MARSHALL - It's a question of policy, local and regional library officials said. However, it's also a question that could have an effect on services for library patrons in southwest Minnesota.
This week, the Plum Creek Library System, which provides shared programs and resources for public libraries in a nine-county area, announced it will be stopping its interlibrary loan services for the Marshall-Lyon County Library. PCLS Director Mark Ranum said the move came in response to the library violating the Plum Creek System's policies, by not sharing its materials to the fullest extent. But local library officials say they're just trying to provide the best service they can for Lyon County taxpayers.
Marshall-Lyon County Library Board President Will Thomas said this week that the Marshall-Lyon County Library, which includes the Marshall, Cottonwood and Balaton library locations, will continue to check out books and other materials to patrons. Materials will be able to be reserved from the library's own collection, and possibly through Minnesota's statewide interlibrary loan system, but not from other PCLS libraries.
Neither Thomas nor Ranum could say for certain how these restrictions would affect the library in the long run.
The decision to restrict interlibrary loans came from conflict over the Marshall-Lyon County Library's policy on lending out new books and other library materials. When the Marshall-Lyon County Library buys new materials, they are kept locally for a period of 90 days and then made available to borrow at other PCLS libraries. Thomas said the idea behind the practice is to help make sure local patrons have a chance to check out new or popular items.
For example, Thomas said, "If we buy a movie for the Cottonwood library, let's let the patrons whose taxes paid for the movie get the first chance to see it."
But Ranum said keeping new materials for three months violates the Plum Creek system's policies on sharing resources.
"That created a conflict with the other libraries," Ranum said. Holding a popular book for 90 days shrinks the pool of copies available to patrons throughout the Plum Creek system, he said.
"Our goal is to satisfy as many (requests) as possible," Ranum said. Marshall patrons also benefit from that kind of service, he said.
The Plum Creek Library System's circulation policies call for all member libraries to share their materials "to the greatest extent possible." The policies say libraries may keep new materials for "short periods," in order to make them available for browsing patrons.
"The language on lending for interlibrary loans is somewhat vague," Thomas said. The policies don't define what a "short period" is.
Ranum said the PCLS considers a "short period" to mean a few days to a week. Not all library materials are subject to the lending policy either, he said. Libraries may have some special collections that are not loaned out to other libraries.
Ranum said an action item passed by the PCLS governing board in October states that if a member library is found to be in an ongoing violation of Plum Creek's resource sharing agreement, it will be restricted from reserving materials from other libraries. That action item is now being enforced, he said. The restrictions on interlibrary loans will go into effect over the next two weeks.
"The issue is inequality in policy," Ranum said. It's not fair for a library to agree to share resources and then not comply with the agreement, he said.
Thomas said it's important that public libraries be able to keep some local control over managing their collections because they are funded by the communities they serve.
Thomas said he also wasn't sure if stopping interlibrary loans would also prevent patrons at other PCLS libraries from requesting books at the Marshall-Lyon County Library. PCLS serves 20 public libraries in nine counties, from Lincoln, Lyon and Redwood counties south to Rock, Nobles and Jackson counties. The libraries, as well as the cities and counties that support them, are all parties in the system's joint powers agreement.
"We are still willing to lend to other libraries," or to work out a more equal way for the larger libraries in the system to share the burden for lending materials, Thomas said.
Thomas said Marshall-Lyon County Library board members have not really looked into the ramifications of leaving the Plum Creek system, and Ranum said it's not in danger of being kicked out. Ranum said even with restricted lending, the library still receives delivery services, a computerized catalog system and access to state Legacy funding through PCLS.
Thomas said Marshall-Lyon County Library staff members will still help patrons reserve library materials to the best of their ability. He expected the library will still have access to MnLink, Minnesota's statewide interlibrary loan system.
But library board members will need to look at possible long-term solutions, he said.
"In the long run, we will try to provide the best service to our patrons," Thomas said.