A group that supports Washington County libraries will soon launch a campaign to raise money to help the system beef up its book collection.
The nonprofit Washington County Library Partners said Wednesday that if it can raise $10,000 by Sept. 30, a donor who does not want to be identified will kick in another $10,000 that will be used to buy 2,012 books this year.
As part of the campaign, which was announced during a library board meeting that coincided with National Library Week, Partners' President Ken Stone called on board members to create a database of potential donors and write letters and make phone calls.
"We need to find people who are interested in libraries, particularly the Washington County libraries," Stone said. "We can raise north of $20,000. That will allow you to buy books."
Stone said the Partners has received its first $250 gift, but will begin advertising the "2012 in 2012" campaign in earnest later this spring by placing literature and displays at the system's six branches. He also said Partners will launch a website in the next couple of weeks to raise awareness, support and of course, cash.
The library currently has about 629,400 items in its collection, which represents a 5 percent increase from the 600,000 items on the shelves in 2010. The library spent about $743,500 on new items last year, or about 12 percent of its roughly $6 million budget.
This year, as a result of budget cuts, it had about $600,000 to spend on new items. The library also shrunk from nine branches to six. It eliminated two branches -- Newport and Marine on St. Croix -- and Lake Elmo left the system to start a city-run library. It also reduced staff and cut hours at the six remaining branches, which are now closed on Sundays and Mondays.
The grant is important because "we are always trying to maintain the collection," said Joe Manion, the library system's public services division manager. Materials that tackle subjects such as "medicine or science become outdated" and need to be replaced. "Subjects such as the arts or literature can stay a little longer."
It's not just traditional books the library needs. Officials say there is a growing demand for children's, large-print and downloadable books.
In March 2011, the library introduced its e-book service, which allows library card holders to download best sellers, mysteries, romance novels and fiction titles to their Nooks, Kindles and other electronic devices. While checkouts of e-books accounted for only 2 percent of the total circulation, the service is growing rapidly, library officials said.
Collectively, the library loaned 2.13 million items in 2011, a slight decrease from the 2.16 million items checked out in 2010. But more people took advantage of accessing the library remotely. In addition to downloading e-books, legions of patrons logged on to look for work by using Job Now employment assistance program, get help with their homework, download journal articles and read newspapers.
Still, books represented 80 percent of the library's collection and 71 percent of items checked out last year. Officials want to keep the collection strong.
"We don't know if a book changed their life, or if the plumbing works perfectly in their house," Manion said while delivering a state of the library presentation. "We do have the resources to make that happen."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib