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The Northwest Branch Library's importance to the economic well-being of Grant Street was stressed by several speakers Wednesday night as library officials held the second of 22 community meetings on a consolidation plan.

As at the first session two weeks ago in the Martin Luther King branch on William Street, the overwhelming opinion voiced was that the branch should stay.

Under the proposal, the Northwest and Crane branches would be combined into a hub library at a site to be determined as the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system proposes operating with fewer but bigger branches open for longer hours.

"We sure do love our library, said businessman Sam Ciccia. "But we loved our police station, and it's gone (a victim of precinct consolidation).

"This is our family room, he said. He proposed that a new library be part of a miniplaza that would spur economic development.

Jose Pizarro was among several speakers who expressed fear that if the branch closed, it would become "another empty building on Grant Street.

Judy Einach said she foresees "a power struggle between Grant Street and Elmwood Avenue (where the Crane branch is located) over which neighborhood would get the new hub. Because Grant Street is poorer, the hub should be built on Grant to "bring those people (from Elmwood) here, she said.

Daniel Sack of Lancaster Avenue said the sprawling library system with 24 boards each doing its own hiring "is just absurd.

He pointed out that the library tax is listed separately on county tax bills and said perhaps "the tax we pay for the Buffalo Bills (in the form of improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium) should be separate on the tax bills.

The library system's having more branches and more tax support than other comparable systems "are not failings, but features of a wonderful system, he said.

"Our No. 1 goal should be to give children easy access to books. Computers are good, but books and children are No. 1, Sack added.

Elaine Panty, a library trustee, said, "We don't want to close anything if we don't have to, but in light of increasing operating costs, the system must do something, or the quality of service will erode.

"The city's the worst landlord you can imagine, she said, adding that at one point 13 of the 15 city branches had leaky roofs.

The question before the library board is, "How can we do what's best for the community, she said.

Jeremy Toth, an unsuccessful candidate for Common Council and an aide to Council Member at Large Charley Fischer, said he was speaking for himself when he said the library system's problems "are symbolic of the larger problem of suburban sprawl when you have a shrinking population moving further from the center.

He said the library board is being put in the position of trying to solve a problem that needs to be solved on the state and national levels. "Sprawl is killing urban America, he said.

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