County cuts Lake Elmo’s access to digital library

Even with $60 library cards, residents can’t check out e-books

The Lake Elmo Library Board is left with more questions than answers, after finding out through residents that cardholders who pay to access Washington County library resources are no longer able to check out anything but physical materials.

That means patrons who shell out $60 annually to access regional libraries—non-Minnesota residents or those who aren’t taxed for county libraries, like Lake Elmo—can’t download e-books or remotely use digital databases and other electronic resources.

“This takes away a big reason to have those cards,” said Renee Murray, a library board member.

Judy Gibson, a former board member, manned the front desk at Lake Elmo’s volunteer-run library last week. She said she would like to see e-books offered locally, because patrons have said they would use them.

“I have heard people say, ‘I keep getting the county card because of the e-books,’” said Gibson, a member of the Friends of Lake Elmo Library.  “It’s really the last thing that we don’t have that Washington County has.”

Lake Elmo Library had 1,209 patrons in October, and they checked out more than 1,000 books out of the more than 11,000 items in the collection that month. There were 10,805 circulations from January to October this year, according to the library’s tracking.

Washington County’s collection remains a popular resource for Lake Elmo patrons.

County library director Patricia Conley said that most of the 500 county cardholders from Lake Elmo primarily check out items from the actual shelves.

Lake Elmo residents checked out fewer than 2,000 e-books in 2012, she said, compared to the about 50,000 traditional materials circulated to those patrons last year.

“While we wish they were still part of our system, the people [of Lake Elmo] are still using us,” Conley said. “In 2012, there was virtually no diminution of use.”

Why exclude digital resources?

The reason for the change was unclear to the Lake Elmo Library Board and staffers, and some said they were disappointed to hear about the switch through secondary sources.

“It sounds like they didn’t have a good communication plan on this,” Murray said.

City staff had not received information on the policy amendment as of last week, said Lake Elmo Library director Linda Orsted.

Following county staff’s recommendation, the Washington County Library Board in late October approved a policy to exclude paid cardholders from the service, which the Washington County Board of Commissioners approved on Nov. 19. The new stipulation is similar to those of Hennepin and Scott counties, and is gradually being implemented.

Conley said the county amended the policy to be good partners with libraries in the Metropolitan Library Service Agency, an alliance of more than 100 libraries that share resources.

“We’re just trying to be consistent with Hennepin and Scott, since we will have access to their [collections],” she said. “It seems to us common courtesy to follow their policies.”

It’s also about creating leverage in negotiations with vendors, she said, as the county plans to renew contracts in 2014. Conley said she doesn’t want it to seem like the county is trying to prevent vendors from selling to the most entities possible.

Service gaps

Washington County closed the branch library in Lake Elmo in 2012, along with the locations in Newport and Marine on St. Croix. The latter two cities accepted the county’s offer to install a library kiosk, so that patrons could still order and pick up materials from a locker.

But Lake Elmo decided to open an independent library at another location, 3537 Lake Elmo Ave. N., and fund it with the $260,000 in property taxes that the city was charged for the county library system.

That separated Lake Elmo patrons from the regional system, restricting them from county library services, such as book sharing, e-books and online databases. To maintain access, Lake Elmo offered to reimburse residents the cost of a county card.

Conley said it will still cost $60 to get a card, but most Lake Elmo patrons will see the same value, because so few access e-books.

With the vendor OverDrive alone, the county had 70,000 e-book circulations last year, where about 2 percent were by Lake Elmo residents, according to Conley.

“We have such good relationships with the library users from Lake Elmo,” Conley said. “I want them to know that they are still welcome, and we wish they were still part of the system.”

The Lake Elmo board is trying to figure out how to bridge the latest service gap.

Orsted presented an option of a four-year contract with e-book provider OverDrive at a special meeting on Nov. 26. It would cost $5,000 per year.

Half of the cost would be for maintenance, training and support, and the other half would pay for developing the e-book collection. E-books cost an average of $60 and some expire after a certain amount of checkouts, Orsted said.

Next steps

The library board delayed its decision on the OverDrive contract, in order to send a letter to the county with questions and a request for the commissioners to reconsider the decision.

Lake Elmo may reevaluate the reimbursement rate for county cards, if the library begins providing digital resources. Staff was directed to research the county’s e-book circulation, if there are any library partnerships available and a children’s e-book provider, TumbleBooks.

Murray suggested a phone survey, where members would call hundreds of Lake Elmo residents to see if they have used the county’s digital resources, which can be expensive for libraries to provide.

“To have the service, you really have to show there’s a high demand,” board member Marjorie Williams said.

Board chair Steve DeLapp said it might be worth looking into the purchase of several tablets or e-readers for library users to check out.

“Some libraries have done that to test the waters,” Orsted said.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at or 651-748-7814. You can also find her on (@KRobyNews).


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