Anyone who listens to public radio understand the concept of a challenge grant, and that is the test Wilton Library is attempting to pass with its 25 for 25 Campaign that launches Sept. 25 and runs through Oct. 25.

The challenge is to raise $25,000, which the town will match, thus enabling the library to meet its funding needs for the fiscal year that began July 1. The Board of Selectmen issued the challenge during the spring budget negotiations. The additional money is needed to cover staff salary increases and rising costs of healthcare benefits.

The library saw 273,257 visits last year and is hoping at least 1,000 community members will see their way to contributing $25 to this campaign, although library executive director Elaine Tai-Lauria said any contribution will be gratefully accepted. This fund-raising effort is separate from the library’s annual campaign, which it will undertake later this year.

“We’re so grateful for a community that appreciates what the library means,” Tai-Lauria told The Bulletin.

Wilton Library is an association library, not a public library, thus it does not receive all its funding from the town. The town contributes 75% of the library’s budget — $2,752,453 this fiscal year — to cover general operations. The library is left to raise the remaining 25% that is “critical to filling our shelves and running our programs,” Tai-Lauria said.

To raise those dollars the library runs a number of fund-raisers throughout the year, some large, some small. In addition to the annual appeal, the bigger ones are the four book sales, the annual spring benefit, the Ladies’ Soirée, and the family golf, which was added this year.

Tai-Lauria emphasized “100% of the money raised is going to what’s on our shelves and our programs. We do a lot of work on our campaigns in-house,” she said, adding that very little is done by outside vendors, therefore printing flyers or sending out direct mail appeals is done by library staff.

“If we run short of money for operations, we run the risk of having to cut back on hours or staff,” she said. “We can’t do programs without people.”

Community effects

Tai-Lauria pointed out the library is more than a place where people check out materials or attend a program. Its influence is felt throughout the community by spreading economic benefits to its business neighbors.

“We do play a role by maintaining a high caliber of programs,” she said. Some programs, such as author talks and popular concerts, have waiting lists of people wanting to attend.

“We know many people from out of town come to our events, they go to our restaurants and shops,” she said. “Every dollar given to help run the library — there’s a payback. People are spending their money elsewhere in town.”

The library runs almost 1,000 programs a year for patrons of all ages. “Those don’t just happen,” Tai-Lauria said. “They take a lot of staff time.”

Too numerous to mention, programs include concerts, author talks, literary discussions, the historical lecture series with Wilton Historical Society, the Innovation Station, and programs for young people that include robotics, coding for girls, and the Earth garden. There are also special programs such as last year’s eclipse viewing, virtual reality experiences, and the Human Library.

The library offers learning experiences at no cost to patrons, she continued. For example, “we are exposing the community to new technology, but we also have to put it in context,” Tai-Lauria said. “We want people to realize the technology exists, but they shouldn’t have to pay to learn about it.”

As an information resource, nothing beats a library, Tai-Lauria said, adding people need not feel embarrassed to ask questions. “Here you are treated civilly, we respect you,” she said.

“Where in the world can you go with any question, knowing it will be held in confidence, and you will get good, vetted information without having to pay for it or feel pressured to buy anything?”

Those wishing to donate to the 25 for 25 Campaign may visit www.wiltonlibrary.org and click on the “Donate Now” link or stop by the circulation desk beginning Sept. 25.

For more information, email Elaine Tai-Lauria at etailauria@wiltonlibrary.org or call 203-762-6322, or reach out to Robin Axness, development director, at raxness@wiltonlibrary.org or 203-762-6323.