Library sharing issues could have broad consequences

REDWOOD FALLS – A meeting on concerns with the Marshall-Lyon County Library’s lending policies brought out plenty of frustrations, but not many solutions, on Monday night. One thing that was clear from the discussion, however, was that the issue could have far-reaching consequences for area libraries.

An informational meeting for members of the Plum Creek Library System governing board and Marshall-Lyon County Library Board was held Monday night, mainly to talk about issues related to the restriction of interlibrary loan services at the Marshall-Lyon County Library. Plum Creek restricted services to the library earlier this month.

In an announcement, Plum Creek Director Mark Ranum had said the restrictions were a response to Marshall-Lyon County’s policy of keeping new materials for 90 days before making them available for interlibrary loan. That practice was in violation of the Plum Creek system’s resource sharing policies, Ranum said. Marshall-Lyon County Library board members maintain they are giving local taxpayers a chance to check out the materials they paid for.

There was no official action taken at the meeting. However, representatives from several area counties and libraries served by Plum Creek were in attendance to ask questions and weigh in on the lending restrictions.

State Librarian Nancy Walton was present at the meeting to answer questions and give some background on regional library systems in Minnesota.

“All we can do is recommend best practices,” Walton said of state library services. Regional library systems must make their own policy decisions, she said.

“Regional systems have been around for more than 50 years,” with the goal of reducing costs and sharing resources as equitably as possible around the state, Walton said. Regional library systems receive state funding for libraries, coordinate regional and state interlibrary loan systems and book deliveries and provide other services for their members.

Walton said other powers and responsibilities of a regional library system depend on the type of system it is. In a federated system like Plum Creek, member libraries retain local control of their operations but vote on policies that affect the system as a whole, like resource sharing. In consolidated library systems, the library locations are all branches controlled by the regional system.

Walton said Minnesota has a few libraries that stand alone or that have withdrawn from regional systems, but she said there are negative consequences that go with that. Libraries that leave a regional system risk becoming “a building with books,” Walton said. They lose access to regional and statewide services like computer cataloging and interlibrary loans, and they also have to pay for the cost of pulling out of those computer systems.

“Making that kind of a decision has a ripple effect,” Walton said.

The fact that the Marshall-Lyon County Library receives both city and county funds also complicates things. Minnesota counties are mandated to support public libraries, Walton said. While the city of Marshall could technically withdraw from the Plum Creek system, Lyon County would still need to be part of a regional library system.

“It sounds like you’re saying individual libraries in a federated system still don’t have any options,” to go against policies that may hurt them, said Marshall-Lyon County Library Board member Gwen Sturrock.

Walton said Plum Creek board members would need to decide on the system’s shared policies.

Walton’s information prompted lots of discussion, some of it heated. Marshall-Lyon County Library Board members made some suggestions to try to offset the effects of holding new materials, or make sharing more equitable. Suggestions included filling library loan requests with local books first, limiting the number of library materials a patron can put on hold at once, or putting Marshall first in line to fill requests from other libraries. None seemed to get much support at the meeting, however.

Ranum said Plum Creek checkout data didn’t support limiting holds as a solution. He also said Marshall-Lyon County had already been offered a chance to fill more loan requests, and turned it down. Marshall-Lyon County Library board president Will Thomas replied that the option was presented to the library as part of a set of conditions it could not agree to.

Pipestone County Commissioner Butch Miller said it seemed like issues with the Marshall-Lyon County Library had grown in the past three years or so.

A majority of the Plum Creek Board approved the penalty Marshall-Lyon County is paying for not sharing resources to the fullest extent, Miller said. “I think you’re obliged to abide by it until it’s changed.”

Other libraries also have responsibilities to their taxpayers, but they still share materials, Plum Creek board members said.

Redwood Falls Library Board Chairwoman Clara Friese urged compromise among the member libraries. For the regional system to survive, she said, “You need everyone.”

Thomas said the Marshall-Lyon County Library Board will meet to discuss the issue further before deciding how to proceed.