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Library services contract mulled

The facade of the Peter White Public Library in the city of Marquette is pictured. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — A library contract and the corresponding millage renewal were hot topics during the West Branch Township Board meeting on Monday.

Members of the board declined to consider entering into a new library services contract with Peter White Public Library during the meeting on the grounds that West Branch Township Attorney Bonnie Hoff raised issues regarding some of the language in the pact.

“Basically she is recommending that we don’t enter into that contract because it has an automatic renewal clause in it,” West Branch Township Supervisor Jack Heidtman said during an interview on Tuesday. “The problem with that is — just like what happened with us — that you should be looking at it (the contract) and taking some kind of action every so often.”

The board agreed by consensus that it would direct Hoff to craft a new millage proposal, which has to finalized before the end of July to appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

In a June 19 letter from PWPL Director Andrea Ingmire to the West Branch Township Board, Ingmire served notice that the library would require a new contract to cover any service after Dec. 31.

“Without a new contract, residents of West Branch Township will not be eligible for library services without additional cost,” Ingmire wrote. “Residents of West Branch Township can only obtain library service by purchasing a non-resident library card. We understand that the township has discussed reimbursing township residents for non-resident cards. Please be advised that the library will not participate in any administration of such a program. The Library Privacy Act prevents the library from providing the names of its patrons to anyone outside the library, including the township board.”

Dozens people attended the Monday night meeting and many spoke in support of the PWPL service contract and corresponding millage.

Among concerns expressed by residents were that some may not be able to afford the up-front cost of a library card, even if it was being reimbursed and communication with residents about the changes to the millage and how the potential lack of a contract with PWPL would change the services township residents currently receive.

One resident told the board that in his view, support for the library millage was linked to PWPL.

“It’s an issue that should go before the public, it has gone on for 25 years, and the public should decide — not a board making my vote,” the resident said. “I want my vote.”

In 2016, the township’s library services millage passed with a 77% margin.

If a new millage passes in November without a library services contract, West Branch Township residents would have to purchase non-resident library cards — $115 for an individual and $175 for a family — and then be reimbursed by the township.

West Branch Township’s current library service millage collects about $27,000 annually from its 1-mill library millage, Heidtman said during Monday’s meeting.

Reimbursing residents, Heidtman told meeting attendees, is expected to cost between $23,000 and $24,000, with any surplus remaining in the township’s library services millage fund.

“It can’t be used for anything else,” Heidtman said.

A letter from Ingmire to the West Branch Township Board notes 191 “unique library cards” were used to circulate library materials from PWPL.

That statistic does not include those individuals who may have sought materials exclusively from the library’s online resources, she noted.

“We are not able to get this same statistic for library patrons who only utilize our digital resources,” she wrote. “Due to cooperative purchase agreements for our digital platforms we are quite limited in (the) unique statistics we are able to generate.”

Other statistics provided by Ingmire indicate that in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, 629 West Branch Township residents held PWPL cards.

During the interview, Heidtman said the board is concerned that those figures may not reflect the true number of West Branch residents that have and use PWPL cards.

“The main thing was how many residents of West Branch Township are actually using the library,” he said. “They purge people every three years. It’s not a true representation of what we are looking for.”

In 1993 West Branch Township initially entered into a five-year service contract with the PWPL. The pact was not officially renewed at any time in the subsequent 20 years.

Over that time span, however, West Branch Township voters overwhelmingly approved multiple four-year millage renewals with the proceeds allocated to the PWPL.

Heidtman cited the lack of a contract as one of the main reasons for revisiting the issue.

He said 185 West Branch Township residents have a Forsyth Township Library card and many of them live in K.I. Sawyer with children in the Gwinn School District.

“Would it not be more convenient for them to have a membership to the Forsyth Township Library?” Heidtman asked. “They don’t charge anything, there is no fee. They actually can request stuff from Peter White to the Forsyth Township Library.”

During an interview today, PWPL Board President Anne Donohue acknowledged that Forsyth Township Library card holders could have access to PWPL content via interlibrary loan, and would also have access from other sources as well such as through the statewide Library Services and Technology Act, the Michigan eLibrary website and the regional Superiorland Library Cooperative, but she said those processes are not as straight forward as simply having a PWPL card as Forsyth Township Library cardholders may not have access to all the content at the larger library.

“So there are actually two sets of resources that are available and one set is provided on a statewide basis and that is available to all state residents, and that is funded by the LSTA, but there is content that available exclusively to Peter White Public Library, and they would not have access to that content.” Donohue said. “Both Forsyth Township and Peter White Public Library participate in that program. They also participate in a regional program in the U.P. through the Superiorland Library Cooperative. So Forsyth Township residents have access to books from Peter White Public Library through those two systems.”

But Forsyth Township Library cardholders would not be able to walk into PWPL and simply check out a book, she said.

Regarding the contract, she noted that the library board is willing to negotiate its terms.

“We are willing to negotiate all but one of the terms of the contract. The amount of the levy for the millage has to be one mill. The rest of the contract is negotiable. We would be happy to meet with them and talk to them about their concerns and hammer out the details,” Donohue said.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.

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