City’s growth a big factor in need for improvement
To join or not to join King County Library System (KCLS). That is the question Renton City Council must answer.
The City of Renton commissioned a 20-year master plan for the city’s two libraries in its 2006 budget. A consultant team was hired in June 2006. Since then, meetings have been held, public input gathered and a recommendation made.
The consultants, Miriam Pollack & Associates and Tina Roose of Roose Research, have recommended Renton Public Library maintain its independence, but that the City of Renton significantly improve library services and facilities. The consultants proposed a two-phased improvement plan, the first phase 2008-2010, the second 2010-2013. Both phases would cost about $2.5 million, which doesn’t include any construction costs.
This recommendation, included in the draft of the Renton Public Library Master Plan, was presented to Renton City Council in mid-June. More recently, a KCLS representative provided information for the council during a Committee of the Whole meeting. Another discussion of the master plan is tentatively scheduled for the Committee of the Whole meeting Sept. 15. The council plans to discuss the city’s 2009 budget at that meeting.
“The decision the council gets to make is do they want to do this, and how do they want to work towards it,” says Library Director Bette Anderson.
The master-plan draft has not been approved by council and at this point is really just a report of the master plan process, Anderson says. In creating the plan, the consultants worked with library staff and Board of Trustees members, Renton staff and citizens.
The need for improvements in Renton Public Library is undisputed.
Renton’s population has boomed and diversified since the 1960s, when the downtown Renton Public Library opened, and the 1970s, when the Highlands Public Library was built. Renton’s population is now about 80,000. The library master plan was designed for a population of 150,000, which is expected in 10 years.
The master-plan consultants assert that compared to other area, state and national libraries, Renton Public Library has failed to keep up with the city’s growth and the changing role of libraries.
“Renton lags far behind in the resources available to provide responsive, high- quality library services needed by its growing and diverse citizenry,” the report reads.
That sentiment matches the feedback provided by the various Renton residents who last spring attended library meetings, participated in interviews and commented on a blog and survey created by library staff. According to the master plan, these citizens said although the library performs well as a “traditional, small-city library” and has a personalized feel, they want it bigger and better, with more services.
Lynne Shioyama says the Renton Public Library Board of Trustees has long recognized the need for library improvements. Shioyama was on the board from July 2003 until June, when her term expired.
“It’s high time for it,” she says of a library master plan. “I think they’re long past due.”
Terri Briere, chair of City Council’s Community Services Committee, calls the master plan a “very-needed plan.”
“I feel like we’re starting to fall behind,” she says, – especially when the King County Library System has so many more resources, she adds.
With a collection of more than 3.6 million items, 1,200 employees and an operating budget of more than $80 million, King County Library System is the second-busiest public library in the United States, and has a lot to offer Renton.
The system already provides library services in 43 community libraries, in all cities but Seattle, Enumclaw and Renton. Several nearby cities have annexed to the library system..
Annexing means King County Library System would take over Renton’s library services. If that happens, Renton residents would get better facilities, resources and services than exist in the current Renton Public Library. But according to the master plan, joining would also mean a loss of local control and services geared specifically to Renton, probable higher taxes, and the possibility that either the downtown or Highlands library would close.
Any annexation would have to be approved by voters.
If Renton stays independent, its reciprocal agreement with King County Library System would continue. This agreement allows Renton residents to use King County libraries and King County residents to use Renton libraries. Because of the imbalance in resources, the City of Renton pays an annual fee to maintain this agreement.
The master plan suggests detailed library improvements for use if the City Council and voters choose to stay independent. These improvements include:
• increased materials, programs, services and staff
• up-to-date facilities
• longer hours
• increased outreach, partnerships and marketing.
The plan details immediate steps to take should the city go this route, such as hiring a space planner, redesigning the libraries and increasing staff and hours.
The plan also suggests funding strategies, including bonds, levies and taxes.
City Council’s decision to join KCLS or not will ultimately hinge on the City’s ability to fund library improvements.
Briere says City Council’s initial desire is to stay independent rather than annex to KCLS. The council’s job now is to determine if staying independent would be financially feasible.
That’s a big if in the weakened economy. The library is just one of the many expenses the city has to handle.
“There’s lots of issues and lots of needs in the city,” Briere says. “We really have to prioritize what happens in the next few years.”
Briere expects the council to decide whether to annex to KCLS or stay independent before the end of the year.
Lynne Shioyama hopes the library will come near the top of the city’s funding list.
“We certainly have high hopes that the city can rally behind our library,” she says.
Emily Garland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 255-3484, ext. 5052.