The Redmond Library, which began in 1927 in a rented storefront as a volunteer project of the Nokomis Club, has grown with the community into the busiest library in the King County Library System (KCLS). New facilities in 1929, 1933, 1964, and 1975 all predated the tech boom that transformed Redmond. The current Redmond Library building, which opened in 1999, is high-tech, big, diverse, busy, and chock full of things to discover. It is also able to provide a cozy fireplace to curl up by with a good book, or a window seat for a parent and child to share while reading a story. It has not always been easy, but the Redmond Library has risen to the challenge of fulfilling its place both as a virtual global hub and as the local library for a small city.
An Overview of Redmond History
The town at the north end of Lake Sammamish that became Redmond was first called Salmonburg, after the migrating salmon that were so thick in the Sammamish Slough that they could be hauled out with a rake. The first settlers to stake claims in the area were the Luke McRedmond and Warren Perrigo families, both in 1871. By 1880, when the new wagon road to Kirkland, located to the west on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, opened, some 50 families had settled what was by then called the town of Melrose, named after Warren Perrigo's brother's hotel. Farms were cleared by using hot coals or burning pitch to weaken the base of the giant firs and cedars until they fell, and then trimming and hauling them to timber mills by ox cart.
The unincorporated town of Redmond barely grew, but at least it didn't shrink and disappear. Rail service came in 1889. By the turn of the century Redmond's population was 271. By 1912, when citizens considered incorporating, the town was one resident short of the statutorily-required 300 -- until a baby was born in November, which allowed incorporation on December 31, 1912.
Redmond's population reached 503 in 1940, when the first Lake Washington bridge was built, and by 1960 it was still less than 1,500. With the post-war baby boom, the blossoming of suburbia, and the completion of the Evergreen Point floating bridge in 1963, Redmond had its first big growth spurt, to slightly more than 10,000 people by 1970.
Redmond's story, of course, is entwined with that of a little software company founded in 1975 by Bill Gates (b. 1955) and his friend Paul Allen (b. 1953). Initially headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then in Bellevue, Microsoft moved to the Overlake neighborhood in southwestern Redmond on February 26, 1986. The next month it went public, and the rest is history. Microsoft's 2016 fiscal net annual income was $16.79 billion. As of September 30, 2016, more than 45,000 of Microsoft's 114,000 employees were in the Puget Sound region, so that while they did not all live in Redmond, most commuted in and out of the city. Significantly, in the early 1990s the employee population shot up past the resident population, though the latter was rising steadily, so that as of a 2009 study Redmond's resident population was 52,000, but its workday employee population was 90,000.
Early History of the Redmond Library
"By the shores of Gitchee Gumee
By the shining Big-Sea-Water
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis"
These opening lines to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's (1807-1882) famous poem "Hiawatha" inspired some Redmond women of the early twentieth century to name their newly-formed social club "Nokomis," after the wise grandmother of Hiawatha. On June 3, 1909, six women met at the home of Jennie Williams, elected May Steele Huffman (?-1920) their "Commander-in-Chief," and embarked on the social, literary, and public-service venture that would later spawn a town library. By year's end the membership was 14; within a few years the club limited it to 35 and always had a waiting list. Members met biweekly and then monthly, read poetry and later prose to one another, presented biographies of writers, wrapped and sent Christmas gifts to the orphans at the Industrial Home in Des Moines, donated to needy families and the Red Cross, raised money for reference books and gym equipment for Redmond High School, and funded it all with meeting dues, community dances, card parties, and good cooking.
In 1926 club members served all the meals at the four-day Consolidated Grange Fair, then in the fall the club sponsored a carnival and dinner, and in 1927 presented a very successful play, all of which resulted in an impressive treasury surplus. According to the March 25, 1927, minutes: "the question of how to spend our fortune was finally decided by the club voting to start a library" (Anderson). At the next month's meeting the club voted to lease Postmaster Herman Reed's two-room building, located between the Trading Post and Lentz's Dry Goods on Leary Way, for $10 per month, less three month's credit for painting the exterior. Club members made drapes and painted and papered inside, while their husbands were put to work building the shelves and painting the exterior. The women went door-to-door collecting books, purchased 80 books for $35 from used bookstores, and ordered $115 worth of books from Scribner & Sons, paying $15 down and $5 per month.
