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Letter: MLCL opts out of Plum Creek Library System

By Gwen Sturrock, Acting President, Marshall-Lyon County Library, Marshall

At a special meeting June 30, the Marshall-Lyon County Library Board (MLCL) voted to rescind its earlier decision accepting terms that would have allowed the library to continue as a member of the Plum Creek Library System (PCLS). The decision means that MLCL, including the branch libraries in Balaton and Cottonwood, became an independent library on July 1.

To our dismay, the governing board of the Plum Creek Library System not only rejected the agreement reached under the auspices of the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services, but stipulated that MLCL could only remain a member of PCLS if it conceded unequivocal support for all past and future system policies. We believe this response was punitive in nature and in defiance of the good faith that had guided the mediation process and the settlement it produced, which had been accepted by all of the designated representatives.

MLCL worked for several years to resolve disagreements with PCLS over the autonomy of member libraries in the system. PCLS has continued to articulate its interest to consolidate power in the regional system and away from member libraries, including MLCL. The proposed mediation settlement included such provisions that PCLS apparently found objectionable including: ensuring that each member library would continue to choose what materials it purchases with local tax dollars, providing a 30-day holding period for materials purchased with local tax dollars before circulating to other communities, maintaining local control over hiring of staff, maintaining local control over building operations, and developing a dispute resolution procedure to better manage conflict and provide resolution in the future.

MLCL conceded on several issues including ongoing concerns over poor security controls that continue to expose patrons’ material lending history, a poorly functioning automation system that slows down checkout times, an inefficient material delivery system that wastes thousands of dollars annually and a lack of accountability for the executive director. In fact, during the same meeting when PCLS rejected the proposed mediation agreement, the Governing Board rewarded Director Mark Ranum with a $25,000 “contract signing incentive” in addition to his $90,000 consulting contract for services with PCLS — similar to the contract he has with Pioneerland Regional Library system as well as other consulting revenue he may earn, all from his residence in St. Paul.

The main benefit and purpose of PCLS is to provide shared resources with members through an online browsing, checkout and delivery service. This service has not been available to MLCL patrons for some time; they will now lose access completely following withdrawal from PCLS. We apologize for those patrons who use this service. We have a broad collection in addition to the many other services the library provides and we will certainly consider patron requests for purchase of materials. Additionally, we are aggressively pursuing options to expand our collection via alternative resource sharing arrangements that may be available now or in the future.

We are further committed to continue serving our partner branch libraries in Balaton and Cottonwood as long as they desire.

We are all your friends and neighbors that volunteer to serve our common interests in public library services. I can assure you we take no joy in dealing with these difficult issues. Our board has overwhelmingly agreed that withdrawal is clearly in our best interest and is based upon the reality that we do not have shared values for the system with PCLS as it sits today. Therefore, there is no foundation for a productive, trusting partnership.