Manatee County is blessed with a volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for residents to pursue their interests and discover new worlds.
The Library Foundation, a rather generic term for a model support system, is the simple name for a rather distinguished organization that has been a huge influence in this community for decades -- since its formation in 1985.
The foundation's mission is ensuring the Manatee County Public Library System obtains the resources to achieve its potential.
This organization's success helped earn the library several honors from the Florida Library Association, 2013's Library Innovation Award and 2014's Libraries Change People's Lives Award. These are not surprising honors given the ever expanding range of programs the system develops.
The foundation's latest endeavor is a challenging one -- to raise $100,000 and partner with county government to purchase a much needed new operating system.
And the organization landed a major ally in this effort, one of the most popular novelists in the publishing world, Stephen King. The best-selling author of science fiction, horror and fantasy novels and part-time Casey Key resident, will be the guest of honor at a January fund-raiser.
Jane Plitt, also an author and the president of the foundation, and Ava Ehde, the library services manager, outlined the importance of this new mission in a discussion at the Herald.
The current technology, installed 15 years ago, is woefully outdated and too costly to operate at some $70,000 annually. A modern integrated countywide information system will be more interactive and user-friendly, even allowing library patrons to reserve material from home.
The foundation is halfway to its $100,000 goal. "An Evening with Stephen King" at the Manatee Performing Arts Center on Jan. 29 promises to boost the campaign significantly. Individual tickets, at $125 apiece, are not on sale yet, but sponsorships are available, starting at $200.
The library system has seen remarkable growth with online usage surging by 645 percent over the past two years. Program attendance jumped by 64 percent since 2008 as the library teamed up with more community partners and system staff increased public engagement programs.
Monthly program attendance, measured in October since 2004, reached a record 4,600 last year. Monthly patron visits also set a new high mark, at 81,000 in 2013.
Manatee County's Library System is an invaluable contributor to the community's quality of life. With the Library Foundation's support, the system continues to grow -- purchasing resource materials, launching special projects and extending outreach efforts to engage residents from toddlers to seniors.
Thanks to King's gracious assistance -- he's expected to talk for an hour, take audience questions and autograph his latest book, "Revival" -- January's event should be a smashing success.
The Library Foundation's visionary founders would be very pleased with the evolution of both their organization and the library system as a more vibrant and vital part of the community,
King event details: manateelibraryfoundation.org