Hennepin County issued more library cards last year than it had in years.

Library visits have been declining nationwide for the past decade, so any reversal of that trend — even a 6% uptick in card-carrying library patrons in one Minnesota county — is cause to celebrate. Even if the librarians can't quite pinpoint why.

Unless it was the llamas.

Giggles filled the air and llamas filled the Washburn Library parking lot in south Minneapolis on a recent Saturday afternoon. The line to meet the llamas stretched down and around the building, past the llama story-time tent and tables filled with llama-themed games and activities.

Five llamas mingled with library patrons, eyelashes fluttering. Wide-eyed children and adults reached out to stroke the animals' soft fur. Volunteers distributed treats that llamas nibbled delicately off dozens of outstretched palms.

There are llamas at the library for the same reason there are books on the shelves. To amuse us, to delight us and maybe even teach us something new. Llamas are there because — in the words of one small girl who met one at the Penn Lake Library — llamas are llamazing.

Llamas have been circulating at libraries in and around Minneapolis for two summers now, drawing bigger and happier crowds each year. Almost every weekend, llamas make an appearance at a different library in the system. The program runs this summer until Aug. 3.

"Discovery is part of the DNA of a library and the invitation to come discover something exciting or delightful at the library. Llamas really help bring that in," said Hennepin County spokesman Joshua Yetman. "This is for all ages. Young, old — folks who are just looking for a reason to get out of the house."

As Minnesotans check out the llamas, they are checked out by the llamas in return.

"They're checking you out because they're curious," said Rick Carlson, founder of Carlson's Llovable Llamas in Waconia — your source for llama encounters, llama camp, llama yoga, llama-themed birthday parties and, of course, llamas at the library.

At a time when most of us are generations removed from life on a farm, a chance to spend time with a barnyard animal is a treat. Especially an animal that looks like someone tried to build a camel out of cotton candy.

"I grew up on a dairy farm, so I see this as an opportunity to get kids interested in animals," said Carlson, who finds that these events are good socialization for llamas that also work with 4-H kids and as therapy animals. "Any kind of animal contact they can have is a good thing … and llamas are so people-friendly and curious."

At Washburn, the llamas drifted around the parking lot like puffy clouds, pausing for frequent pats and hugs from the 800-plus people who came out to meet them that day. A few lowered themselves to the ground and knelt at eye level with the milling children.

"Llamas just draw people in," said Alison Reiter, youth services librarian and summer learning project manager for the Hennepin County Library system.

When the llamas visited the Arvonne Fraser Library in Dinkytown, college students flocked to greet them. At the Cedar-Riverside Opportunity Center, some of the neighborhood's Somali seniors were as excited as their grandchildren were to meet the llamas.

"The elders loved the llamas," Reiter said. "It brought back memories of their experience with camels back in Somalia.

"Llamas," Reiter added, "are for everyone."

The dream team of llamas and llibraries started two years ago, when an inspired group of librarians at the Franklin Library in the Ventura Village neighborhood invited Carlson's Llovable Llamas over for a very fluffy, very educational afternoon.

In 2023, the llamas visited 15 neighborhood libraries, drawing crowds of hundreds each time. And the number of library cardholders in Hennepin County increased.

Hennepin County isn't saying it was the llamas. But they're not saying it wasn't the llamas. And this summer, they upped the number of llama visits to 16.

You can find a schedule of upcoming library llama visits at hclib.bibliocommons.com/v2/events?q=llamas.