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Washington Co. Closes 3 Libraries, Cuts Hours At 6 Others

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LAKE ELMO, Minn. (WCCO) — Some families in the east metro may find it harder to get to the library this year.

The Washington County Library System is starting off 2012 with three fewer branches, and the six remaining library branches are now closed two days a week to save money.

“We had to make some very difficult decisions,” said Joseph Manion, the libraries public services manager for Washington County. “We have lost almost half a million dollars because of reductions in state aid to county government. So, taking a look at the data, we had some small branches doing less than one percent of our business altogether.”

As a result, Washington County closed their Marine and Newport branches and shut down the remaining branches on Sundays and Mondays.

Lake Elmo opted out of the county system, taking its approximate $260,000 in tax revenue to open its own city library, and closing its Rosalie E. Wahl Library. Washington County Libraries off said the Lake Elmo location only received about 11 customers an hour, compared to the 145 visitors an hour at the main Woodbury location.

Sharon Engdahl of Lake Elmo now drives to the R.H. Stafford Branch Library in Woodbury to check out her books, and said she wishes libraries would be a bigger priority.

“I think it’s a real loss, they are going to try to open it, just the city of Lake Elmo, run it largely with volunteers which will be difficult,” said Engdahl.

Manion said he’s fielded calls of disappointment.

“They see our signage and they call up and go and say this really saddens me,” said Manion. “We are really sad too, not to be here on those days and give the services we’d like to give.”

Moving crews packed up the last of the books and shelves from Lake Elmo’s library on Tuesday, even taking down the sign out front.

“So we have to pay the $60 fee if we want to use any Washington County libraries,” said Tina Nichols, who regularly takes her two year old son Cody to the Stillwater branch. “We have been coming to the library before he could even walk, you know, as a mother you think are doing the right thing by letting them experience of library.”

Manion said part of that experience has changed and now the library must try and maintain its traditional structure while still embracing the future. He cites exponential growth in digital downloads, with an 11 percent rise in e-book downloads in the past year, a demand that can help compensate for cutbacks.

“It’s a phenomena. The e-book has been a preferred choice among a lot of people these days,” said Manion.

To offer continued access to areas now without a library, the system installed kiosks where customers order books from a computer, and then and pick up and return in lockers at Hugo City Hall, the Marine on St. Croix City Hall and Community Library and the Newport Community Library.  Manion said he hopes the cutbacks aren’t permanent. The Washington County library system will ask the county to restore its hours next year.

Lake Elmo residents who purchase a Washington County library card for $60 can have one card per household reimbursed by the city. You can find more information here.

Lake Elmo has an interim library at the Lake Elmo Regional Art Center at Laverne Avenue North and 36th Street with limited hours, and hopes to open its own city library in the spring. Tuesday night, the city council will privately discuss a possible building purchase. You can find the latest information here.

Changes in Washington County library hours and locations

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