Nearly seven years ago, Martha Riel locked up Lake Elmo Library on its last day of county ownership after a dispute over hours and services. Soon she'll reopen it as a Washington County Library branch once again.
As its new manager, she'll have the task of merging Lake Elmo's city library, which residents built from scratch since that bitter split with the county in 2011, into the county library network. On Jan. 20, the library will open with a range of services.
How will Lake Elmo residents react to the change?
"I'm sure there will be a range of opinions, but I'm expecting a very smooth transition," Riel said.
The library will be open 40 hours Monday through Saturday, eight hours fewer than under the city's operation. But residents will have "a broader and deeper collection than they're had before," said Keith Ryskoski, who oversees Washington County's eight libraries.
Benefits, he said, will include more book titles available electronically and through interlibrary loans.
Four librarians currently working for Lake Elmo will continue to work there as county employees, including library director Nate Deprey. And Riel, formerly manager of the county's R.H. Stafford Library in Woodbury, will manage both the Lake Elmo library and Valley branch library in Lakeland.
The 2018 budget for the county's libraries in 2018 will total $8.4 million, of which Lake Elmo residents will contribute $371,750. The city's annual library levy, which will be discontinued, was $256,000.
The difference, said the county's Deputy Administrator Kevin Corbid, represents the cost of additional services that Lake Elmo residents will receive from the county branch library.
"This is something residents of Lake Elmo want — they want to be returned," said Commissioner Gary Kriesel.
One of the few hiccups in recent months was the discovery of lead in the building by county inspectors. It was found in wall tiles in an unused restroom the county plans to convert to a storage closet for computer servers.
The city's library board took on the responsibility for removal of the lead, expected to happen this week.
Friction between Washington County and Lake Elmo began in 2009 when the county reduced library budgets and city residents feared the loss of services to bigger branches.
Many people in the city of 8,000 reacted with anger. Eighty volunteers built a city-owned library with donated books. The city hired a librarian and programs were established for literacy, writing, art appreciation and children's summer reading.
Relations between the city and county since have warmed. Last spring, the Lake Elmo City Council and the Washington County Board each voted to resume a library relationship.
After that came public hearings and an online survey where most people, according to the city library board's chairman, Tom DeGree, favored returning to the county system despite a property tax increase needed to do so.
"The people in Lake Elmo decided it was worth the increase to have those services the county could provide," DeGree said, reflecting on a hearing where residents testified for more than two hours and an information mailing that was sent to households.
"We asked, 'Are you still in favor of joining the county system if there's an increase to your taxes?' They still said yes."
The county will take charge of the Lake Elmo Library exactly 100 years after the current library building was built, in 1918. It's a larger building than the one a few doors down the street that Riel closed in 2011.
DeGree said Lake Elmo demonstrated that people want smaller, more personal libraries and that county officials learned from that. "People really aren't interested in these huge central libraries as much," he said.
The city library board soon will disband. But the contract stipulates that if the county closes the library after four years, DeGree said, the building and its contents will revert to the city.
Ryskoski said the county is inheriting a reputable, well-run city library. "The community has done a wonderful job providing service," he said.