BALTIMORE, NOV. 16 -- This city -- "the City that Reads" -- is getting rid of as many of its books as it can.

But for a cause.

If all goes according to plan, residents over the next two weeks will donate up to 100,000 new and used books to go to U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Military officials said they hope the books will arrive by Christmas and help service members while away idle hours in the desert.

"I can't imagine a better holiday present from the 'City that Reads' to these courageous young men and women," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at ceremonies today kicking off the two-week-long book collection campaign.

The City Hall shindig, attended by military and city government officials, including members of Schmoke's Cabinet, is the first in a series of publicity initiatives to get residents behind the books-to-troops effort.

Included are television and radio appeals by Schmoke. "Look through your attic, bookshelves or basement and bring your books in," he urges in one 60-second radio spot.

In a TV plug, a solemn-faced Schmoke says, "We, the people of Baltimore, can help provide our armed forces in the Persian Gulf with a powerful weapon: a book." He holds up a book. "What better way . . . to support our troops than to provide books for their off-duty hours."

Residents are asked to bring old or unwanted books to branch libraries. From there, the books go to the city's 5th Regiment Armory, where they will be bundled and trucked to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and flown to Saudi Arabia, said Col. Bill Bilo, Maryland National Guard chief of staff. He said organizers expected up to 100,000 volumes.

The books will be screened for obscene and religious material, Bilo said. Religious literature, including Bibles, he said, cannot be sent in general shipments, but may be requested by individual service members.

Schmoke's donation at City Hall was a copy of "Succeeding Against the Odds," by John Johnson, president of Johnson Publishing Co., which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines. Other officials donated books ranging from Agatha Christie mysteries and "Iacocca" by Lee Iacocca to Stephen King's "Misery" and "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" by Judith Rossner.

Asked if it was ironic that the "City that Reads" is getting rid of as many books as possible, Schmoke press secretary Clint Coleman smiled. "We're sharing them," he said. "They're books we've already read, and the troops might want to try them."

Said Schmoke, "We hope by the time the books get there, {the troops} will be on the way home."

The book idea was brought to Schmoke by Baltimore residents Nancy Hedrick and Patrick Sean Dolan.