Redmond's first library opened on Saturday, October 29, 1927. It was open on four days for a total of 10 hours each week. The new library's 800 volumes were heavily used by a community eager for culture and entertainment. In its first full year of operation, the Redmond Library boasted a circulation of 7,009 books -- not bad for a town with a population of just 400. Over the next two decades, the women of the club catalogued all the books in their ever-growing collection, and took turns volunteering as librarians.
After just two years Reed's building proved too small, and in September 1929 the library moved across the street to a larger room in the Grand Central Hotel Building. The collection expanded in October 1929 with a loan of 300 books from the Washington State Traveling Library. On January 29, 1932, Nokomis Club president Mabel Johnson (1880-1966) gave an inspiring talk about working toward getting the library a building of its own, and a committee was appointed to achieve this goal. The committee's report, approved in December 1932, laid out the depression-era costs for the first library building owned by the club:
"Final report of the Building Committee of Redmond Public Library. Labor $75, Lumber $258.85, Wiring $6.95, Hardware $14.35, Plumbing $50.73, Painting $9.75, Alcohol $1, Light fixtures $3.50. Total paid $420.13. Water meter and fittings donated by the town of Redmond. Installation of same donated by Mr. Pope" (Anderson).
To complete the transaction, on January 5, 1933, Alfred N. "Fred" Brown and his wife Irene W. Brown donated the land at the corner of Kirkland Avenue (now NE 80th Street) and Cedar Street where the new library was built.
The new library, which was only an aspiration in January 1932, was dedicated on Sunday, February 12, 1933. Redmond Mayor Bill Brown spoke, and a short history of the Nokomis Club by June Bartow was placed in the building cornerstone. In 1937 a large clubhouse was added in the back, which was used by the club for fundraising dinners and dances, and rented out to the community for wedding receptions and other events. By 1940, the library held 3,890 volumes, served 1,400 patrons, and had a circulation of 7,610.
Part of the King County Library System
The members of the Nokomis Club continued to fund and operate the Redmond Library until January 1, 1947, when the library became part of the King County Library System, which had been created by county voters four years earlier. It was perhaps no surprise that the first librarian furnished by KCLS was Mamie Orr -- a member of the Nokomis Club since 1922! The Nokomis Club donated its books to KCLS on August 25, 1948.
The Redmond Library's collection had grown to 6,000 volumes by 1952, and circulation had reached 14,268, when in December of that year the club moved the library to the larger clubhouse room in back. Even after turning over its books and library operation to KCLS, the Nokomis Club still owned the library building and furnishings -- in fact, a 1958 judgment of the King County Superior Court confirmed that the club and not the City of Redmond owned the property. And until the library moved in 1964, the club continued to perform or pay for all maintenance, utilities, and insurance on the building that the library occupied.
With the ongoing postwar baby boom and growth of suburbia, the library finally outgrew the Nokomis Club's building. On April 23, 1964, KCLS decided to move the Redmond Library's 17,000-volume collection to larger quarters in the Redmond First Building at 16425 NE 80th Street, renting 2,000 square feet in the building. According to a 1970 article titled "Library Interests Redmondites, Even if They Can't Find It" (Thunemann), an unprecedented 63 percent of library surveys sent out to Redmond residents with their utility bills were returned, yet 23 percent of the respondents didn't know where the library was located. This suggested that the library needed its own building again, and on October 6, 1970, the Redmond City Council passed an ordinance creating a board of library commissioners to oversee the project.
In the spring of 1972, the Friends of Redmond Library was established for the purpose of organizing citizen support for the library. The Friends group and the library commissioners worked together to rally support for a $300,000 Redmond library bond measure, which was placed on the November 7, 1972, ballot. The Friends' election materials argued that the limitations of the existing library had stymied natural growth: it had about 20,000 books and a total circulation of slightly less than 60,000, which was about same as 10 years earlier, while Redmond's population during that time had grown from less than 1,500 to more than 12,000. The bond proposed funding a new 15,000-square-foot library.
