In the past two months, volunteers have built bookshelves, painted walls, catalogued the collection of donated books and staffed the check-out desk 21 hours a week at the Marine on St. Croix library.

"The volunteer commitment has been profound," said Christina Smitten, a Marine Library Association (MarLA) board member. "It's been an amazing effort. There is an understanding that the smaller library has a role in the community. It is an important place for the community to come together."

Marine, which took over responsibility for operating the library from Washington County on Jan. 1, joins a short but growing list of cities -- Maple Lake, Crosslake and Pequot Lakes -- that run their own libraries, primarily with volunteers.

Newport, like Marine, took over operations of its library on Jan. 1. The city has one part-time paid employee but relies on volunteers. And Lake Elmo is in the process of setting up a community-run library.

"We wish libraries were better funded by the government," said MarLA board member Sue Logan. "We hope they [other cities] are not faced with that problem and we hope they never get into that situation. But if they do, they can call Marine for advice."

Of course it takes money to run a library. Marine, a community of 689 residents, will kick in about $8,000 to cover some costs. MarLA will hold quarterly fundraisers to cover operating expenses, offer expanded programming, and buy more books and other items on its wish list, such as a Kindle-type device and a laptop computer. The first fundraiser will be Saturday.

Since the call for volunteers went out in December, scores of people have pitched in to give the library its first interior update since it opened in 1968. In addition to painting, they put down new carpet and installed oak bookshelves salvaged from a building in Minneapolis. Smitten found an oak table and re-stained it.

Hundreds of people donated books, CDs and reference material. More than 50 volunteers, from teens to seniors, have attended training sessions led by MarLA board member Sue Logan and have signed up to staff the library.

"It's quite amazing how many people are interested," Logan said. "They are coming out of the woodwork, really."

Without the volunteers, the library, with a collection of 1,200 books and a living-room feel, most likely would have closed. That is what prompted Jeff Black and his wife, Deb Yanker Black, of Marine, to volunteer.

"We need a library in town. It's a meeting place and central place for information," Deb said during a training and orientation session last week. "I've been using it for 22 years, so it's only fair."

On her first day, she learned how books were cataloged and how to use the computer to set up patron accounts and to check out items.

"It doubles as a Taser," she joked while using a wand to scan a bar code. "I'm totally just winging it," she said while completing a check-out.

Meanwhile, Jeff restocked shelves, a few of which he built. "I just wanted to give back," he said when asked why he volunteered.

It was not immediately clear how many people have used the library since the city took over, but a stream of people stop by to browse the collection and use the computer. One woman came in simply to read "Vanity Fair" magazine.

The city retained its association with the county, so patrons can request items from county libraries and have them delivered to Marine.

"I'm glad you are keeping it going," said Mignon Johnson, 94, a Marine resident since 1945.

"It's the heart of Marine."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib