County library board to review meeting room policy

WOODBURY — It seemed to be a reasonable request. A non-profit group recently asked to use a Washington County Library branch meeting room to hold a free health-related seminar.

But staff at the WCL Park Grove branch rejected the group’s request and now, the WCL board plans to review the meeting room use policy this fall.

Current WCL policy says the meeting rooms cannot be used by persons or groups to sell products and persons cannot be charged a fee to attend an event in meeting rooms.

That policy was tested recently when chiropractor Alex Sheppard, a member of the non-profit Foundation of Wellness Professionals, attempted to reserve a Park Grove branch meeting room for a foundation seminar and had his request denied by branch staff.

“We were denied access to the room because that staff said we were a for-profit business,” he said.

Sheppard said the foundation holds free meetings on general health issues and foundation members do not recruit patients at their sessions.

“It’s very similar to the community education programs we do for (South Washington School) District 833,” he said. “When we do these presentations for community education, we can’t do any selling.”

Sheppard said the problem his and other Cottage Grove-area community groups have is a lack of places to hold meetings. He added that besides the Park Grove library, the Country Inn Suites hotel is the only other facility with rooms large enough for meetings.

“In Cottage Grove, there’s not a lot of options available to us,” he noted.

WCL Executive Director Patricia Conley said the Park Grove staff’s rejection of Sheppard’s request led her to look at the library system’s meeting room use policy and recommend the board review and clarify the policy.

“I think there’s a lot of permutations on this,” she said.

Conley told board members that if staff at any WCL branch has a question about a person or group wanting to use a meeting room, they can call her and she would make a final decision on the request. Conley said she has already begun tightening the system’s meeting room policy in certain instances, one being lawyers using meetings rooms at the Hardwood Creek branch in Forest Lake.

“We had lawyers taking depositions in our meeting room,” she said, adding that she has stopped that practice.

Conley also suggests the library board talk to Public Works Director Don Theisen regarding policies governing public use at other county facilities.

“I still think the policy needs to be tightened up,” she said.

But County Commissioner Gary Kriesel urged the library board to use caution when it reviews the meeting room use policy.

“We don’t want to slam the door on libraries for something that might benefit the public,” he said.