The bond measure passed, and on January 9, 1973, the library board approved plans for a new library building sited just east of Redmond City Hall, with a pledge from KCLS to match Redmond's contribution. The job was put out to bid, but when the eight bids were opened on December 20, the lowest was more than $150,000 over budget. The board was forced to reject all bids and go back to the drawing board. Fortunately, with donation of land by the city, and cutbacks in size and design, the next round of bidding permitted acceptance of a $519,724 bid by Keta Construction Company for construction of a 13,000-square-foot facility.
Ground was broken in April 1974, but work was halted in July by a masons' strike, followed by a lockout of all construction workers by Associated General Contractors. By September work had resumed and the library was expected to open in late May 1975. Further bad luck plagued the project in the form of a delay in shipments of metal shelving from the East Coast that held up transfer of books from the old library, and it was not until August 1975 that the new library finally opened. The official dedication ceremony was held on September 14, 1975. Unlike the first Redmond Library construction project back in the early 1930s, which took 13 months from conception to dedication, this one took more than five years, but the net result was worth the effort. Redmond once again had a library everyone in the community could find, in its own building, taking a place next to the other major municipal institutions.
A New Regional Hub
Within a few years of Microsoft's move to Redmond in 1986, it became clear that local institutions would need to meet the rapidly changing and expanding needs of a new kind of community that now included sophisticated tech workers from all over the world. In 1990, city voters took a step toward this goal approving the annexation of the Redmond Library to the King County Library System. It was, however, too late to have a Redmond project included in the 1988 county-wide KCLS library bond measure. Consequently, the Redmond Library would not be able to expand or rebuild for some time without finding another source of funding. Yet the need was becoming increasingly acute. By 1994, circulation was about 450,000, and the library was plagued by overcrowding. A 1996 article said of the library: "From that bunker-like information center, there are days when you'd be hard pressed to find an empty seat, let alone a computer terminal" (Lee, 3).
In early 1996 a group called the Friends of the New Redmond Library was formed specifically to push two city-wide ballot measures that would create a Library Capital Facilities District and authorize issuance of a $7 million library bond. The first would pass if it received a simple majority; the second required a 60 percent supermajority. According to Brad Patrick, campaign co-chair, "we are calling it our 'yes-yes vote'" ("Redmond Will Vote"). The campaign for the new library emphasized that when the existing library opened in 1975 Redmond was a small city of about 11,000 just emerging from its agricultural roots, not yet on the forefront of technological innovation, whereas by 1996 it was a city of 41,000, home to Microsoft, Nintendo, and many smaller high-tech companies, experiencing rapid growth and change. Although $1 million was set aside for a 7,000-square-foot expansion of the existing facility if the 1996 measures failed to pass, the proponents argued that cement walls and outdated wiring prevented upgrading the existing library to meet even the then-existing needs of the community, let alone anticipated future needs.
On September 17, 1996, Redmond voters approved both measures in support of the proposed 30,000-square-foot library, which represented a giant leap forward from the 13,000-square-foot facility built in 1975. Unlike anything Redmond had aspired to before, this new library was to be a regional hub on a par with the other four KCLS regional libraries in Bellevue, Bothell, Federal Way, and Kent, intended not only to serve its immediate community, but also to attract patrons from all over King County.
But when the plans were shown to the public in April 2008, the library almost had to go back to the drawing board because of public outcry (including from the Redmond mayor and part of the city council) that the proposed new library was "flat-out ugly," "a slab-sided monstrosity," and " another example of the tyranny of modern architecture" ("New Redmond Library About Ready ...," "New Redmond Library OK'd," "Books Yes ..."). The library facilities board nonetheless approved the design, so a construction contract was let to Kassel Construction, and ground was broken in September 1998.
