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CHECK IT OUT: LIBRARY'S NEW CARDS TO HERALD A NEW IMAGE

You know that blue and white plastic card in your wallet, the one that's wrinkled and peeling and has been through the laundry once or twice?

The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library wants it back. In fact, it wants all 600,000 of them back.

Starting Jan. 1, the library will hand out powerful new library cards to all its patrons. The new cards, which will do much more than the old ones could, are just part of a campaign to update the look and image of the library as it enters the 21st century.

"We want to give the whole system a unified, total look," said Ami Savigny, library spokeswoman. "It's a brand-new image."

The Erie County campaign mirrors changes at other libraries around the nation, said experts on public libraries.

"Libraries are 'with-it' places, but sometimes our image doesn't keep up with our appearance," said Christine Lind Hage, a past president of the national Public Library Association. "It's really important to have an updated image."

Hage, who runs a library system in a Detroit suburb, said new cards are the perfect way to kick off a new image for a library system. She should know -- the Clinton-Macomb Public Library, where Hage is director, introduced both a year and a half ago.

"People really wanted the new cards. They felt they just had to have them," Hage said. "I suppose it really depends on the artwork and image -- sometimes a library will pick something really ugly and people hate it."

Erie County's new image for its libraries won't be ugly, promised Savigny, the library spokeswoman.

The new logo, which is an in-house effort, is being kept under wraps for another month or so while some last-minute design changes are ironed out, she said.

The hard part, Savigny said, will be sifting through the library's 600,000 open accounts, figuring out how many patrons are active and how many of the cards belong to people who have died, moved away or stopped using the library.

The whole process is expected to take a while, with the new cards being phased in as patrons' old cards expire and are replaced, Savigny said.

Other details of the campaign to freshen the library's image include:

New "kids' cards" for children may be added, in addition to regular library cards, so children will be encouraged to use the library with their own special cards.

The new cards will do more, such as allowing library patrons to access their account information and library databases on their home computers, just by typing in the new codes that the cards will contain.

As the new cards are handed out, more information will be collected from patrons, so the library has a better picture of the population it serves.

Savigny said the library also will put out a brochure that will include all the "how-to" that patrons need to access the services the system provides.

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