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The overarching issue of this submission was whether the City of Renton should annex its two public libraries to the King County Library System. Our coverage of this issue started when Renton City Council members first began discussing how the annexation would affect library users and the city budget. However, it ramped up in August 2009, when the City Council decided to put the issue on the February ballot. Our news stories came at it from three angles. In January we ran a series of special reports to discuss the specific issues voters should consider. The first was the issue about why the annexation was brought up. For years Renton had been cutting at its library system in favor of police and fire. I looked up an old library director, and we talked quite a bit about the history of the library to where it is today. The second issue was how much it would cost to annex vs. implementing a local levy to improve the system. This was a long and difficult process full of uncertainty. The third issue was what are the benefits to annexing compared to a local levy, compared to do nothing at all. KCLS has a much different approach to libraries, which is seen heavily in its use of technology. Renton's approach has always been more about community and local needs. The editorial is a small representation of our opinion section's involvement. We let our letters page flourish with opinions from both sides. I provided the story about the final vote and transition process to show how we followed through. While these are a great representation of our work, they are not the entirety of it. We ran daily Web updates of the exceptionally tight vote. Celeste Gracey, reporter


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marianne binetti | A gardening calendar for 2010 [10]

Cold toes | Polar Bear Dip draws about 125 brave souls for plunge in Lake Washington on Reporter Newsline 425.255.3484 New Year’s Day [3]

What’s coming up? | Season previews for Hazen wrestling and Renton swimming [12]

Library future in the hands of city’s voters The Feb. 9 vote will decide whether to turn over Renton’s outdated library to the King County Library System BY CELESTE GRACEY cgracey@rentonreporter.com

Anna Parks, right, and Audrey Nicholl, left, practice swimming with the Chinook Aquatic Club at the Lindbergh Pool. The Renton School District is looking at closing the pool, which has been funded by King County money up until this year. celeste Gracey, Renton Reporter

Budget cuts could sink pool at Lindbergh High By CELESTE GRACEY

cgracey@rentonreporter.com

The Renton School District is considering closing the Lindbergh Pool next fall. “We’re scheduled to conclude the school year with the pool opened,” said Rich Moore, assistant superintendent of business. “What happens after then is up to the...budget development process.” The district’s superintendent will propose a tentative budget this spring, which will include expected cuts for the 2010-2011 school year. Although the 40-year-old pool was built on district property, it belonged to King County until two years ago,

when Benson Hill annexed. The pool was no longer in unincorporated territory, so the county released ownership. Instead of giving the pool to the city, the county gave the building to the property owners, the Renton School District. For the past two years, the City of Renton has paid to keep the pool open with money the county provided for the Benson annexation. That money has run dry. The school district must now find an extra $175,000 in its annual budget to keep the pool open. “The Lindbergh pool is a new cost for us this year,” Moore said. The additional cost comes at a time the district is expecting deeper

budget cuts from state lawmakers. “We look at the programs that are closest to meeting our educational directive – to provide education for students,” Moore said. “Those items that are secondary to that are going to be under review. That could be anything from transportation to athletics.” The pool is used more often by the community than the school district. A giant purple slide replaced one of the pool’s two diving boards, and a rope swing was placed in front of the other. Kentridge is the only school other than Lindbergh that uses the pool, [ more pool page 4 ]

Over the past two decades the Renton Public Library has seen continual budget cuts, while city annexations have increased demand for services. “For decades the library has been underfunded,” said Renton Mayor Denis Law. “It’s kind of a financial dilemma for us to continue to provide adequate service, let alone quality services.” The struggling library is at a crossroad. Renton residents must decide whether to annex to the King County Library System or pass a levy to upgrade its library services. The annexation vote is Feb. 9. Meanwhile, Renton Reporter loyal users Special Report wonder how the library got to this point. “There was a period when the Renton Public Library was better The Renton Reporter today begins a series of articles supported explaining the issues behind annexing the City of Renton than the King to the King County Library System. The story on the front County Library page looks at how the city’s library system reached the point where it is now in need of extensive upgrades. The System,” said costs of remaining an independent library or of annexing former library to the KCLS are explored on page 5. director Clark Petersen, recalling the 1970s. “Renton was open... more hours than any other library in King County.” Today, KCLS competes with two New York systems for the title of busiest library system in the nation. KCLS broke out of its rural library shell in the 1960s with a state law that allowed city annexations, said KCLS director Bill Ptacek. [ more library page 4 ]


[4] January 8, 2010

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[ library from page 1]

divvy up, and the library hasn’t resonated to the top of high city services.” Renton’s library saw cuts whenever the city saw them but had little growth. “Each time we lost librarians from the staff, we never got them back,” Petersen said, adding “the subtle thing to do is not to increase the budget at the inflation rate.” Unlike Renton’s library, which opened in 1914, KCLS has its own tax levy and is independent from county rule. Petersen, director from 1970 to 2004, tried to propose a levy for the library, but the idea was tossed out on the spot. The amount was too insignificant for how much effort it would take to pass, he said. In 2007 Renton’s economy had a strong outlook; Boeing was strong and The Landing was under construction. But before giving the library more money, the city wanted a plan, said current library director Bette Anderson of Renton’s library. “For several years there was recognition that the library system needed to be developed.” A consultant group published a Master Plan in early 2008, offering recommendations for library improvements. The plan “was based on a combination of what the public would like and what the economy could afford,” she said. Although the consulting firm considered a potential KCLS annexation, it recommended that Renton stay independent. However, the plan’s affordability was based on a positive economic outlook. The economy tanked after the 2008 report was published.

Renton library ended Sunday hours years ago because of budget cuts Now KCLS serves 1.2 million residents with extensive electronic offerings and adult programming. While KCLS grew, the Renton Library System saw its first major cut in 1979, from which it never recovered, Petersen said. A state initiative had rolled back property taxes, and the whole city was hit with cuts, he said. “That meant that the library board ... closed its library on Sunday,” he said, adding the library hasn’t been open on a Sunday since. When it comes to city cuts, firefighters, police and transportation are more important, Law said. “You have a pie to

Library services were also becoming more costly. In 1996, Petersen established a reciprocal borrowing agreement, which allowed Renton residents to use KCLS libraries. The assumption was that the cross-use between the two systems was a wash; neither group charged for its services, Anderson said. However, KCLS began re-evaluating the agreement, and in 2008 it put a price on the reciprocal agreement, $79,000. It seemed manageable at first. Then Benson Hill annexed in 2008. KCLS adjusted the price to $278,000, a significant portion of the $1.8 million 2009 budget. Facing deeper cuts for 2010, Renton City Council decided to put the KCLS annexation decision on the Feb. 9 ballot. Residents “want enhanced library services that we haven’t been able to provide that we feel KCLS can provide,” Law said. If the city doesn’t annex, city lawmakers plan to consider a special tax levy, which would almost double the library’s operating budget. Law doesn’t plan to consider a levy anytime soon, given the economy, he said. “February is a crossroads both for Renton and the King County Library System,” Petersen said. “We’ll see what the people are thinking.”

Renton Reporter staff writer Celeste Gracey can be reached at 425-255-3484, ext. 5052.

Community keeps the pool schedule full [ POOL from page 1]

and it’s in the Kent School District. However, the pool’s schedule is full from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily with swim lessons and private rentals. “We pretty much have a revolving door of people coming through everyday,” said Bryce Jensen, pool supervisor. “The community thinks this is an asset.” The pool was visited about 86,000 times in 2009 and had about 6,000 enrolled students, Jensen said.

The district and the city are talking about future funding, but the city can’t afford to pay for the pool, said Mayor Denis Law. In 2009, swim lessons and entry fees collected about $18,500 in revenue, about 10 percent of the pool’s cost, said district spokesperson Randy Matheson. In addition to operations costs, the pool is in need of extensive repairs, including a roof replacement and a new boiler system, Moore said. “It was only originally scheduled to be a 40-year

building.” If the district changes the building in any way, it has to bring the entire building up to code, which could cost millions, Matheson said. If the pool closes, Lindbergh would practice at the district’s first pool at Hazen High School, Matheson said. “Much like everyone’s budget throughout the state, everyone has to make hard decisions about programs and responsibilities of their budget,” he said.


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Uncertainty marks library vote By CELESTE GRACEY cgracey@rentonreporter.com

The same day Renton votes on annexing to the King County Library System, KCLS’s current residents will decide whether to increase the system’s taxes. The Feb. 9 vote is just one unknown factor that could change what people would pay for KCLS and how much more people could pay if the Renton Library System remains independent. The KCLS vote could increase its tax burden from about $168 for a home worth about $400,000 to

Renton Reporter Special Report

The COST $200 a year. In comparison, Renton homeowners are now paying about $104 for their current system. A tax increase would max out how much money KCLS can take by state law. However, the levy rate wouldn’t be permanent, as a state initiative would drive down the rate for the next several years, said KCLS director Bill Ptacek. “Our goal was not to go back to the voters more often than we have to,” he said, adding that much of the money collected in 2011 would be saved. The Renton City Council

Frank Young of Renton reads in the Renton Municipal Library downtown. Celeste gracey, Renton Reporter hasn’t decided what it would do with money budgeted for the Renton Library System if the city annexes to KCLS. Because the Renton Library System draws its operations budget from the general fund, without a tax cut, Renton residents could pay the KCLS taxes in addition to current city taxes that previously went to the Renton library. “They’ll be having to pay the KCLS amount on top of what their current taxes are,” said Marcie Palmer, a City Council member who favors an independent library. It would be up to the City Council to offer a tax break, said Mayor Denis Law, adding that a portion of the money will likely go toward building improvements, which KCLS won’t pay for. The city recognized that the Renton library needed improvements in 2007. Before deciding to increase

the library’s budget, the library put together a Master Plan to see what residents wanted and how much it would cost, said library director Bette Anderson. The 2008 plan came out just before the economy tanked, forcing cuts over improvements. “If the economy stayed the way it was, it (the master plan) would have been more possible,” she said. The City Council could propose a levy to pay for the library improvements. If approved by voters, it would cost the average homeowner an additional $88 per month. “It could take the rest of the year to get something like that going,” Palmer said of a levy. However, any levy likely would be held off until the economy improves. “I can’t even begin to guess when we’d come forward to the voters to increase our library services,” said Law. “It’s not likely to

be something we’d bring forward anytime soon... given the financial constraints we’re facing.” The master plan also recommends Renton add 60,000 square feet of building space. Renton’s main space downtown is about 24,000 square feet. With both library systems, the City of Renton will have to pay for capital projects on its own. Necessary building improvements are estimated to cost homeowners about $68 annually. However, if Renton annexes to KCLS, unused money budgeted for the library will likely be used to pay for building improvements, Law said. Trying to compare the cost of remaining independent and annexing to KCLS isn’t easy. Calculating how much taxes would increase for homeowners is even trickier. If Renton annexes to KCLS, homeowners of a $400,000 home would pay $168-$200 in additional taxes. These numbers assume the City of Renton uses the current library budget to fund capital projects and doesn’t offer a tax break. If the City of Renton remains independent and then passes a levy, the average homeowner could pay an additional $156 per year in taxes. This includes capital project costs. “I think this decision is something that should be put to the voters and not seven people,” Palmer said referring to City Council.

January 8, 2010 [5]


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BUSINESS | Tea Palace a ‘rising star’ [12]

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What did Shambo miss? ‘Survivor’ star’s easy answer: Kalie, Brucie and chocolate

Renton Reporter Special Report

The Renton Reporter today continues a series of articles explaining the issues behind annexing the City of Renton to the King County Library System. Today, we compare the two library systems.

KCLS offers huge collection; Renton has personal touch

By DEAN A. RADFORD dradford@rentonreporter.com

Let’s get a couple things cleared up first thing. Shambo didn’t lose her tribe’s fishing gear nor did she set free the tribe’s chickens, an important source of protein when food was scarce. Shambo is Shannon Waters of Renton. She became a national sensation for the fans of “Survivor,” the CBS reality show that strands Castaways somewhere warm where they spend the next 39 days trying go outwit, outlast and outplay each other. Waters made it to Day 36, quite an achievement in a game where even the most secure players get blindsided at a tribal council and are sent packing. “That’s unbelievable,” she said of her final place in the game – fifth out of 20 players. Her chances for the ultimate prize seemed to take a hit when she was pinned with the fishing gear and chicken loss. But this is “reality” TV when storyline sometimes trumps the reality. She and a lot of her friends and fans cried foul. She simply didn’t lose the fishing gear and a quip about chickens flying was taken out of context in the show’s final editing. “They did a great job of making me look stupid,” said Waters. Two stuffed chickens sit on the ends of her fireplace mantle, a gift from neighbors. Shambo – who got the name as a Marine playing softball more than 20 years ago in a bandana like

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By CELESTE GRACEY cgracey@rentonreporter.com

Shannon ‘Shambo’ Waters relaxes at her Highlands home with her beloved dogs, Brucie the golden retriever, and Kalie the black labrador. Behind her is the Shambo Wall of Fame, signatures and notes from children and others who have shared stories and their own signatures. dean a. radford, Renton Reporter “Rambo’s” – didn’t win the $1 million prize, but she achieved her goal. She secured a seat on the jury that picked the eventual winner. In the “Survivor” season finale just before Christmas, Natalie White won the money and villain Russell Hantz, one of Waters’ key allies, won $100,000 as the Player of the Game. Shambo came in second behind Hantz. She has said goodbye to “Survi-

vor” and doesn’t plan to ever return. What did she miss during the more than 39 days she was away from her Highlands home? Easy. Chocolate and her two beloved dogs, Kalie the black labrador and Brucie the golden retriever. Beyond the comforts of home, the real prize is the chance with her newfound fame to become a moti[ more SHAMBO page 9 ]

If Renton doesn’t annex its library to the King County Library System Feb. 9, it could be several years before the struggling library sees improvements. Although City Council members could get a levy on the ballot as early as November to pay for upgrades, the economy may not be healthy enough to support a new tax. “It’s not likely in my estimation to take place in short term,” said council member King Parker of a library levy. Others are more optimistic. “If it happens that we don’t join “It would be King County, I think I would... really difficult to immediately get it scheduled as a imagine that an independent library Committee of the Whole topic,” said council member Randy Corman. serving about While the Renton library has a 80,000 could match clear vision of what it would do with the resources of the more money, KCLS could satisfy library that serves much of that vision in a few months. 1.2 million people.” Changes could start the day the Bill Ptacek, director, King County library System

election is certified, said KCLS director Bill Ptacek. “I think they would see a difference in their library immediately.” About 25 percent of KCLS’s checkouts consist of holds that are shipped from 44 libraries throughout the system. Patrons would be able to order from KCLS’s extensive collection immediately, he said “We have a very well-developed delivery system,” he said. “I think it’s a model that’s working really really well.” While KCLS orders a wide spectrum of materials, [ more LIBRARY page 4 ]


[4] January 15, 2010

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Frances Pieper, left, and Ken Lydon, right, read newspapers in the downtown branch of the Renton Municipal Library. Voters will decide Feb. 9 whether to annex its independent library to the King County Library System. celeste gracey, Renton Reporter

Renton library space is close to maxed out [ LIBRARY from page 1]

Renton librarians order specifically what they think their patrons want, said Renton librarian Laurie Finlayson. “We don’t buy quite as broadly, but we buy more selectively,” she said. “We’re working with the patrons every day and we know the things that they’re interested in.” Renton’s downtown building is close to maxing out its capacity for books. Either system could only increase Renton’s collection with a new building, said library director Bette Anderson. A KCLS annexation would increase library building hours, opening Sundays in downtown and Fridays in the Highlands. If the annexation doesn’t pass, the city will carry out 2010 budget cuts. “The mayor has made it very clear that on March 1, he will cut back the hours and employment,” Parker said. “He will do exactly what he did with every other department in this city.” A hallmark service of KCLS is computer access. If Renton annexed, it would get an upgrade, Ptacek said. However, Renton isn’t too far behind the times. “The computers that we have are

