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Libraries announce new hours for winter

With the Erie County Legislature and county executive turning the page on their fight over next year's budget, the effects of funding cuts to libraries is coming into focus.

Library officials Wednesday announced a winter schedule that reflects their strategy of holding steady hours of operation and services at major locations and trimming from smaller branches.

"This is something that we do look at on a regular basis. However, the reduction in the hours was driven by the budget," said Mary Jean Jakubowski, chief operating officer for the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system.

The system's overall weekly hours will drop by 98.5, from 1,656.5 to 1,558, when the new schedule begins Sunday. Some of those hours are privately funded.

Seven of the eight "library centers" -- Central, Niagara, Audubon, Kenmore, Julia Boyer Reinstein, Orchard Park and Hamburg -- will slightly increase their weekly hours. Only Merriweather on Buffalo's East Side will lose hours.

The smaller branches will take the brunt of reductions. Each of Buffalo's six other branches will decrease hours from 40 to 32.

Some suburbs were not spared, either. Amherst's Clearfield, Eggertsville and Williamsville branches lost at least 10 hours. Kenilworth in the Town of Tonawanda took the biggest hit with a loss of 16 hours, from 48 to 32.

And the Anna M. Reinstein Elma and Lackawanna locations all lost five hours.

Library directors said they're confident the public's needs and state minimum standards for libraries will be met.

"There is always at least one library open within a region, and in most cases there are many libraries open on a given day," Jakubowski said.

Hours for libraries outside Buffalo are set by that branch's board of trustees and library director, based on peak usage times and other factors. Hours for city branches are set by the system's leadership downtown.

"We took a good, hard look at our usage data and also looked to what people have been asking us for through comment forms, general conversation and surveys that we've had," said Jakubowski.

Library officials warned in October of cutbacks to 16 hours a week at some branches if County Executive Chris Collins cut county support by $4 million. But a one-time restoration of $3 million was worked out with the Legislature.

Libraries next year will receive $21 million in county support -- $1 million less than last year -- and expect less state aid.

The cuts come at a time when libraries are seeing a 2.2 percent increase in transactions and 4.9 percent increase in public access computer usage over 2009, according to numbers released Wednesday.

"We're not saying, 'Oh, woe is me, look at what we could have had,' " said Joy Testa Cinquino, the library's public affairs manager. "It's, 'This is where we are, and we're going to make the best of it.' "

e-mail: jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com

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