A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in our changing county | Guest Editorial

  • Wednesday, August 16, 2017 10:30am
  • Opinion

Stephen A. Smith, Courtesy Photo

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.

More in Opinion

KCLS forges partnerships for broader public benefit

Partnerships make it possible for KCLS to serve a broader range of people, while stretching tax dollars.

The importance of being counted | Windows and Mirrors

The 2020 Census is coming and that can greatly affect everything from government representation and federal funding.

This year’s biggest election for Democrats isn’t on the ballot

Four women are vying to become the next House speaker. The Democratic caucus will decide in July.

Proud to be themselves | Windows and Mirrors

June is Pride month and PFLAG Bellevue Eastside has been supporting the local LGBTQ+ community since 1996.

From Eastside to East Coast | Reporter’s Notebook

Reporter Kailan Manandic bids farewell to the Eastside for new adventures in Boston.

Alternative to Sammamish River Trail | Letter

The proposed King County improvements to the Sammamish River Trail should be… Continue reading

In the hands of voters | Letter

Every voter in the state of Washington should be furious with the… Continue reading

A humanitarian crisis | Letter

Hundreds killed or injured. Many raped. Bodies found in the Nile. Sudan… Continue reading

Governor’s watch: timing is everything

Inslee, possible candidates eye 2020 race

Closing the margins | Windows and Mirrors

How a program at Mercer Island High School is helping students affect social change.

Summertime opportunities to read, learn and grow

A monthly column about King County libraries.

Redirecting funds | Letter

There has been a recent influx of publicity about mental health treatment… Continue reading