Letters from a concerned library supporter

Editor’s note: The following letters are being shown together; the second letter appeared in the Independent but the first one, which did not, is being published here to put the second letter into context.

To the Editor:

Recently, I attended a library meeting in the Pioneerland region; also in attendance were librarians, commissioners, media people, and other ordinary citizens. Mark Ranum, head of Pioneerland and Plum Creek Library systems (over 50 local libraries in southwest Minnesota) traveled to this meeting from his home in the St. Paul/Minneapolis metropolitan area. At this meeting I learned the following:

1. Librarians and other library employees were told that any opposition to Pioneerland policies would be considered “insubordinate.” Mr. Ranum, as head of the system, will decide who and what is or is not “insubordinate.” As most any employee knows, “insubordination” is very often given as a reason for immediate firing, often with loss of all benefits accrued, and little or no chance to find other work.

2. According to Mr. Ranum, local persons, including library workers, commissioners, library board members and the general public will be allowed no effective “say” or contribution regarding who is hired to work at, or be in charge of, any local library. Hiring decisions will be made by Pioneerland hierarchy alone, although local people (under certain circumstances and within certain limits defined by Pioneerland) “may” be “allowed some input.” It was made quite clear that no local “input” would influence a Pioneerland decision on who would work in any local library.

3. Mr. Ranum stated quite forcefully that any book (or any library item) that has not been “checked out” in five years must be removed immediately from library shelves, no matter what. Mr. Ranum made it very clear that the purpose of libraries under his control is to provide readers/users with desirable current popular items, and that the library is no longer a “storehouse of knowledge” or place to do research. I was informed by Mr. Ranum that Pioneerland libraries are not “academic” libraries; they are there mainly to provide the people with “wanted items,” and Pioneerland policies and procedures would determine what “wanted items” are.

4. Mr. Ranum also stated that it was his firm opinion (and Pioneerland policy) that a college or graduate library degree and accredited professional study/training were not as important in his (Pioneerland’s) hiring process or philosophy as “other meaningful experience.” What is or is not “other meaningful experience” in the hiring and promotion policy will, of course, be decided by the Pioneerland hierarchy.

I found these statements very interesting and enlightening. I believe that Mr. Ranum’s very clear, strong statements indicate exactly and accurately Pioneerland’s attitudes and policies concerning local people and local libraries.

Nancy Altain

Clara City

To the editor:

Last week, several area newspapers printed my letter about the Pioneerland Library system. Head Librarian Mark Ranum did reply in writing, but not in a public forum; instead, he sent his comments to board members and all of the Pioneerland librarians.

His comments agreed essentially with what I wrote: that PLS employees are not allowed to contradict PLS with the public or “stakeholders,” that library hiring decisions rest with PLS, that little-used items will be removed from libraries, and that the “right combination of education and experience” may be more important in hiring than a professional degree. His comments were lengthier than mine, and made from his perspective and supervisory powers as director of two large library systems at a salary of over $170,000 per year. He is a good writer, and an extremely persuasive and convincing speaker; as an old friend of mine once said: “the man could convince the Devil to repent!” He also wrote that I was “confrontational and demanding” and labeled me as one of “those sorts of people” who is “always…unhappy.”

Mark Ranum also wrote that I “made several very inappropriate comments about several of our librarian staff.” That is not true. Mr. Ranum then sent this untrue statement to board members and to all Pioneerland staff.

To clarify: I am the “sort of person” that prefers to air my opinions in public, not behind the back. I am the “sort of person” who would NOT write untruthful statements about another person and send it out to dozens in the community. I have no control over what Mark Ranum writes or says about me, and no comment on the ethical choices he makes, or on the possible legal ramifications regarding written dissemination of untrue statements. I do feel the public has a right to learn about his response to my comments, especially because Pioneerland is a public entity funded with public money.

Nancy Altain

Clara City