinet for around $50, but halfway through the sale realized she could not compete with professionals willing to bid hundreds.

"It's frustrating for the little people," she said, standing at the back of the crowd but not quite ready to abandon hope. "I think for those of us who grew up with these, they're very nostalgic. Our kids won't know what these are."

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