Anyone who has visited the 48 libraries in the King County Library System, as I have done since becoming KCLS’ Interim Director, appreciates the breadth of this county we call home. Given traffic, it is no small feat to drive from Federal Way to Skykomish, Vashon to North Bend, or Muckleshoot to Duvall.
King County is one of the largest counties in the nation in both size and population, and as we all know, its cities and rural areas are changing rapidly. I grew up in Bellevue when it was a mere suburb; it is now the fifth largest city in the state.
When we talk about our changing county, it’s not just about population growth. It’s about changes in cultural norms and expectations; language, ethnicity; religious affiliations; socioeconomic factors; gender identity. Today, the increasingly complex needs of our diverse county span demographics—newcomers and long-time residents; young and old; rich and poor—and reflect human conditions found all over the world.
KCLS has long pledged, and recently recommitted itself, to breaking down barriers, broadening connections and forging new links to people, information and resources. Our recently adopted Strategic Focus, and Mission, Vision, and Values statements make clear our dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion. Our vision of “a world where knowledge allows diverse communities to prosper and grow” plays out in many ways.
We focus on literacy and reading, offering Story Times and other programs in languages such as Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and others.
We offer access to digital technology, knowing that 20 percent of King County households lack computers or Internet service.
KCLS offers Citizenship classes to assist those who desire to become U.S. citizens, and celebrates this milestone by hosting naturalization ceremonies. Last year, at just one ceremony, new citizens hailed from 17 different countries including Belarus, Bosnia, Burma, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Moldova, South Korea, Sudan and Ukraine.
In April, we opened the new Tukwila Library, which was designed to reflect one of the most diverse cities in the nation. The name Tukwila itself is the Duwamish word for “hazelnut,” and today, 80 different languages are spoken by Tukwila School District students, 40 percent of whom take advantage of English Language Learner services.
Our library programs and services reflect the needs and interest of all of our communities, ranging from autism awareness to social justice awareness; early childhood services to older adult services; Native American history to Women’s history; Ramadan to Kwanzaa celebrations.
KCLS has always been committed to equity, ensuring that all communities have equal access to the services and resources they need. It is a core value of all public libraries. Today, our communities face new and different challenges brought on by complex, socioeconomic issues. KCLS will face these challenges in partnership with our communities so that our vision of prosperity and growth for all King County residents becomes a reality.
Stephen A. Smith is the interim director of the King County Library System.