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King County Library Services to spend more on materials, better services

More funding for eBooks, non-English material, wireless service amongst changes in 2011

While many organizations are tightening belts in the midst of an economic downturn, King County Library Services (KCLS) is better off thanks to a voter-approved levy lid lift last February.

This means patrons across all 46 KCLS libraries can look forward to a boost in materials and services this year.

During a recent community meeting, KCLS director Bill Ptacek outlined proposed strategic plans and budget allocations for 2011.

The biggest budget change will help KCLS keep up with the growing demand for electronic books, said Ptacek. In 2010, eBooks circulation at libraries increased 50 percent or more every month compared to previous years. Funding for downloadable items like eBooks and audiobooks will increase by 102 percent, with $700,000 available to spend on those services in 2011.

To meet the needs of a growing diverse community, KCLS will spend $565,000 for non-English material, a 27-percent increase. An additional $35,000 will be allocated to translate informational pieces, and another $36,000 will fund World Languages Story Times in libraries across the system.

More funding will also help ensure that best sellers and other popular materials are available to patrons as soon as possible after a hold is placed. This 18.8-percent increase will maintain a 4:1 ratio of copies to holds.

KCLS will also spend more than $600,000 to maintain the popular “Choice Reads” collections, which provides patrons the latest paperback titles in a variety of genres including a large selection of literary fiction.

A major expansion in wireless bandwidth is coming to all libraries.

KCLS will spend $400,000 for the project that will provide reliable wireless to a system that is currently slowing down with so much usage, said Ptacek. Computer workstations and printers will also be upgraded in six libraries.

Salaries for library staff will have no general wage increase, consistent with the past few years. The salaries and benefits budget is $58.7 million, which accounts for approximately 60 percent of the total operating budget.

Other budget highlights include:

• KCLS will spend $1.1 million on databases, which include reference resources such as online encyclopedias, business and investment guides and language learning programs.

• $3.8 million on maintenance and cleaning service contracts, $1.4 million for repairs and improvements and $400,000 on replacement furniture and shelving.

• $816,000 for the continued development of way-finding signage.

• With financial support from the KCLS Foundation, KCLS will fund Fiestas de Alfabetización Temprana en Español, a series of Early Literacy workshops for Spanish-speaking parents and their children. To recruit and hire candidates from diverse communities, the Page Fellowship program will be funded with $245,000 to support 45 entry-level page positions, many of whom pursue continuing education and advance into other library positions.

• KCLS will work with staff from the University of Washington iLab to facilitate early learning trainings for child-care providers, preschools and community groups. They will also create assessments that track progress toward reading readiness of children who access library materials via the new Library2Go! vehicles; $10,000 has been allocated for this project. Another $15,000 has been allocated to work with several departments at the University conducting research in early learning, young children and Story Times. KCLS will use this research to align KCLS’ children’s programs to current trends in Early Literacy development.

The budget ahead

The recent voter-approved lid lift raises the current level of 42 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value to the state maximum of 50 cents in 2011.

With stable housing prices, this would have resulted in a 19-percent increase in revenue, but a historic drop in property values reduces the impact of the levy lid lift, said Ptacek.

KCLS' 2010 budget of $16 million is expected to increase to about $30.1 million in 2011. However, the 2011 preliminary budget only has an overall expenditures increase of 1.3 percent.

Ptacek says it will be imperative for KCLS to conserve lid-lift revenue to cover operating expenses for several years to come.

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