MANKATO — When the City Council decided to stop funding Blue Earth County’s library, the county commissioners thought it was a clean break, that the city would be out of the library.
The city is now discussing whether, after about a decade of hefty library payments, some of the library books belong to City Hall.
The discussion, at a city-county meeting Thursday morning, surprised county officials.
County Administrator Bob Meyer said not having an agreement about library funding would make it difficult for the city to establish a claim. He suggested the county wouldn’t simply give away part of its collection, saying the city’s pursuit of books, if continued, will “become a legal issue.”
And the commissioners had a more practical question.
“I guess my question is, just what would the city of Mankato do with more books?” Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg said.
To Councilwoman Karen Foreman, the point of such an inquiry wouldn’t necessarily be to start a new library.
She argued that the city has an obligation to sort through the legal ramifications of a split like this, calling it “part of what happens when you dissolve things.”
Councilman Mark Frost wasn’t as keen as Foreman in pursuing any library assets.
“Is it worth putting in the staff time?” he asked.
The library building itself and most of the property belongs to the county. A piece of the parking lot belongs to the city but would likely remain as library parking.
Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said when the Minnesota Valley Regional Library System disbanded in about 2000, the books were split among member libraries.
Tom Wolfe, lead librarian at the St. Peter Public Library, said the books were divided among the 10 libraries with each one basically picking out individual books. He remembers looking for books that would be of interest to his readers, such as tomes about Nicollet County history and Gustavus Adolphus College.
He personally remembers being glad to get new books but saddened by the circumstances in which he got them.
Wolfe said he doesn’t remember any bad feelings or legal action about the book distribution at that time.
One difference between the examples is that the regional library system breakup was a formal dissolution — the entity that once owned the books stopped existing.
The next step for Mankato would be more research and discussion between the city and the county.
However, that wouldn’t happen if it becomes clear most city councilors don’t want to pursue the issue. Two elected officials from each body attend the meeting, not enough to make policy, so the officials must report back to the larger body before taking action. And on controversial issues, even directing staff to do research can be seen by opponents as official action.
Frost said after the meeting there’d be “no animosity” between the parties after the split, though this new issue has clearly generated at least some frustration for the county.