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The Central Library swung open its doors Monday and gave users a glimpse of the future.

In that future, the library looks a lot like a chain bookstore.

The more airy, redesigned main entrance unveiled Monday includes a gift shop and bookstore for browsing, a cafe for grabbing coffee and a bagel, and even an automated checkout scanner.

The renovations are supposed to be the first of many to make the flagship of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system more inviting and user-friendly.

A brighter, more comfortable popular materials section -- filled with magazines, DVDs and CDs -- is scheduled to open this fall next to the cafe.

"We're going for the Barnes & Noble feel," said Ruth A. Collins, deputy library director. "What we're trying to do is give visitors another reason to spend more time in downtown Buffalo."

Library officials are trying to make the Central Library -- which hasn't had a major overhaul since it was built in 1964 -- a focal point as they face mounting pressure to scale back on its 52 branches.

In 2000, community-led opposition led library board members to reject a proposed consolidation that would have closed 22 libraries.

But the county's recent fiscal crisis has prompted county officials to renew pressure to save money by reducing the library system.

In light of county budget problems, such reductions may have more public support these days, officials said.

"I think folks are willing to take a hard look at our library system and what it would take to keep it viable," said Rebecca L. Pordum, Library Board chairwoman. "I think the board needs to have a serious discussion as to the future of our library system."

But the Central Library renovations, she noted, were in the works several years before the county budget crisis.

In 2003, the county sold $2 million in bonds to help pay for $3.1 million in renovations this year at the Central Library, the first phase of the project, said Kenneth H. Stone, deputy director and chief financial officer. Donated and capital project funds covered the rest, he said.

The renovated Washington Street entrance includes a book drop, an updated service counter and automated equipment allowing users to check out books on their own.

The redesigned floor pattern directs all users past the remodeled gift shop and used-book outlet, then through Fable, the cafe where they can get coffee, juice or snacks.

The cafe's private operator pays rent for the space and eventually will turn over as much as 10 percent of gross sales to the library system, Stone said.

Next up -- if private and county money becomes available -- are an expanded children's library and remodeling of the Grosvenor Room, which houses special collections.


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