In the first three months of 2014, the circulation numbers at the North St. Paul Branch Library, 2300 North St. Paul Drive, dropped by 10 percent.
The trend of fewer books and other materials being lent out this year has caught the attention of many, since it’s on top of an overall 11 percent decline in circulation during the 2012-13 calendar year.
The situation appears to have prompted the North St. Paul City Council to adopt a resolution Tuesday, April 15, in support of the Ramsey County branch library, which is located in the northeast corner of the city’s former community center.
The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District now leases most of the city-owned building, and the library and school district appear to be having a few “roommate-like struggles.”
The first North St. Paul library opened in the 1920s, but didn’t officially become part of the Ramsey County library system until the 1970s. In 2003, Ramsey County closed the library at the corner of East Seventh Avenue and Henry Street, and in 2005, a new, smaller branch library opened in the North St. Paul Community Center.
A 20-year lease agreement signed in 2010 provided what many hoped would be a consistent level of stability and give the city a library for a long time.
“Most of the council members were on the council when the library was closed, and were extremely supportive of bringing it back,” North St. Paul City Manager Jason Ziemer said in a recent interview.
The convenience of the community center, fitness center and library all in the same building was popular with the public and the county library board.
“It was wildly successful,” recalled Ramsey County Library director Susan Nemitz. “We were really excited about it. Having a roommate is less costly than living alone.”
When the community center programs were scaled way back in 2010 and the fitness center closed in 2013, it left a large vacant space for the city to fill. Eventually, in March 2013 the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District leased the majority of the building for its alternative learning center.
District 622 student service director Cory McIntyre, in his first year with the district, is helping oversee the alternative learning center and its operations.
“Even though both the school district and the county library are tenants of the building, the district has been focused on developing the school programming due to the rapid growth of the school program at the site,” he said.
“The transition to the new building has gone smoothly. We like that the building is centrally located. The program has grown dramatically, and we are maximizing the learning space available to us to meet the demands of this growth,” McIntyre said.
Since the school year began, the issues between the school district and the library board have mainly revolved around security. While the school day typically ends about 2:30 p.m., the library often doesn’t close until 8 p.m., leaving the school space open and unattended for several hours.
Since the school became a part of the building, the Ramsey County Library Board decided to pull the already-limited supply of public computers from the communal lobby area.
Despite the difficulties, Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt has high hopes that the work of the city council last week will be a stepping stone toward getting things back to the way they were.
“I’m confident that now that that’s been resolved, and we have the reaffirmation from the city, I think the circulation will come back up to what we’ve seen,” she said. “It’ll work for the school, the library and the city.”
Reinhardt isn’t the only one who foresees a bright outlook between the two
“Things are going a lot better,” Nemitz said. “Honestly, I didn’t ask the city for this resolution, but I think it’s really nice through this instability of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen to the building for the city to reaffirm their commitment to making the library work in North St. Paul.”
Nemitz didn’t hide the fact that she’s concerned about the circulation figures. “Those are big drops for us,” she said.
Members of the city council have voiced their support not just for the library, but for a resolution of conflicts resulting from competing needs in the entire building.
“It’s so vitally important,” Mayor Mike Keuhn said. “The history is there, and I think we have some concerns which we met with the (library) board regarding circulation, hours, lobby use, and potentially getting the computers back in the lobby.
“We’re continuing to work on that, but I think the library board is a wonderful organization, and I encourage everybody in the city to use (the library).”
If the numbers don’t increase organically, the library board’s likely next option would be to wait it out until the school district’s lease with the city expires in spring of 2015.
In the meantime, the school and the library are taking a variety steps to integrate the two programs, according to Nemitz. Besides sharing a space that serves as both classroom and library space, they’re working together on technology programs and sharing collections with teachers.
Tim Faklis can be reached at email@example.com  or at 651-748-7814