The new Redmond Regional Library opened to the public on November 10, 1999, and celebrated its official dedication on November 20. At 30,000 square feet, Redmond's new library was second only to the Bellevue Library in size. It housed 150,000 circulating items and 62 computers (six catalog-only and 56 loaded with the latest Microsoft software and connected to the internet), including a 10-station computer lab for teaching Microsoft Office and other computer skills. There was a large meeting room with a 164-person capacity, as well as smaller rooms for tutoring, storytelling, or smaller meetings. The ceiling over the 18,000-square-foot reading room was vaulted into 12 separate bays to break up the interior into separate areas.
Artworks and Literary Events
Adding a homey touch, the Redmond Library offered the only gas fireplace in the county library system. Featured art included Wisdom Seekers by Tony Angell (b. 1940), a large granite and bronze sculpture of four ravens, symbolizing curiosity, and four concrete gargoyles by Seattle sculptor David Jacobson in the image of writers Saul Bellow (1915-2005), Toni Morrison (b. 1931), Raymond Carver (1938-1988), and Joyce Carol Oates (b. 1938), that actually functioned as part of the roof's rain gutter system.
From the start, the library was home to literary events featuring authors as famous as those whose images adorned the library -- and in one case, one of those writers herself. A few months after the opening, on April 26, 2000, in celebration of National Poetry Month, the Redmond Library hosted United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (b. 1940), who was known for making poetry accessible and fun. Notable literary events in the decade following the opening also included a visit by Joyce Carol Oates on March 12, 2001, to view her gargoyle image, and an autumn 2008 visit by author Sherman Alexie (b. 1966), which demonstrated the limits of even the grandest library meeting room -- his talk had to be held at the Redmond High School auditorium in order to accommodate the 300 Alexie fans in attendance.
More artworks were added in the years following the opening. On October 6, 2002, the Friends of the New Redmond Library opened the Doolittle Art Garden on the north side of the library, named in memory of Edgar J. Doolittle, a volunteer who served on the Redmond Library Board and supported the Friends group's work. The peaceful little sculpture park was devoted to work by local artists. The collection included a bronze piece, Salmon Rising, by Dean Fredrickson, and the exquisite totem Fawn and Bird, a carving in red cedar by legendary Redmond woodcarver Dudley Carter, who spent half of his 101 years in the city. A red-cedar totem-like carving called Tribute, by Fredrickson, a student of Carter, was also installed in the garden. Tribute was done in Carter's style as a tribute to his legacy, and to the legacy of the Native Americans who first occupied the land that is now Redmond. Fish Boy, by Paula Rey Hawk Cowdrey, depicting a boy hugging a salmon cast in bronze, was added in 2003.
The entryway of the library also displayed major pieces by Dudley Carter: Bird Woman (1947), Rivalry of the Winds (1932), and Desert Scout (1960). The first two of these pieces towered over the tallest visitors, serving as reminders that the library is a repository of beauty and wonder, as well as of books and information.
Around the same time that the Friends of the New Redmond Library opened the art garden, the group ran into an unexpected controversy when a fund-raising project brought up issues of censorship versus free speech. Donors purchased engraved paving tiles to be installed in the library walkway, and conflicting messages brought the project to an early close. The library installed the controversial tiles, along with a disclaimer that "The views expressed on the tiles are those of the sponsors, not the King County Library System" (Perry).
Shortly after the opening of the new Redmond Library, KCLS opened the Nonprofit Philanthropy Research Center, run by Jeannette Privat, at the library. A valuable resource for nonprofit organizations, the center was affiliated with and supported by the Foundation Center of New York. While there was already a nonprofit center at the Seattle Public Library, the one established at the Redmond Library was the first on the Eastside, and has been very busy and well-received. There are three computers at the Redmond Library dedicated to nonprofit formation, funding, and research. The center does a great deal of outreach with area schools, colleges, and nonprofit boards, and has helped seed other nonprofit-research centers around the Washington.
