As library board votes to withdraw from Plum Creek, questions remain

MARSHALL – A second public body has announced its intent to leave the Plum Creek Library System this week. This time, it was the Marshall-Lyon County Library Board itself. At their regular meeting on Monday, members of the board unanimously voted to withdraw from the regional library system effective July 1, although they say they remain open to working things out with Plum Creek.

“The goal is providing service and running the library the best way we can,” said Library Board Chairman Will Thomas. That didn’t rule out finding a solution within Plum Creek, he said.

The library board’s announcement came about a week after Lyon County Board also voted to withdraw from the Plum Creek system.

However, some major questions are still looming for both the library and the county. One highlighted this week was whether it’s even legally possible for Lyon County to withdraw from Plum Creek. A letter from Minnesota’s interim state librarian says the county is required by law to support a regional library system – and that leaves very few options other than staying with Plum Creek.

Members of the library board discussed withdrawal from Plum Creek this week, partly in light of the county board’s action on the matter. Conflicts between Marshall-Lyon County and the Plum Creek governing board have also been “at a stalemate” for some time, library board members said. Interlibrary loans to the Marshall, Cottonwood and Balaton libraries have been halted for about six months, although board members say Marshall-Lyon County is still loaning books out to other libraries.

The Plum Creek joint powers agreement allows for individual libraries to withdraw from the system. Library board member Mark Goodenow said Marshall-Lyon County would need to give six months’ notice if it decided to withdraw.

“I’m a little worried,” said board member Tom Runholt about moving ahead with a motion to withdraw from Plum Creek. Leaving the system could mean losing services like statewide interlibrary loans and establishing a new catalog system for Marshall-Lyon County, he said. Runholt hoped the board could still come to some kind of resolution with Plum Creek instead.

“We absolutely need to talk,” with Plum Creek board members, Runholt said. “The board as a whole has to address the issue.”

“There’s a fair amount of uncertainty in this,” Thomas noted, but there needed to be a first step.

Library board members voted to announce their intent to withdraw from Plum Creek, with the understanding that Marshall-Lyon County is willing to negotiate with the Plum Creek board.

Thomas drafted a letter to the Plum Creek governing board. The letter said Marshall-Lyon County’s decision to withdraw was “taken with a deep sense of regret.” The library board believes it, and not the Plum Creek board, should make operating decisions for the Marshall-Lyon County Library, Thomas said in the letter. The letter also closes with a statement that the library board is willing to negotiate in good faith with Plum Creek.

At the same time, Lyon County has already received a response to its plan to withdraw from Plum Creek. On Monday, a letter from Interim State Librarian Jennifer Nelson was sent to Lyon County Board Chairman Rick Anderson, Plum Creek Director Mark Ranum and Plum Creek Board Chairman Jim Schmidt. In the letter, Nelson said Lyon County is required by state law to be part of a regional library system.

Nelson’s letter echoed similar comments made by former Minnesota State Librarian Nancy Walton in July. At a question-and-answer session with Plum Creek board members, Walton had said the city of Marshall could possibly withdraw from Plum Creek, but Lyon County would still need to be part of a regional library system.

“The state is very clear about counties being mandated into regional library systems,” Ranum said this week. Because of this, Ranum said, it was surprising Lyon County went ahead with the decision to withdraw.

Nelson said Lyon County could request that the Minnesota Department of Education assign it to a different regional library system. But the request would have to meet several conditions in order to be granted. Those conditions include making sure that library services are not diminished for Lyon County patrons, and that Lyon County share a border with at least one county in its new system.

The only other regional library system sharing a border with Lyon County is the Pioneerland Library System, which includes Yellow Medicine County. Pioneerland is a consolidated library system, where member libraries are branch locations instead of independent entities. Ranum serves as the director of the Pioneerland system, as well as Plum Creek.

If Lyon County does leave Plum Creek, Ranum said, it’s also not clear how it would affect the Marshall-Lyon County Library. The library currently receives funding from both the county and the city of Marshall.

After the Lyon County Board announced its intent to leave Plum Creek last week, Ranum told the directors of the Minneota and Tracy public libraries that they would not be affected by Lyon County’s decision.

Ranum said it might still be possible for the Plum Creek board to come to a resolution with Marshall-Lyon County, but he noted that board had been trying to reach that resolution for three years already.

“I’m always hopeful that something can be worked out so people in the region get full access to the library system,” Ranum said.

Thomas said this week that the state librarian’s response to Lyon County’s actions didn’t come as a surprise. However, he did not think the county’s commitment to the Marshall-Lyon County library would be negatively affected if the county tries to leave Plum Creek.