Director’s Blog December 2023

This will be my last blog prior to retiring after a long library career, including the past five years as KCLS Executive Director. There is so much to say, to reflect on, and to be grateful for.

First, I would like to thank our patrons for their heartwarming support of our 49 public libraries, our programs, collections and services. Many of you have written me over the years, or thanked staff, on what libraries mean to you and how they have made a difference in your lives. Positive impacts are what KCLS staff works so hard to achieve.

Another way we know patrons value their libraries is through their response to our digital collection. We just reached a remarkable milestone, with over 8 million checkouts for eBooks and downloadable audiobooks through OverDrive so far this year! This marks a significant progression from our 2019 record of 5,678,572 checkouts. As of the close of 2022, we proudly secured the #2 spot in the United States for OverDrive usage and ranked #4 globally. We anticipate more good news when the 2023 rankings are released in January.

As a librarian who has worked in every U.S. time zone, I know KCLS is one of the biggest, busiest and best library systems in the country. We are also one of the most responsive, serving communities with varying needs and interests. We have partnered both with organizations and the KCLS Foundation to address social needs ranging from literacy and digital equity to outreach for older adults and those experiencing homelessness. Library programs range from arts and crafts to homework help to entrepreneurial inspiration. We even implemented a Green Initiative, doing our part to address climate change.

I am particularly proud of the way KCLS navigated the stressful COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone had to adapt to public health mandates. Thanks to our innovative staff, patrons were able to attend programs online and to check out materials through curbside pickup and contactless lockers. Partnering with the county, libraries provided COVID testing kits, vaccinations and personal protection equipment.

Since I became the Executive Director in 2018, KCLS has achieved many other milestones. We opened the final two libraries of our taxpayer-supported capital bond issue (Kent Panther Lake and Boulevard Park) and two state-of-the-art Makerspaces (in Bellevue and Federal Way).

We hired our first Health and Social Services coordinator/social worker; a full-time grant writer and a director of the newly created Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Department. We adopted a fines-free policy that encourages more people to return to libraries, and updated our intellectual freedom policy affirming our stance that a wide range of library materials should be available to everyone. KCLS implemented other changes to ensure operations were efficient, relevant and accountable.

KCLS’ success in obtaining grants stretches taxpayer dollars and our ability to offer valuable and innovative programs and services. I felt strongly that KCLS needed to hire a full-time grant writer, and our grant success has justified this decision.

That success includes a recent $800,000, five-year grant from the Mellon Foundation to create Memory Labs at our Bellevue and Federal Way Library Makerspaces. Libraries will work with community partners to gather and preserve the stories of patrons who have been impacted by systemic inequities, and/or language and cultural barriers.

KCLS also received a Climate Smart Humanities grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This enables us to hire a climate consulting firm to lead the agency in creating a climate action plan that includes identifying adaption and mitigation strategies to lower our carbon footprint in alignment with federal, regional, state, Tribal and county climate goals.

I leave KCLS in good hands and in good financial shape. KCLS has received clean audits (“no findings”) every year since 1994. Our Capital Investment Program (CIP) keeps our buildings well-maintained. Taxpayers can rest assured that we take our stewardship seriously.

As I sign off, I would like to remind patrons to check out our annual Best Books selections. Every year, KCLS staff weighs in on its favorite books in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Teen, and Children. This is a perennial must for bibliophiles.

I’m thrilled that I was able to culminate my career as the Executive Director of KCLS. I believe public libraries are essential to democracy and to a free-thinking society.  I believe in the power of libraries to build healthy communities, and to help patrons thrive as individuals. KCLS has beautiful buildings where everyone is welcome. Libraries are unique and exceptional spaces; there is really nothing else like them.