On March 7, 2009, as the 100th anniversary of the Nokomis Club approached, a special art piece was dedicated and placed in the entryway to the Redmond Library. The work by John Tapert, called Nokomis -- Women of Vision, consisted of five colored-glass panels depicting 12 of the earliest members of the club. Also in 2009, the Redmond Library benefitted from a light remodel, funded by a 2004 KCLS library bond measure. The work included new paint, carpets, desks, lighting, lowering of some shelving, and addition of new displays.
Busiest of the Busiest
In 2012, Redmond surpassed the Bellevue Library as the busiest library in a King County Library System that, in 2010, had itself become the busiest library system in the United States. Redmond never looked back, and has consistently been the busiest through 2015, the last full year statistics were available. The Redmond Library circulated 1,454,486 items in 2012. Its circulation numbers dropped off a bit since then, as eBook downloads have increased, but the library continued to hum with activity.
As of late 2016, the Redmond Library was open seven days a week, for a total of 67 hours each week. In a two-week period in October 2016, the library presented several Story Time programs for infants, young toddlers, toddlers, preschoolers, families, Chinese and Russian speakers; sessions on playing in and learning Chinese; several levels of classes on Microsoft Word; classes on budgeting, job searching, writing a cover letter, and writing a resume; social services drop-ins with the Redmond homeless outreach specialist; Next Steps Resource Center, a multi-agency social services guide and referral service; multiple teen study zones; several book group discussion sessions; Talk Time classes to practice conversational English and learn about American culture; American-citizenship-preparation classes; a young authors' club meeting; several sessions of one-on-one computer help; an introduction to snowshoeing; and talks on emergency preparedness, Medicare, homelessness on the Eastside, dealing with holiday stress, and more. In the first 10 months of 2016, the Redmond Library presented a total of 88 early-literacy sessions, 227 teen and children's programs, 57 lifelong-learning (adult) programs, 109 computer-use sessions, 6 library-use sessions, 31 citizenship classes, and 227 diversity programs, to a total audience of 18,276 people.
As library patrons came and went from all these activities, they passed by the Nokomis -- Women of Vision images of the club members who founded Redmond's first library nine decades earlier. It is fitting that the women who started it all were still presiding over what had grown into the King County Library System's busiest library.
As King County's population boomed at the start of the twenty-first century, the King County Library System (KCLS) made plans to expand. In 2004, voters approved a $172 million bond measure, allowing KCLS to build 16 new libraries and renovate or expand dozens more. In 2010, KCLS was the busiest library system in the nation by circulation. It would later relinquish the top spot to the New York Public Library, but would remain in the top three. In 2011, KCLS won one of the most prestigious awards in the library world when it was named the Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year. It was cited as a role model for the nation's libraries. This is the second of a two-part history of the King County Library System.
The Heart of a Growing Community
KCLS began the new millennium by vowing to reaffirm its status as "the heart of the community" (2002 Annual Report, 1) -- in fact, it was essentially the heart of 43 communities, which were served by the 43 libraries that KCLS then operated. Each library sought to meet the unique needs of its own community, while the library system as a whole embraced its entire service area -- almost all of King County except Seattle (which has its own public library system). KCLS continued to pursue partnerships with the 18 different school districts that operated within the area it serves. Teacher training, outreach to teens and to very young patrons, and improving data resources remained important focal points. Free programs taking place in the libraries were increased and promoted, free computer classes helped older patrons join the digital age, patrons of all ages enjoyed literacy events sponsored by various libraries, and new self-check stations sped up the checkout process. King County residents gave KCLS a vote of confidence -- and a much-needed infusion of operating revenue -- in February 2002 by passing a measure to lift the local levy lid with a 64 percent yes vote.
King County's population was booming. It grew to more than 1.7 million between 1990 and 2000 -- a jump of 230,000. To help meet the new demand, in 2000 and 2001 KCLS opened new libraries in Woodmont, Auburn, Maple Valley, Richmond Beach, and Issaquah. An innovative storefront library in a Bellevue shopping mall, called the Library Connection @ Crossroads, also opened in 2001. This storefront concept proved so popular that KCLS followed it three years later with the Library Connection @ Southcenter in Tukwila.