new. We don’t have out of date equipment,” Anderson said. “The problem is that we offer very few computers. People have to wait a long time.” The wiring in the downtown building can’t support anymore computers, she said. Renton’s small library staff is providing an impressive amount of programming, Anderson said. “They are doing an amazing amount of programming, but that’s not sustainable in the long haul.” An independent library can be more responsive to community needs, Finlayson said. Renton librarians started a program to help teach people how to submit job applications online, she said. “That’s very, very need specific to the patrons coming in,” she said. It’s also easier to implement new programs, she said. “We didn’t have to get permission from some bureaucracy.” Many of those great ideas haven’t come to fruition, because of short staff, Anderson said. KCLS would provide the staff to implement more programming, Ptacek said. With librarians assigned to differ-

ent schools and people groups, KCLS gears its programming to specific communities within the city. A switch to KCLS would also make it easier to access its robust World Languages Collection, which has items in about 24 languages. Renton started a small multilingual collection, with an emphasis on Spanish materials. With more money the collection would grow with a focus on language groups in the city, Anderson said. With access to powerful databases and one of the nation’s largest collections, KCLS’s resources provide a powerful punch of information. “It would be really difficult to imagine that an independent library serving about 80,000 could match the resources of the library that serves 1.2 million people,” Ptacek said. Under a larger system patrons fear the loss of community atmosphere, personal service and local control, Finlayson said. Local control “lessens the gap between the users of the library and the decisions made about the library,” she said.

Celeste Gracey can be reached at 425-255-3484, ext. 5052.

1.1 million ballots to be mailed next week

NEWS TIPS! We want to hear from you 425.453.4233 dradford@rentonreporter.com

Nearly 1.1 million mail-in ballots for the Feb. 9 special election will be delivered to the U.S. Postal Service next Wednesday for delivery to mailboxes throughout King County. Those ballots include the ones for the election to decide whether the City of Renton annexes to the King County Library System.

Close to 17,000 ballots were mailed to voters serving in the military and those living overseas and out of state Jan. 8, to allow extra transit time for delivery. In King County, elections are conducted by mail and ballots are sent to registered voters 20 days before each election in which they are

eligible to vote, making voting easy and convenient. “Ballots are about to be mailed out and I’d like to remind voters to be ready and set to vote in the upcoming election,” said Sherril Huff, King County Elections’ director. “Starting next week, watch your mailbox for your ballot and voters’ pamphlet, read your

ballot from front to back and top to bottom and be sure to return your ballot by Election Day.” Ballots must be returned to Elections or postmarked by Feb. 9, Election Day. In-person accessible voting begins Jan. 20, at King County Elections’ office, 9010 East Marginal Way S. Tukwila, weekdays.


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ELECTION RESULTS | Two small neighborhoods balk at annexing to Renton [5]

New VMC ER opens | Actors added realism to simulations designed to make ER staff Reporter Newsline 425.255.3484 comfortable in new ER. [3]

BARBARA MADSEN: Renton’s Home-grown chief Justice

It’s time for state | See how local athletes fared at last weekend’s state tournaments. [10]

Renton part of KCLS; now what’s next? By CELESTE GRACEY cgracey@rentonreporter.com

The ballots have been tallied and the Renton Library is part of the King County Library System. Now, patrons are asking what’s next for Library their library. results annexation “There are tons and tons of unknown FINAL RESULTS, ANNEXATION TO questions right now,” THE KING COUNTY LIBRARY SYSTEM: said Renton Library YES: 6,395, 50.21% Director Bette AnNO: 6,342, 49.79% derson. DIFFERENCE: 53 VOTES The vote whether to annex to KCLS TURNOUT: 12,760, or 31 percent of started close and Renton’s 40,927 registered voters narrowed throughout the counting process, stalling any action from the City of Renton and KCLS.

FYI

After spending 17 years on the Washington Supreme Court, Renton’s Barbara Madsen was elected chief justice in January. Madsen was raised in Renton and was a member of the first graduating class of Hazen High School. celeste gracey, Renton Reporter

Small-town roots create compassion for top judge BY CELESTE GRACEY cgracey@rentonreporter.com

