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With limited budgets, small libraries feel short-changed by Pioneerland’s policy

Melissa Erp, right, checks out a book at the Chippewa County-Montevideo Library with assistance from Rosemary Sweet. Libraries with Pioneerland are asking the system to restrict the circulation of their newly purchased books for a one-, two- or three-month period. During that time, the books could be checked out only from the library that actually purchased the copy. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MONTEVIDEO — With a budget so paper-thin that even the thermostat must be dialed back to the low 60s, Maynard Librarian Gloria Sims bemoans the fact that she can purchase only a limited number of books to add to the collection each year.

Last year, she augmented the library’s book-buying budget by holding a craft fair as a fundraiser.

Before some of the new books reached her library’s shelves, there were holds placed on them that sent them to patrons elsewhere in the nine-county Pioneerland library system.

Ditto the experience in Milan, where Ron Anderson was eager to add “The Harbinger’’ to the library’s shelves.  He knew that Jonathan Cahn’s Christian-based best-seller would be in high demand by local patrons.

It too went to patrons elsewhere in the regional system before it reached his shelves.

“It wore out before I got it back,’’ said Anderson.

He and Sims were among the librarians who met this week with the Chippewa County – Montevideo Library Board in Montevideo to ask for change.

They are asking Pioneerland to allow libraries in the system to restrict the circulation of their newly purchased books for a one-, two- or three-month period. During that time, the books could be checked out only from the library that actually purchased the copy.  

“I don’t mind sharing, but my people should have first crack,’’ Anderson told the board on Tuesday.

Board members expressed support for the idea. They raised anew the ownership issue that led Chippewa and Yellow Medicine counties to consider pulling out of the regional library system in the mid-1990s. They argue that books and materials purchased with local funds belong to the local community’s library, and not the regional system.

The restriction on circulation being requested by the small libraries would have to be approved by the 35-member board of directors for the regional system, according to Mark Ranum, Pioneerland’s executive director. He arrived in Montevideo after the meeting adjourned, but met with the local librarians to discuss their concerns.

Ranum said Pioneerland’s current policy calls for “equal access’’ to books for patrons no matter where they might call home. Any restriction on this approach would likely harm the patrons of small libraries more so than those at large libraries in the system, Ranum said.

Larger libraries, such as Willmar, are likely to order several copies of a newly released book that is expected to be in high demand. The patron in Milan has an equal opportunity to put his or her own request on the book, said Ranum. The Milan patron might not receive the Milan-purchased copy, but that patron is likely to receive somebody’s copy much sooner under this system, he said.

“Every patron but the first one is disappointed’’ when local restrictions are placed on a book, Ranum said. “Why are we waiting for the patron we don’t know is out there when one is already on the list?’’

Ranum said circulation numbers show that the current policy benefits small libraries. Their patrons import more books from other larger libraries than their local library exports. He pointed out that Milan’s purchase of 460 new books a year compares to more than 14,000 books purchased by the combined 32 libraries in the system.

Nonetheless, when it comes to newly purchased books, the Chippewa County librarians said they have seen convincing evidence of an imbalance that is definitely not in their favor. Most often, they said the requests for their books are coming from a few larger libraries.  

They see the most requests from Glencoe, Hutchinson, Litchfield and Willmar, they told board members.

Clara City Librarian Karen Rothers said local patrons appreciate the benefits that come with sharing resources in a regional system but want the first rights to the books they bought.

Sims said many small libraries in the system are frustrated with the current situation. “Don’t think this is only a Chippewa County problem,’’ the Maynard librarian told the board members. “All the small libraries are having this problem.’’

The Chippewa County – Montevideo Library Board is hoping to discuss the issue with the director at its March 25 meeting.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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