June 24, 2011

King County Library System wins the big prize


The cover of the current edition of Library Journal, celebrating King County..

Library Director Bill Ptacek and King County Library System have won Gale/Library Journal‘s prestigious “Library of The Year” award.

We’re proud to say that we’ve been fans of King County Library System director Bill Ptacek for a little while now. We lauded Ptacek’s recent decision to remove cameras from his libraries in order to save money and protect the privacy of library goers. Ptacek has always been a stalwart of defending privacy and libraries in general have always been at the forefront of 1st amendment battles, particularly against  the policies of Bush’s Homeland Security bills.

As we have reported here in the past, the role of the library has deepened during this recession and despite the incredible cuts libraries receive, a few like King County have made bold moves to save money, expand stock and deepen services. In a statement displaying the wonderful synergy a library can have with its community, Ptacek explained why his library has succeeded and what they’re doing to maintain that success.

The Seattle Times reports:

Ptacek credited county residents for continuing to support the library during the recession, and said the county’s highly educated, tech-savvy population has pushed the library to adopt technical innovations earlier than other libraries. “We really feel that this award is for the community,” he said.

The library also has responded to patrons in need, providing help with job finding and expanding library-system hours to help people looking for work. The library’s “Look to Your Library” project offered 46 workshops on job searching, résumé writing and networking.

It’s a wonderful thing, really. King County is dependent on property taxes for revenue and with falling property values pinching the library, the community decided to increase the libraries share. In turn the library invests in programs that will directly help to restore community wealth. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.

But I’d like to finish with my favorite quote from Ptacek, who when explaining his controversial decision to remove the security cameras he made one point that we particularly liked.

Removing the cameras isn’t costing any extra money because it’s being done as part of the normal course of work for facilities employees, according to the library system.

The camera removal will even save money because it costs $30,000 a year to maintain the cameras, Ptacek said, “and $30,000 buys a lot of books.”

Yes it does, Bill. We’ll look for you in New Orleans.


Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.