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In tough economic times...Library gets even busier

2011 could be a tough year - financially for public libraries, according to Peg Werner.

Werner, director of Viking Library System, spoke before Douglas County commissioners at last week's regular board meeting.

When the economy is down, Werner said libraries are busier because people tend to stop buying books or stop their magazine subscriptions and turn to the public library instead.

"They come in day after day," she said. "The Douglas County Library is busier than they have ever been.

"The use of public libraries is up incredibly," Werner added.

She said that as the business community continues to hesitate in fully embracing the economic recovery, people across the country continue to rely on public libraries for unemployment and job seeking information, computer access, newspaper and magazines and entertainment for the entire family.

The number of people requesting new library cards is increasing everywhere and circulation statistics continue to climb, according to Werner.

She called the Douglas County Library an amazing library and said it gets an amazing amount of use.

However, Werner noted the staff members have to do more with less - as in less staff and in some cases, reduced hours, which she said is not helpful.

A silver lining to what appears to be a big, dark, dismal cloud is that the Viking Library System, which Douglas County Library is part of, is the recipient of Minnesota Cultural and Heritage Legacy funds.

"We have money, but it is mandated for certain program areas," said Werner. "We are able to do a lot with little because of the grant money. We are doing a lot, but not with county money."

Werner noted however, that because of the Legacy Funds, it sometimes confuses residents because libraries are cutting hours and material budgets yet they are increasing programming.

But she said the programming is all Legacy Funds. "All that money is designated to a specific program," she stressed.

Werner explained to the commissioners that the Viking Library System was not asking for a budget increase, but instead, requesting flat funding, which she noted was the third year in a row.

The budget request for 2009 was $104,173, which was the same amount in 2010 and the same amount for 2011.

"If you take care of pennies, the dollars take care of themselves," Werner told the commissioners. "In saving little bits of dollars, we can sustain."

Commissioner Paul Anderson noted that he likes to see flat funding and thinks it is "wonderful."

The Viking Library System budget is proposed in June on a preliminary basis and will now be finalized in January.

The system serves five counties - Douglas, Grant Otter Tail, Pope and Stevens.