EMPIRE -- Jim Sterling walked into the library about a year ago with the idea of becoming a volunteer. He thought he'd help by stacking the shelves.
Empire branch manager Heather Bailey had another idea.
She enlisted Sterling's help to start a friends of the library group.
"He just retired and he wanted to help the library," she said. "I'd been looking for someone who wanted to step forward and was passionate about the library. He was my guy."
These nonprofit groups have helped the Stanislaus County Library during a time of shrinking budgets. For instance, the library's materials budget, which pays for such items as books, DVDs, books on CDs and magazines, has shrunk from $1.339 million to $554,000 in the past two years, said Susan Lilly, the library's public information officer.
The Modesto Friends of the Library plans to raise $4,000 for the downtown branch for the budget year that started July 1. The money will buy children's furniture, a display for books on CD, and replace worn out DVDs, said Stella Beratlis, president of the Modesto group. The Turlock group hopes to raise $6,000 to $7,000.
Empire will be the 12th friends group among the county's 13 branch libraries. Only the Keyes branch lacks a group. Bailey will take over that branch Aug. 3, and one of her goals is start a friends group.
Sterling, 69, and other organizers will meet Aug. 11 to form the Empire group. Sterling said the organizers include retired teachers Marcia Gilbert and Marye Martinez and school librarian Rossilyn Starn.
Sterling, a retired third-grade teacher, is encouraging everyone to attend. "We need the support of the community."
Besides raising money for the branches, the friends act as goodwill ambassadors and advocates for the library. Sterling also wants to increase outreach to Empire schools.
The money the groups raise pays for more than books and other materials.
For instance, it pays for arts and crafts for children and for clowns, magicians and other children's performers. The Modesto group co-sponsored an April poetry workshop that drew about 30 people to the library.
Bailey would like money for a changing table in the women's restroom at the Empire branch so mothers don't have to change their babies' diapers on the floor.
"They are very important," Lilly said of friends groups. "They provide funding for programs we otherwise would not be able to provide, particularly in lean budget years. They also ... do a lot to promote the library in the community."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.