Lake Elmo Public Library restores digital access cut by county

Lake Elmo Library is rolling out multiple e-book services, while the library board explores offering $80,000 to restore city patrons’ access to Washington County’s digital library. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

The Lake Elmo Public Library plans to roll out e-book services in the next couple of months, while exploring an offer to possibly pay Washington County $80,000 to restore city patrons’ access to its digital library. 

City officials also hope to rebuild the relationship between the city and county that’s “deteriorated” in the past couple of years as the county reduced library services in Lake Elmo.

Tension seethed when the county closed the Lake Elmo branch library in 2012. The Lake Elmo City Council removed the community from the county system and opened an independent library at 3537 Lake Elmo Ave. N., funding it with the $260,000 in property-tax revenue that had been going to the county library system.

The city has since reimbursed Lake Elmo residents who purchase county library cards for $60 to access the regional library resources, including e-books and the inter-library loan program.

The offer

In order to buy Lake Elmo residents the same ease of access and use of the county library system as all other Washington County residents, the Lake Elmo Library Board recently requested that the city council provide an annual distribution of $80,000 (using existing library levy dollars) to the county.

That amount for service equals the cost to reimburse Lake Elmo residents who bought county cards in 2013, and an additional $50,000.

The city-county relationship took another hit in November. The Washington County Board of Commissioners approved a new policy that excludes usage of digital resources, such as e-books and databases, from those communities that don’t pay taxes for county libraries, but instead purchase county cards.

The Lake Elmo Library Board scrambled to fill the service gap.

The library board recently decided to offer the county $80,000 in order to regain unfettered access to the county’s library system, according to Mayor Mike Pearson.

“We informally began discussions of that offer [Jan. 16] with the county,” Pearson said.

The money—which is the amount Lake Elmo usually spends on county card reimbursement plus another $50,000—would come from the existing library levy. With about $37,000 that already goes to the county for past capital improvement projects, according to Pearson, the library’s total contribution to the county would be 40 percent of the library levy.

“With this offer, we aren’t taxing any more than we otherwise would have been,” he said. “It’s just to acknowledge the fact that we want to be good partners.”

He said the possible arrangement would also, ideally, allow patrons to skip the weeks-long process to be reimbursed for a county library card.

“We want to make it as user-friendly as possible so people can [use the county library system],” Pearson said. “We’re confident we can continue to do what we’ve been doing and still help the county out.”

The city’s relationship with the county in the past “deteriorated,” but the Lake Elmo City Council and the county library board are now working to “rebuild that bridge,” city administrator Dean Zuleger said.

“We’re trying to take what I would consider the combative nature out of the relationship and see if we can work together,” Zuleger said.

His role, in part, is to help show the county the library has been successful, and there is an “interest in having a local library in Lake Elmo.”

Lake Elmo Library issued 1,249 cards in 2013 through Dec. 7, and reimbursed residents for nearly 500 Washington County cards. In those about 11 months, there were 10,570 circulated items. The Lake Elmo library had around 11,500 items in its collection at that time, and hosted 47 programs.

“Those are things that need to be celebrated and magnified,” Zuleger said. “It’s a delight. And let’s celebrate the delight rather than get bogged down by the bureaucracy.”

County library director Patricia Conley said she hasn’t been notified of Lake Elmo’s offer.

New resources

Meanwhile, the library expanded its digital selection, taking on three e-book subscriptions.

An interactive children’s e-book collection is already available to anyone at TumbleBooks Premium is a collection of animated, talking picture books, including fiction, non-fiction and foreign language selections.

The Friends of the Lake Elmo Public Library, a volunteer organization separate from the library, paid $699 for the first year of the service, according to library director Linda Orsted.

Freading, which offers fiction and nonfiction titles, will be available by the end of January.

The library paid $150 in start-up costs, and will pay another 50 cents to $2 for each time a patron checks out an e-book, according to Orsted.

Freading uses Adobe Digital Editions software, and so does not work with a regular Kindle or a Kindle Paperwhite.

OverDrive will be available by March 1.

The e-book provider works with most devices, including Kindles. It cost $5,000, of which $2,500 is for purchasing the e-book collection.

Although Lake Elmo patrons still won’t have access to some databases, Orsted said that there’s a list of credible websites on the library’s website, including links to tax information and job searching resources.

The library requested a reduction of the $60 fee for a county card, because there are now less resources offered with it, but the county denied the request, according to Orsted.

From set up to build up

Lake Elmo will have its $241,000 library building paid off this year, freeing up cash for other improvements—and a shift in priorities.

“That’s an indication that we’re going to be growing,” Orsted said. “The focus has just been on getting the library up and running.”

The board plans to eventually expand into rooms that were previously rented out, according to Orsted. The library recently evicted the tenant of Suite 120 in the front of the building, because the computer business reportedly didn’t comply with the lease agreement. The board plans to convert the space into a children’s area.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and Follow her at

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