By Julie Ann Madden
Le Mars city councilors want to make a change to the Plymouth County Libraries Association’s contract between county officials and the five municipal public libraries.
The “simple change,” as Le Mars Councilor Delana Ihrke called it at the Dec. 17 supervisors meeting, is to delete this paragraph:
“Each and all of the city libraries in consideration of the provisions of this agreement agree to loan the materials of their libraries to all residents of Plymouth County upon the same terms and conditions as such materials are loaned to the residents of the cities.”
This paragraph was just added two years ago at the request of Le Mars Library Director Sue Kroesche. At the time, only the Le Mars library offered electronic services. But now, all five libraries have electronic services.
“This is where you get into the whole legal thing,” said Ihrke. “It depends on how you read it.”
“If you see it as ‘physical’ material, then this contract already meets what we want to do,” she said. “If you see material as ‘something that floats to you over the internet,’ then it does not. So that’s where attorneys have fun.”
Ihrke claims material should be defined as library materials available to citizens when the contract was originally written in the 1970s. Therefore, it would not include any of the electronic services such as information provided via internet and eBooks.
“You want to charge rural patrons for electronic services,” said Supervisor Mark Loutsch, noting for the past two years, electronic materials have been counted as part of the rural circulation numbers to figure the county dollars allocated to the municipal libraries.
In the last 5 to 10 years, computer usage in the library has increased dramatically as well as electronic services such as eBooks and audio books, said Ihrke, telling supervisors she’s amazed at the amount of people — both students and adults — using the library’s electronic services.
“It’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of the libraries,” said Ihrke. “I’m always astounded at the number of hits on Encyclopedia Britannica. Kids aren’t allowed to use Wikipedia for school but apparently encyclopedias are still allowed. They aren’t down at the library digging through the pages like we used to. The usage of that and some of the language programs is amazing to me.”
Although Ihrke told supervisors they wanted electronic services eliminated from the definition of materials and services, they still wanted them counted because it accurately monitors rural circulation, which is used in the county’s funding calculations.
“We don’t want to change the way any other library receives their funding or the format of splitting (county’s dollars),” she said.
Currently, half of the county’s allocation is divided equally among the five libraries and the other half is based on each library’s percentage of rural circulation.
Anderson asked if Le Mars officials were dropping out of the Olyouth County Libraries Association, and Ihrke said no. They were presenting the options to the supervisors because the contract is between the association and the county. She had contacted some of the Association members but not all and there had not been a meeting held with the association.
“This is not a budget request (for the association),” said Ihrke. “This contract option would not affect (the association’s funding request).”
The problem Le Mars councilors have is that they are not part of the Association — only the Le Mars Public Library is and that’s even in question as the library directors for Akron, Kingsley, Merrill and Remsen disagree with Kroesche and the City of Le Mars’ stance.
Supervisor Don Kass told all the librarians present and the councilors, the supervisors wanted a contract agreement brought before them.
If the other association members disagreed with Le Mars, then Option No. 4 would be their only choice, Ihrke told the supervisors.
“I don’t think that serves anybody in Plymouth County well,” she said, “but we want to make sure it’s out there as an option.”
Although the supervisors took no action at their Dec. 17 meeting, Supervisors Craig Anderson and Jack Guenthner agreed to meet with Le Mars city councilors when they presented their options to the Association.
It was stated the meeting would have to be in January because if Le Mars officials don’t get their way, they would have to make changes to their 2014-2015 city budget before its March 15 deadline.
“There’s a real big can of worms opened up here,” said Remsen Library Trustee Joel Fisch. “You’re going to have to get some legal advice for what materials are.”
“If you look at these proposals you’ll see a lot of penalties, not only in rural circulation but some of the other ways,” he said, noting in previous years, the impression that one individual represented all the libraries was not true. “I just ask you to examine it very closely before you make a decision.”
“I want to be able to go into a library with my library card and have full access to the most modern technology that’s available wherever that may be,” said Rosanne Hoss of Le Mars, who spoke on her own behalf. “My tax dollars are adequately paying for that. (When I lived in the country before) I still had access to all of these services and I paid a lot less for it.”
“As a board, you need to investigate what technology services are available, what that entails,” she said. “It’s not the comment of just eBooks — it’s so much more expansive than eBooks for budget purposes.”
“The Le Mars Public Library is very strained in keeping up with this technology,” said Hoss. “People want it, they come for it, they can’t all afford it.”
“It is open to everyone at the moment,” she said. “I’d certainly like to see it stay like that.”
As of Monday, Ihrke had not set a date for meeting with Association members and supervisors.