KCLS is nation’s busiest library system

Winston and Kennedy Mazure celebrated the 20th birthday of the rabbit statue at the Mercer Island library last week. Programs like this have long been staples of the King County Library System. - Margaret Martin/Contributed Photo
Winston and Kennedy Mazure celebrated the 20th birthday of the rabbit statue at the Mercer Island library last week. Programs like this have long been staples of the King County Library System.
— image credit: Margaret Martin/Contributed Photo

For the first time in its history, the King County Library System was the busiest library system in the United States last year.

Bill Ptacek, KCLS director, made the announcement at a breakfast meeting of Renton community leaders at the downtown Renton branch, Thursday morning.

What was it that allowed the King County Library System to overtake the Queens Borough Public Library System, Ptacek posed? Renton was his and the audience’s answer.

Since Renton’s annexation into the KCLS, Renton libraries have helped the system reach nearly 22.4 million books, movies and CDs that were checked out by year’s end, a 5 percent increase over last year.

On the horizon for KCLS in Renton is the replacement of the downtown and Highlands branch, and the expansion of the Fairwood library.

Kay Johnson, director of facilities development, announced the architects for the downtown and Highlands projects.

Miller Hull Partnership LLP of Seattle has been selected for the downtown project, and THA Architecture Inc. of Portland was selected for the Highlands library.

Ptacek said while he understands that the library over the Cedar River is an icon, “the library is [for] more than just sitting and contemplating the river; it’s more than that,” he said.

He explained that it’s going to be really difficult to make the downtown library a high-functioning facility in its present location, and given a “clean palette” with a new building, KCLS could really show off what it can do.

Ptacek and library officials will give this same presentation to the Renton City Council on Monday in a Committee of the Whole meeting. The council won’t take public comment then, but the public can comment at the council’s regular meeting to follow.

KCLS drew more people last year than the Mariners, Seahawks and the Sounders, Ptacek said.

That’s an average of 28,000 people visiting a KCLS library every day for a total of 10.2 million visitors.

Ptacek added that cross-use studies have shown the value of the library with more people from outside the system coming into it to use and borrow materials.

And the libraries are keeping up with the times in what they offer those who use e-readers, such as the Nook or Kindle.

Last year, 98,100 eBooks were downloaded from the system, an 83 percent increase.

By the end of this year and into next year, KCLS hopes to have everything in print available electronically through its system.

More and more people are coming to the library with their own devices, and officials are thinking about marketing their materials differently.

“We’re in the information age and that means it’s different than just the traditional use of libraries,” said Ptacek.

The library system is also branching out with its resources and their librarians.

KCLS is working with the Community Center for Education Results on a couple of projects to form a partnership between schools and libraries.

They are working on early literacy programs and making KCLS libraries a community resource for information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms, much like they provide tax assistance.

With this increased library usage, librarians have been challenged to meet the needs of patrons in different ways. They are capable and interested in going out into the community both physically and electronically, Ptacek said.

“Our librarians are getting out more, they’re doing more, they’re impacting more people because again they’re dealing with folks in terms of their information needs and not just if they’re coming into the library to find a good book to read,” he said. “More in terms of what do they need for school, what do they need for work, what do they need to live in their communities, and that’s the change we’re seeing.”

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