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Patrons help public libraries
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Heidi Johnson helps organize the book sales that benefit the Duluth Public Library. Volunteers work throughout the year to sort the 80,000 books that will be put on sale in August. (MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill)
Public libraries around Minnesota are getting less money from the state than in the past. They're responding by cutting services and buying fewer books. The Minneapolis library eliminated a quarter of its staff. The Le Sueur library stopped subscribing to half its magazines. The library in Thief River Falls parked its bookmobile. But at the same time, libraries are getting creative about finding more money. And people who are used to using the library for free, are stepping forward to help out.

Duluth, Minn. — The Duluth library is funded by the city. And when the state reduced local government aid last year, Duluth spread those cuts across all the city's operations. The library lost 8% of its overall budget.

Every year, a fund raising group organizes a book sale. Volunteers work year-round to get the books ready. They usually raise about $20,000. That's a tiny portion of the library's budget, but it helps buy books and videos.

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Image Jane Fleeson

This year the library is trying something new. It's called the "High Five" campaign. The library is asking patrons to donate $5 to help offset budget cuts. So far they've contributed nearly $50,000.

Other libraries around the state are getting help from their patrons.

The East Central Regional Library is based in Cambridge. It has libraries in six counties north of the Twin Cities - an area twice the size of Delaware. The counties got less money from the state, so they sent less money to the library. The library planned to eliminate bookmobile service for several weeks.

But that wasn't okay with the people in one township near the Wisconsin border. The nearest library is 30 miles away, in Sandstone.

"It takes about 45 minutes one way; a lot of it's really tough gravel roads," says township treasurer Dave Baker. "Some of our citizens around here are elderly, and one longtime bookmobile patron no longer drives."

So the people voted to pay for the bookmobile service themselves.

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Image East Central Regional Library bookmobile

"We voted $300, which is not a huge amount of money," Baker says. "It's somewhat symbolic perhaps. There were some individual contributions from out here too."

Baker says the township can afford another contribution next year, but he's hoping the state will go back to more generous support for counties.

"With all the anti-tax stuff going on," Bakers says, "it's time people become aware that you get what you pay for, and if you don't want to pay for much you're not going to get much."

The library in Ely is getting extra help from its patrons too. Ely has one fifth the money to buy books that it had three years ago. Librarians noticed nearly half of their patrons live outside of town.

The library keeps track of where the books go, and one in five goes to Morse Township. So the library asked the township for some help. Jack Willis is chair of the Morse Township Board. He says it wasn't hard to convince people to chip in.

"In fact in our annual meeting which was on the 9th of March, we had 30 citizens attend, and it was a unanimous vote," says Willis. "Those citizens said, 'Yes, this is something we would like to support.'"

They voted to give $10,000 to the Ely library.

"If you don't want to pay for much, you're not going to get much."
- Dave Baker

Another way the Ely library is cutting costs is by asking people to subscribe to magazines the library normally gets but can't pay for these days. Librarian Rachel Heinrich says so far they've covered all but ten of the 70 subscriptions.

"We're really lucky that the people that use the library here are so supportive, and willing to chip in for a magazine subscription," Heinrich says. "Rather than getting it at home, (they're) deciding to pay for it for the library and coming in here and checking it out instead."

Librarians from around the state are meeting in April to share ideas on dealing with budget cuts. They're keeping their fingers crossed, hoping there won't be more cuts this year.

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