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'Doomed' West Falls library gets new lease on life, thanks to drive Out of county system, branch is going private

The West Falls library is like the Little Library That Could.

This pint-sized branch in the Town of Aurora is scheduled to close in October as part of the cuts to the Erie County library system. However, the tiniest branch in the county has some big plans.

It will return in January under a new name and new caretakers -- the people of this rural community who have browsed its bookshelves for more than 70 years.

The nonprofit group Friends of the West Falls Library will reopen the library as the West Falls-Colden Community Library, and take over operations.

No more county support, or state charter. It will exist on its own, with donations and the help of volunteers.

"We would have been happier to stay part of the Erie County library system," said Paulette Voit, president of the group, "but we're trying to make a positive out of a negative."

Other libraries are searching for a new life, too, after the Buffalo & Erie County Library Board voted to downsize the system from 52 branches to 36 in anticipation of receiving less county support next year.

In Buffalo, Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. is trying to keep the Northwest branch open in some form, as is Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana with the Mead branch.

Both are trying to involve volunteers or a nonprofit agency to run a reading room-community center out of the buildings if the city -- which owns the buildings -- can come up with money to pay utilities.

West Falls may be a model for others to follow, said Lee Ainsworth-Mahaney, director of the Aurora Town Public Library.

"They're the first one to have really thought this through clearly," said Ainsworth-Mahaney, "and they're ready."

It won't be easy.

Volunteers must staff the library. Donations must pay for new materials. A new borrowing system will be needed.

But the project is off to a good start.

Most of the library's existing collection, furniture and a couple of computers will stay.

Aurora, which owns the Davis Road building, will pay for utilities and help maintain the grounds, said Supervisor Terence M. Yarnall.

"There's a lot we have to figure out yet," Voit said.

But this little library is in the hands of a tight-knit community.

The quaint branch, with a fireplace inside and Cazenovia Creek out back, is the nearest library for people in outlying areas like Holland, Griffins Mills, Colden and Glenwood.

It's only open 10 hours a week. But West Falls -- which started as a book club until the building went up in the 1930s -- prides itself on its children's programs, which it wants to continue.

"The library is almost like a community center," Voit said. "Everyone who comes in knows each other. We'd really hate to lose that."

The Aurora Library Board, which ultimately decided to close West Falls based on inadequate funding from Erie County, agreed to stop circulation at West Falls today, Ainsworth-Mahaney said.

Doors will be closed Oct. 12. Staff will take a few weeks for inventory, before turning over the materials and keys. Its grand reopening is set for Jan. 24.

"We're not the biggest and we don't have the largest circulation," Voit said, "but we're an important library."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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