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Pioneerland studying priority system in response to concerns of smaller libraries

Mark Ranum, of the, met with the Chippewa County Library Board on Tuesday to discuss frustrations about how newly acquired materials are distributed. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)

MONTEVIDEO — Pioneerland Library System is looking at the possibility of developing a local hold priority system that could resolve the dilemma faced by many small libraries in the regional system.

Pioneerland has been discussing the possibility of using a system recently installed in the Plum Creek regional library system, Mark Ranum, executive director of Pioneerland and Plum Creek, told members of the Chippewa County Library Board on Tuesday,

If a local person wants a book newly purchased by his or her local library, that person moves right to the top of the priority list for receiving it, according to Ranum. Computer software was purchased to implement the system in Plum Creek, but it could be accomplished manually in the Pioneerland system, he told the board members.

With limited funds to buy new books, small libraries in Chippewa County have expressed frustration. The books they buy are sometimes sent to patrons elsewhere who put holds on them before they reach their shelves.

“We’ve sent books out and they’ve all come back worn out. The town can’t afford to replace them,’’ said Jim Haugen, of Milan, a member of the Chippewa County Library board.

Haugen said Milan’s library is fortunate to have a librarian with a talent for purchasing books that are desired by its patrons. But it’s also penalized because of it, since many of the newly ordered books are diverted to patrons elsewhere through the centralized Pioneerland system.

Haugen pointed out that the city of Milan allocates a larger percentage of its budget to its library than do many larger communities in the system. Yet its resources are limited: It purchased 460 items last year, versus the 14,000 new items acquired system-wide, according to information presented at the meeting.

Ranum told the board members that the Pioneerland system currently is based on equal access to materials by all patrons. Any sort of priority system could work against the patrons of small libraries. They benefit greatly by having access to the resources of the larger system, he said.

If all of the libraries joined Milan in withholding new books for their patrons, the Milan patrons would lose out in accessing the 13,600 new materials, he said.

Board member Todd Hays told Ranum that today’s computer systems should allow the library system to easily prioritize the holds placed on new books, and give the advantage to the patron in the library buying it.

The system would also improve efficiency, noted Ranum, since the books would be returned to the shelves where they ultimately will be kept.

Ranum told the board members that he would also provide them with data in the future showing how the equal access policy benefits patrons at all of the regional system’s 31 libraries. Board member David Nordaune said it is important to get that information. The perception right now is that small libraries are getting the “short end of the stick,” he told Ranum during the discussions.

In another matter, Ranum assured the board members that local input is welcomed and encouraged when the library is hiring head librarians. He said as the employer, Pioneerland cannot allow local library boards to do the initial interviewing and recommend a new hire. But he said local board members, city council or county government officials are welcome to provide input in the selection process.  

Tom Cherveny

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

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