Like most public library systems in America, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (B&ECPL) has a long history of developing and implementing strategic plans of service. It was not until the mid-1990s, however, that the B&ECPL Board of Trustees announced that an exhaustive, independent review of its operations, funding, governance and infrastructure had assumed the highest priority.
In 1997, the B&ECPL contracted with Aaron Cohen Associates, Ltd. to evaluate the Library System on many levels and issue a report that would form the basis of a sweeping new strategic plan. In October 1998, The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in the Third Millennium was released to the public as the B&ECPL's proposed strategic plan for the years 1999 through 2003.
Many of that study's recommendations were accepted without reservation and implemented, at least in part. One observation that drew widespread resistance was that B&ECPL's 52-outlet service model was outmoded, over-extended and not cost effective. A System-wide consolidation effort to construct better but fewer libraries was recommended.
When Library leaders delivered this message to the public in a series of 22 community meetings during the first half of 2000, the public and the elected officials who represent them expressed almost unanimous opposition.
The Library Board listened and responded with a revised plan, Expanding Horizons , that stated: The Board of Trustees proposes that all public libraries in Erie County remain funded and open; however, each library's prospects are dependent on fulfilling certain obligations.
In the subsequent plan, Breaking New Ground , released in 2004, the Board stated its intention to: Collaborate with communities willing to consolidate resources (e.g., South Buffalo) to improve the level and quality of library service as well as manage rising operational expenses.
Timing is everything.
In the heart of long and fiery debates over Erie County's 2005 budget, some citizens and public officials have asked the Library to revisit the 1998 Cohen study a study that the Library's Board and administration never ignored and never abandoned.