KCLS officials realized that services and facilities had to be expanded throughout the rapidly growing county. In February 2003, KCLS put before voters a $158 million bond issue to provide the funds necessary to build new libraries and renovate older ones. The bond measure needed a supermajority of at least 60 percent yes to pass. When all the votes were tallied, it received only 52 percent in favor. This was a serious blow to KCLS. Library officials attributed it to "tactical errors," including insufficient public outreach, as well as "bad timing," during a period when voters were nervous about the economy and the looming war with Iraq (Merlino).
KCLS resolved to demonstrate a renewed commitment to customer service, literacy services, and youth-services outreach. Library administrators and staff then went into "essentially every community" to determine what people wanted from their library system (Merlino). They found that people did not necessarily want KCLS to cut back its building plans. For instance, some patrons told them that library parking lots were so crowded that fights were breaking out for precious parking spaces. As a result, KCLS came up with a new plan that called for even greater expansion. KCLS spread out the proposed improvements so that there was "something for every single library in the system" (Merlino). In the end, KCLS decided to bring an even bigger bond measure -- $172 million -- before voters in fall 2004.
Early feedback from patrons indicated that they did not think it was "an exorbitant amount to be asking for," even though the economy remained tough in 2004 (Merlino). The bond issue called for replacing, expanding, or renovating most of the KCLS libraries and building three new libraries in communities that had never had one (Newcastle, Greenbridge, and the East Hill/Panther Lake area of Kent). This time around, King County's library supporters were determined to get the word out. A private group called People for Libraries raised $150,000 to purchase TV and radio ads and yard signs. The Seattle Times endorsed the bond issue, saying it was "fundamental to helping a quality system keep up with demand" ("Yes for ...").
Building and Renovating Libraries
On election night, September 14, 2004, library supporters were somber after seeing some nerve-wracking early returns. Yet by the end of the night, the $172 million bond measure passed with a comfortable 63.57 percent approval. The resulting ambitious capital construction project schedule would be the library system's principal focus for many years to come. As of late 2015, 82 percent of the bond funds had been expended. The more urgent needs had been scheduled first, while renovation projects of relatively younger libraries were scheduled later. A few projects would stretch into 2017 and beyond.
The 2004 bond issue resulted in the construction of 16 new libraries, which were completed between 2007 and 2017:
Snoqualmie Library, August 2007
Black Diamond Library, May 2008
Fall City Library, May 2008
Muckleshoot Library, June 2008
Greenbridge Library, November 2008
Carnation Library, January 2009
Burien Library, June 2009
Sammamish Library, January 2010
Lake Hills Library, September 2010
Kenmore Library, July 2011
Duvall Library, August 2012
Newcastle Library, December 2012
Federal Way 320th Library, September 2013
Skyway Library, January 2016
White Center Library, May 2016
Tukwila Library, April 2017.
The bond issue also funded the renovation and/or expansion of many existing libraries, with those projects completed between 2006 and 2016 as follows:
Skykomish Library, October 2006
Bothell Library, 2006
Algona-Pacific Library, 2007
Shoreline Library (expanded parking lot), October 2007
North Bend Library, 2008
Woodinville Library, 2008
Des Moines Library, January 2008
Covington Library, March 2008
Woodmont Library, July 2008
Redmond Library, January 2009
Richmond Beach Library, January 2009
Issaquah Library, December 2009
Kirkland Library, December 2009
Kent Library, March 2010
Federal Way Library, June 2010
Newport Way Library, April 2011
Lake Forest Park Library, January 2012
Library Connection @ Southcenter, January 2012
Auburn Library, September 2012
Maple Valley Library, April 2013
Bellevue Library (parking garage), June 2013
Vashon Library, March 2014
Fairwood Library, December 2014
Kingsgate Library, March 2016
Mercer Island Library, July 2016
Valley View Library, December 2016.
Another new library and a renovation project were both scheduled to begin in late 2017 or early 2018. The Kent Panther Lake Library (a project previously known as the Kent East Hill Library) was to be a 6,000-square-foot library in the Panther Lake area, which did not previously have a KCLS library. Planning for interior renovations to the Boulevard Park Library was also underway in 2017.
