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Book check-outs up

Karen McEnany-Phillips

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The clicks of computer keys were barely audible as Dornell Mister surfed the Internet on the peaceful third floor of the Winter Park Public Library.

Warmed by sunlit windows, the behavioral therapist especially enjoys the Library's sports and political magazines.

"The environment is so relaxing and gives me great accessibility to resources," said Mister, one of more than 319,000 visitors to the Library in 2009.

The recession seems to be helping local libraries thrive, as folks shy away from bookstores, preferring to borrow their favorite reading materials.

Visitors and circulation are up at both the Maitland and Winter Park libraries, while funding has decreased. Both say they're outgrowing their facilities.

Library Director Robert Melanson said demand for library services grew in 2009, with a 659,000 circulation despite the recession. It offered 1,729 programs reaching more than 41,000 participants.

"We analyze and deliver what residents want," Melanson said. "As technology tends to isolate people, library programs foster interaction for people with similar interests."

Melanson must balance unprecedented use of library services with limited financial resources as his library operates as a public/private partnership.

"Our biggest challenge is that we receive only 65 percent of our funding through the city. We must raise the balance of funds ourselves. If the community wants to maintain services at the current level, we need more financial support," he said.

The other main funding source comes from Friends of the Winter Park Public Library volunteers, who operate the bookstore inside the library.

Residents can support the annual fund drive, consider a contribution to the library's endowment fund and communicate to city leaders the importance of the library when making funding choices.

Founded in 1885, the Winter Park Library prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary this December. A 20-year independent study performed in 2002 recommended that the library should almost double its size from 33,000 to 60,000 square feet to meet the needs of future growth through 2022.

Winter Park Mayor Kenneth Bradley called the library, "one of the greatest assets of our city." Although Bradley said the city wants to embrace and support the library, there is no financing plan for expansion at this time.

Maitland Public Library

Founded in 1886, the 12,000-square-foot Maitland Public library needs more space. A 20-year study indicates the library's services and collection should be housed in a 36,000-square-foot facility. Expanding the library has been under discussion for years but is on hold at least until the downtown Maitland project, called Maitland Town Center, is finalized.

Maitland Library Director Karen Potter said the library receives most of its funding through the city of Maitland but has experienced funding decreases over the past two years. Now Potter focuses on fundraising and community collaboration.

"We're sending out more grant requests than ever before. We've joined with the Philanthropy Center at Rollins College, and we're engaged in a cooperative fundraising effort with several other Maitland non-profits," Potter said. The community can also contribute to the library endowment program.

Endless stacks, boxes and piles of used books surrounded six women. These Friends of the Maitland Public Library were unpacking, sorting and labeling for the Spring Book Sale held last month.

It's backbreaking work for the volunteers who host a used book sale every Wednesday morning. The money raised pays for materials and services including the Distance Library Initiative, Youth Poetry Contest, an interlibrary loan courier service, the library's leased books program and laptops.

"We definitely can use more volunteers and donations," Friends' President Gail Miller said, "and people to buy more books!"

Patronage and circulation were both up 9 percent last year.

Potter uses volunteers for nearly all the library programs and for shelf organization and maintenance.

She said the economy shows the value of sharing resources as evidenced by people who no longer buy books and who use the free children's programs.

Potter sees a long future for her library.

"I'm encouraged that people are reading and listening to books in so many formats," Potter said. "Remember, libraries are people places, not just book places."