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County libraries closed Wednesday; long-term planning begins

Libraries across Washington County will be closed Wednesday as library administrators and staff kick off a yearlong strategic planning effort with a daylong workshop.

Library officials are set rework the system's two- to four-year plan over the course of months of meetings and workshops, the county's library director told Washington County Commissioners during a board workshop Tuesday.

"The vision needs a revision," Washington County Library Director Patricia Conley said.

That vision, according to the library system's strategic framework, includes engaging young readers; providing entry to the online world; promoting informed, knowledgeable users; and inspiring curiosity.

But, county officials said Tuesday, depending on how deeply state legislators cut funding to Minnesota counties, it could also mean the further limiting of services at Washington County's four smallest libraries in Newport, Lakeland, Lake Elmo and Marine on St. Croix -- or even their closure.

Hours at those branches have already been severely curtailed to 20 hours per week, with no weekend hours, as the county's libraries have seen staffing reduced from 113 at the beginning of 2009 to 87 currently.

Innovation is key to the success of the county's libraries, Conley said, citing a recent shift toward offering more e-books, which are exploding in popularity.

"The only way a library survives is recognizing the past is the past," she told the board.

Conley also reiterated on Tuesday that Washington County Library's south planning zone, served currently by the busy Park Grove Branch Library in Cottage Grove in addition to Newport's small library, is next in line for a new facility.

Based on projected growth, Conley said she anticipated a need for a new library to replace Park Grove by 2016 or 2017.

"That's too small a library for the growth that's going to occur there," she said.