A Busy and Award-winning Library System
While this ambitious work was being accomplished, KCLS continued to serve its most basic function -- providing books and informational services for its patrons. In 2005, about 18.3 million items were checked out. More and more services and materials were made available online. That same year, 98 million transactions took place on the library's website, kcls.org.
Around this time KCLS surveyed its patrons, who asked that information, materials, and resources become easier to find and use. The website was redesigned, making navigation more user-friendly. By 2009, 88.6 million visits were made to the catalog and 26.8 million visits were made to the website, putting the total at considerably more than 100 million. In-person patron visits to KCLS libraries also continued to rocket upward. In 2009, 10 million people visited KCLS libraries, almost double the number from 10 years before.
In 2010, KCLS reached a remarkable milestone: It became the busiest library system in the U.S., after several years as the second-busiest public library system in terms of circulation (after Queens, New York). In 2010, a total of 22.4 million books, movies, compact discs, and other items were checked out from KCLS libraries -- an increase of 5 percent from 2009. More than 100,000 new library cards were issued in 2010, up 10 percent from the year before. And, despite difficult economic times, King County voters approved another levy-lid lift in February 2010, ensuring operating funds to benefit King County Library System patrons in the coming years.
Over the next few years KCLS traded the top spot in circulation with other several other library systems, including the New York Public Library's Branch Libraries, the Multnomah County Library in Oregon, and the Queens and Brooklyn libraries. However, KCLS remained in the top tier of the nation's libraries in multiple categories. Data from the 2012 fiscal year showed that KCLS was third in the nation in circulation, seventh in library visits, and 11th in total holdings (print and electronic).
In addition to those measures of quantity, in 2011 KCLS was given a prestigious award for quality. The Library Journal announced that the King County Library System had won the Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year Award. KCLS director Bill Ptacek (b. 1951) noted its significance: "There's not a bigger award in the library world" (Gwinn).
The Library of the Year Award is given to the library that "most profoundly demonstrates service to the community; creativity and innovation in developing specific community programs or a dramatic increase in library usage; and leadership in creating programs that can be emulated by other libraries" ("Library of the Year Nomination Guidelines"). The award included $10,000 and a cover story in Library Journal.
"For decades, the King County Library System has earned a reputation as a model for libraries throughout the nation and the world," said the cover story (Berry). The story cited several areas where KCLS was a role model, including its commitment to energy efficiency in construction and maintenance, its high levels of community fiscal and volunteer support, its outreach to students and seniors, its business and job-finding resources, and its innovation in technology and eBooks. Director Bill Ptacek explained the library's success this way:
"There are four factors that allow us to effectively manage KCLS. First is that we are an independent taxing district. Second, we plan for the long term, and our planning is done by collaboration between labor and management. The union is right with us from the beginning. Third, we believe that people will come if they can get good stuff at the library. That means a strong effort to build relevant collections, whether they are books, videos, databases, or online. Finally, we try to use technology effectively and well" (Berry).
KCLS certainly used eBook technology effectively -- in 2011, its eBook use went up by 355 percent and by 2012 it led "the U.S., Canada, and Australia in eBook circulation" ("History"). In 2013, KCLS patrons downloaded 1.7 million eBooks and downloadable audiobooks.
Take Time to Read
Innovation of a different kind was at the heart of the KCLS "Take Time to Read" campaign, a multi-year effort from 2011 to 2013. The objective was to encourage people to read whenever they had a few minutes. "Reading chairs and collections of 'quick reads' were set up in retail outlets, medical facilities, at the DMV, and other such busy places. Free 'Gift of Time' cards were distributed at the libraries to push the idea" (Berry). One patron said the "Take Time to Read" program helped her pass the time while in the waiting room at a tire store. Funding was provided by the King County Library System Foundation.
