County says it wants out of library system

MARSHALL – It was a step into uncharted territory, Lyon County Commissioner Mark Goodenow said. But it was one that Goodenow and other members of the Marshall-Lyon County Library Board said may be necessary to meet the needs of library patrons in Lyon County.

At their regular meeting Tuesday, members of the Lyon County Board approved a letter announcing the county’s intent to withdraw from the Plum Creek regional library system. Plum Creek currently provides shared services, including interlibrary loans and computer catalog systems, to 24 public libraries in a nine-county area.

At this point, commissioners say they don’t know exactly how withdrawing from the Plum Creek system will affect libraries within the county, including the Marshall-Lyon County library system and the Minneota and Tracy public libraries. However, they agreed the next step after announcing the intent to withdraw will be to open lines of communication with the cities and libraries that could be affected.

Goodenow, the longtime Lyon County representative on the Plum Creek governing board, presented commissioners with a draft withdrawal letter Tuesday. The letter states that Lyon County intends to withdraw from the Plum Creek Library System effective July 1, 2014.

Goodenow said disagreements between the county and Plum Creek have been coming to a head over the past few years.

“We’ve actually reached sort of a stalemate at this point,” Goodenow said.

This past July, the Plum Creek governing board voted to halt interlibrary loan services to the Marshall-Lyon County Library, which includes the public libraries in Marshall, Cottonwood and Balaton. At issue was a dispute over how long the Marshall-Lyon County Library was allowed to keep new library materials before sharing them with other Plum Creek libraries. However, Goodenow said there were several other issues factoring into the decision to withdraw from the partnership.

“It’s not just the issue of how long we hold new books. That’s just an example,” he said.

The biggest issue, Goodenow said, was that Plum Creek was no longer acting like a federated library system, where individual libraries have some independence and the ability to set their own policies. The letter of intent presented to the county board also cited reasons including “excessive” spending on Plum Creek administrative overhead, dissatisfaction with the computerized automation system Plum Creek uses and Plum Creek’s setting fees for services based on a library’s ability to pay instead of the services’ actual cost.

Goodenow acknowledged that the majority of the Plum Creek governing board had approved the system’s current policies.

“When you’re working in a joint powers agreement . . . you take votes, and the majority wins,” he said. However, he said, if Lyon County wasn’t getting its needs met for library services, perhaps it was time to leave the partnership.

If Marshall-Lyon County is no longer a part of the regional library system, it would lose interlibrary loan services and computer catalog services provided by Plum Creek. The Plum Creek system would also lose a portion of its state funding that goes along with Lyon County’s membership.

Goodenow and Marshall-Lyon County Library Board Chairman Will Thomas said they thought it was possible for the Marshall-Lyon County library to survive independently of Plum Creek. The three libraries would not directly lose funding, they said – the state library funding generated by Lyon County has always gone to the regional system, to subsidize services like automation or book delivery.

Going it alone would also mean losing the use of Plum Creek’s computer catalog system. Goodenow and Thomas said switching to an independent system would come with some one-time financial costs, but once established, an independent catalog system would be cheaper.

Less clear, however, would be the effect on the Minneota and Tracy libraries, they said. Thomas said the Marshall-Lyon County Library would be willing to work with the Minneota and Tracy libraries to help provide automation services, interlibrary loans and other services.

Commissioner Rodney Stensrud said he didn’t object to the county withdrawing from Plum Creek, but he couldn’t approve the letter unless the county talked with the cities of Tracy and Minneota. He didn’t want the two small public libraries there to be hurt.

“We can’t really say how it’s going to affect them,” he said. “We need to have a plan set up so that people know what’s happening.”

Commissioner Steve Ritter agreed with Stensrud.

Lyon County Board Chairman Rick Anderson noted that before the county could address the results of withdrawal, it needed to decide on its intent. However, he said he also wanted to see the county set up meetings with the cities and library boards of Minneota and Tracy, as well as the cities of Cottonwood and Balaton.

Commissioners voted unanimously to announce the county’s intent to withdraw from the Plum Creek system.

Later on Tuesday, Tracy Librarian Blair Nelson said he had spoken with Plum Creek Director Mark Ranum and was assured that the Tracy and Minneota libraries would not be expelled from the regional system if Lyon County withdraws.