Public meetings yes, selling items, services, no

WCL board to amend meeting room use policy

WOODBURY — Washington County Library Board members agree that any policy on branch meeting room use should allow public or library-related activities, but prohibit use of the rooms by groups selling products or services.

Library Board members discussed amending the policy on WCL branch meeting room use Monday. The board’s policy discussion was sparked by a complaint last month from a Cottage Grove chiropractor who set up a non-profit wellness group and wanted to use the Park Grove branch meeting room to hold a wellness seminar. Library staff rejected his request.

WCL Executive Director Patricia Conley said that rejection led staff to look at current WCL meeting room use policy and determine if the board should amend the policy next year.

Current WCL meeting room policy is three paragraphs. One says access to WCL branch meeting rooms is available to “all interested people, even if they are not county residents.”

“Use of meeting rooms will not be restricted or denied to individuals using them for their intended purposes if they comply with policies describing appropriate conduct,” states the policy.

The policy adds that meeting room space “may be used by groups or individuals for meetings other than those where commercial business would transacted including direct sales of goods or services to the public.”

The policy lets Conley grant exceptions to the sales of goods and services restriction provided the exception requests are submitted 30 days in advance.

Conley said a check of meeting room policies at other metro-area library systems showed a wide disparity. Many libraries require reservations; allow meeting room use only during open hours; open rooms free to the public, and require users not disrupt other library patrons. Other systems charge a fee for room use; reserve the right to cancel meeting room reservations for library use, and will not reserve meeting rooms for social occasions.

“What about political purposes?” asked County Commissioner Gary Kriesel.

“We do allow that. That could be more clearly stated,” Conley replied.

Both Kriesel and Library Board member John Sievert said any amended policy should be clear that any meeting room use is a public use.

“I think there should be a clause in there that says, ‘All meetings are open to the public’,” Kriesel said.

“There’s no expectation of privacy,” Sievert added.

Kriesel also said any amended policy should not have too many limits on meeting room use.

According to WCL figures, its branches hosted 23,621 people at 2,981 meetings in 2011, 10 percent higher than in 2010. The Stafford branch in Woodbury hosted the most meetings in 2011, but the Oakdale branch had the most people attend meetings.

The WCL system hosted the fourth most number of meetings among regional libraries in 2010, trailing only St. Paul, Dakota County and Hennepin County.

Library Board member Marie Skinner questioned why the WCL allows authors to sell their books under its current policy that bans business transactions by other groups wanting to use meeting rooms.

“There’s something that bothers me about this policy. How do we permit authors who come in and sell books,” she asked.

Conley and WCL administrator Joe Mannion both said any author appearance at a WCL branch is considered a library-related activity allowed to use a meeting room.

“We never touch the money. We want nothing to do with the money,” Conley added.

Conley also believes that although the WCL’s current meeting room policy works, some refinements might be needed.

“I think our policy works well. I think some of our staff misinterprets the policy,” she said.

In other business, the WCL board approved a 2013 holiday closing schedule that assumes branches will be open Mondays next year.

“If we open on Mondays, we would follow the county holidays,” Conley said. “All we’re asking you to approve is we close on county holidays.”

Those holidays are Jan. 1, New Year’s Day; Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day; Feb. 18, Presidents Day; May 27, Memorial Day; July 4, Independence Day; Sept. 2, Labor Day; Nov. 11, Veterans Day; Nov. 28-29 for Thanksgiving Day and the day after the holiday; Dec. 24 for Christmas Eve and Dec. 25, Christmas Day.