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Bookworms in the Buffalo area can soon leave their peeling, laminated library cards at home. Instead, they'll be able to borrow books with just a swipe of their fingertip.

The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library board of trustees Thursday approved a pilot program to use cutting-edge technology -- biometrics -- for convenient book checkout in at least two local branches.

Registration for the optional program, which will be provided by Ultra Scan Corp. in Amherst, requires an initial "ultrascan" of both index fingers. Borrowers will then be able to take out a book by punching a four-digit PIN number and swiping their index finger across a scanner.

Only key points of the actual fingerprint -- not a complete copy -- will be stored in the computer database, thereby protecting borrowers' confidentiality, library officials say.

"If someone is afraid that this information can be transferred to law enforcement agencies, used by the FBI or something, they don't need to worry, because it doesn't lend itself to those uses," said Michael Mahaney, the library's chief operating officer.

The program will be funded through a grant from the Buffalo Technology Transfer Center.

The board also approved a five-year system plan of service in order to comply with New York State Education Department requirements and qualify for state aid. Though the plan must be submitted to the state for approval now, the board will be allowed to review and make changes to the plan each year.

Highlights of the plan include a pledge to enhance library technology by establishing an "e-branch" of the system, including a dedicated Webmaster and proper staffing, setting up online book discussion groups and implementing online options for paying fines.

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