KCLS also reached out beyond the library walls with its Library2Go! project, which brought the venerable bookmobile concept into the twenty-first century. The 2004 bond issue funded 17 vehicles -- vans and mobile computer labs -- which allowed KCLS to take library services to day care centers, low-income housing facilities, senior centers, summer-learning sites, and community festivals and events. Mobile Learning Labs were each equipped with seven computer stations, while other vans provided more traditional bookmobile service at sites that included many small home-based day care centers around the county. Ptacek told the Library Journal that this helped plant the seeds of lifelong library use among kids. In 2015 Ptacek left to become CEO of Calgary Public Library in Canada. Gary Wasdin, executive director of the Omaha Public Library since 2010, was chosen as the new KCLS director.
KCLS continued to focus on many bedrock issues, including a longtime commitment to K-12 education. An extensive after-school homework support program offered help to 11,000 students in 2016. The KCLS online tutoring resource, tutor.com, provided nearly 35,000 online tutoring sessions that year. The annual Summer Reading Program had 42,000 participants. The early childhood literacy programs -- a key focus for decades -- had some new twists. The Fiestas program provided early learning skills to the county's Latino population. Kaleidoscope Play & Learn programs, emphasizing early learning and family engagement, attracted 22,789 attendees in 2016.
Continuing to Innovate and Grow
KCLS continued its goal of staying abreast of new technology with a new hotspot lending program, allowing patrons to borrow an internet hotspot device. Two new eBook kiosks were installed at SeaTac Airport, allowing patrons to download reading material while waiting for their flights. KCLS continued to provide resources for small businesses and people seeking jobs. It also hired a social worker on staff at the Auburn Library, to provide resource assistance to the many library patrons who needed help navigating the health and human services system.
KCLS remained committed to green construction and renovation practices. The bond issue projects were designed and built to environmentally friendly standards in five areas: site planning, water conservation, energy savings, recycled materials, and interior air quality. As part of their site design, several of the new libraries had rain gardens in which water from rooftops and parking lots was directed toward the trees and shrubs of the garden ("Delivering on a Promise ... 2015").
Like many other libraries and library systems around the country, KCLS had to grapple with difficult questions about censorship, free access to information, and protecting children from obscene material. In 1994, it developed an internet filtering policy, which was refined in subsequent years, including 2012 and 2015. It instituted an internet filter for those under 17, as well as an even more restrictive "Max Filter" for the children's areas ("Internet Filtering Policy"). Yet it also allowed patrons to opt out of filtering. The library's 2017 mission statement defined one of its core values as "Intellectual Freedom," along with "Knowledge" and "Diversity, Equity & Inclusion" ("You, KCLS and the Road Ahead").
As King County kept growing, so did KCLS. It maintained its place among the busiest libraries in the country. In 2016, KCLS had 10 million patron visits; had 703,987 registered cardholders; and had 4.3 million items in its collection. Its 3.5 million eBook downloads made it the No. 1 library in the U.S. for downloads on Overdrive, the nation's major library eBook service.
In March 2017, Wasdin resigned after the board became aware of a violation of the KCLS code of conduct. On April 27, 2017, the board appointed Stephen A. Smith, a King County Library System Foundation board member, as interim director, then launched a search for a permanent director.
In addition to the libraries from the 2004 bond issue, KCLS had in the meantime added several other new libraries. Redmond Ridge Library Express, a limited-service book facility, opened in 2009. In 2012, voters in the city of Enumclaw approved the annexation of the Enumclaw Library into KCLS, making that southeast King County city the latest of many to fully incorporate its library into the King County Library System. In projects outside the 2004 bond issue, a new Renton Highlands Library was built and opened in March 2016, and the Renton Library was remodeled in 2015. That brought the total to 49 libraries as of mid-2017 -- and KCLS was busily preparing plans for the new Kent Panther Lake Library, which when completed would become the King County Library System's 50th library.
In 2017, KCLS celebrated its 75th Birthday. The King County Rural Library District created by voters in 1942 had started out with only a few tiny country libraries and a balky bookmobile named Belinda. Nobody had any idea how big it would grow -- and how big a part it would eventually play in King County's civic and cultural history.
For Part 1, click "Previous Feature" button at top or bottom of page.