Room for compromise between library and Plum Creek?

MARSHALL – A Lyon County Commissioner is hoping that a change of approach can help mend relationships between the Marshall-Lyon County Library and the Plum Creek regional library system.

At a meeting of the Marshall-Lyon County Library Board on Monday, Commissioner Charlie Sanow brought forward some possible compromises with Plum Creek on issues related to library patrons reserving new materials.

After a lengthy discussion, library board members decided to wait on pursuing possible compromises, at least until after MLCL representatives have a chance to meet and discuss concerns with the Minnesota State Librarian. However, they also thanked Sanow for his efforts to reach out to members of the Plum Creek Board of Directors.

Sanow is a new member of the Plum Creek Board, after Lyon County Commissioner Mark Goodenow completed his last term on the board.

Sanow told MLCL members Monday that he had been in contact with Plum Creek Director Mark Ranum, and Ranum had come up with some ideas for compromises that could possibly be brought to the Plum Creek board. Sanow also said his goal at his first Plum Creek board meeting was to bring a new perspective, learn and start conversations with other members, who represent the nine counties and 20 libraries served by the regional system.

“I think we made some progress,” Sanow said.

Disagreements between the Marshall-Lyon County Library and Plum Creek have been ongoing for some time. MLCL board members have cited issues ranging from problems with the computer catalog software the Plum Creek system uses, to concerns about Plum Creek’s administrative costs, and whether member libraries should be allowed to let their local patrons have the first chance to check out new library books and other materials. The disagreement over sharing policies led to the Plum Creek Board voting last summer to stop lending materials from other libraries to MLCL patrons. MLCL continued to lend materials to other Plum Creek patrons until March 1.

Both the MLCL Board and the Lyon County Board have also passed resolutions announcing their intent to withdraw from the Plum Creek system effective July 1. However, it’s not clear whether Minnesota law would allow the county to do so. Past letters and comments from state librarians have said counties are required by statute to participate in regional library systems.

The possible compromises that Sanow presented to the MLCL Board on Monday all had to do with the question of sharing new materials with other libraries. Ranum’s ideas included allowing for libraries to prioritize local materials for requests from local patrons, and allowing libraries to display new materials for “a short period” to encourage local checkouts. A third idea would be for Plum Creek to allow “browsing copies” of books or materials that libraries buy multiple copies of. For example, one copy of a new book would immediately be up for lending to other libraries, while additional copies could be held locally.

Any of those ideas would need to be brought before the Plum Creek Board before they could be put in place, Sanow said. The compromises Ranum came up with weren’t big, Sanow said, but they were a start.

“If we separate ourselves from Plum Creek, we don’t have a chance to change things in the future,” Sanow said. Change also wouldn’t come without mending relationships with other Plum Creek members, he said. “We have to put out the fire before we can do any restoration.”

Sanow said MLCL board members needed to consider the possible legal consequences of leaving Plum Creek. Doing so may land Lyon County in court, he said.

Sanow said he thought the Lyon County Board’s motive in withdrawing from Plum Creek was to gain leverage in conflicts with the system. He said he wasn’t confident that a majority of commissioners would be willing to get involved with a lawsuit and its possible costs.

MLCL Board members had mixed reactions to the proposals.

“I don’t object to staying in Plum Creek,” provided a real effort to resolve some of the issues was made, said board member Gwen Sturrock. However, Sturrock and fellow board member Glenda Vizecky said the proposed compromises didn’t really address the deeper issue of how much autonomy Plum Creek member libraries have.

“It’s about their rights as libraries to decide what they do with their books,” Vizecky said.

Board member Tom Runholt said change was needed, but the risks of leaving Plum Creek were high.

“I’m really worried that we can’t do what we want to do, and we’re burning a lot of bridges in the process,” Runholt said.

In the end, board consensus was not to take direct action on the proposed compromises just yet. They hope to get a chance to discuss their reasons for leaving Plum Creek with the State Librarian at a future meeting, though the date of that meeting is yet to be determined. However, a committee of board members was also formed to examine the compromise ideas and possibly come up with MLCL’s own proposal.