Growing up in a rural Renton, Barbara Madsen developed a depth of empathy she now finds helpful as the new chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court. “I personally like that she has smalltown roots,” said former Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, who encouraged fellow justices to vote for Madsen. “It builds maybe a feeling of empathy and

compassion, which never hurts. Those are qualities that can be helpful to a judge.” Leaving Renton among the first to graduate from Hazen High School in 1970, she quickly rose to state’s top court. Since joining the court 17 years ago, Madsen’s decisions led to overturning Tim Eyman’s $30 car tabs and an initiative that would have rolled back property taxes. She voted against a lawsuit trying

to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act; her vote of approval would have allowed gay marriage. “It was a tough case,” she said, adding that it was good that it came before the court. “We’d suffer as a society if we didn’t have these conversations,” she said. She replaced Alexander after he served as chief justice for nine years. “I wanted to make sure we had a [ more justice page 4 ]

[ more library page 5 ]

$1.5 million goal of school drive By DEAN A. RADFORD dradford@rentonreporter.com

inside

The goal is big – Bob $1.5 million – but it’s Bridge howto help what’s necessary to Bob Bridge, owner of Bob Bridge keep programs alive Toyota, writes about the financial crisis in the Renton School facing local school districts and how District that provide Renton businesses and individuals can critical support to make a difference. students. Please see page 6 Those programs, including a highly successful one that helps struggling readers, are at risk because about $6.1 million in budget cuts faced by the [ more SCHOOLS page 14 ]


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Two areas balk at annexing to Renton

By DEAN A. RADFORD dradford@rentonreporter.com

Two neighborhoods totalling about 34 acres have decided they don’t want to annex to the City of Renton. It’s unlikely the city will attempt to annex the two areas in the near future, said Alex Pietsch, the administrator of the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development. The idea was to straighten out the city’s boundary by annexing areas that are most logically served by Renton.

The city has learned a lesson, too, that may apply to the upcoming Fairwood annexation. The city needs to improve its outreach to neighborhoods considering annexing, Pietsch said. “Clearly, in these areas we didn’t do an effective job of communicating with the residents about the benefits of annexing to the City of Renton,” he said. That applies to the Fairwood area, which will vote on annexing to

Renton this fall, he said. The City of Renton will engage the Fairwood area more directly and provide factual information more directly, something the city had already planned to do, he said. The neighborhoods, Honey Creek Estates and Sunset East, are in northeast Renton. In the Feb. 9 special election, Honey Creek Estates’ 79 registered voters opposed annexation 39 to 9. Sunset East, with 26 registered voters, opposed annexing 6 to 1.

KCLS working out details of transition [ LIBRARY from page 1]

“We’ve all been kind of waiting to see what would happen,” Anderson said. “We’re scrambling around now trying to make all the decisions.” The canvassing board certified the election results Wednesday. The final count showed a 53-vote gap; about 31 percent of registered voters cast their mail-in ballots in the Feb. 9 special election. KCLS plans to take over March 1. It’s the first city annexation KCLS has had since the mid-1990s, when Auburn annexed. “We’re really feeling our way through this,” Anderson said. Librarians received their layoff notices from the city about two weeks ago. They were all offered jobs from KCLS this week. Some employees will be paid more, some less and most will stay about the same, Anderson said. KCLS’s benefits also aren’t quite as good as the city’s. “There are so many questions that are unanswered and it’s dragging on for so long,” Anderson said. “People are having a tough time with it here.” At Monday’s City Council meeting, members of the KCLS board plan to introduce themselves, said KCLS director Bill Ptacek. “Our thought is that KCLS is coming into Renton instead of Renton coming into KCLS,” he said. “We’re looking at the possibility of doing some system-wide activities at Renton.” KCLS also plans to create a Renton-themed library card for its new patrons, he said. “We want to make sure we bring the best of KCLS to Renton and at the same time we want to be mindful of the traditions and culture of Renton.” Patrons will need KCLS library cards in early April,

he said. For the first month patrons shouldn’t see too many changes, Ptacek said. “The increased hours are coming and coming soon,” he said. KCLS plans to use employees from other branches and give part-time staff more hours. Next week, Renton will join the KCLS computer network called I-NET. The fiber-optic system allows libraries and other govern-

ment organizations to share data electronically. However, it will take at least a month for KCLS to switch over Renton’s catalogue database, he said. “It’s a complicated process,” he said. “We know that people have done it before.” Renton’s books will need new barcodes, but KCLS has automated systems for the change, he said. Staff will receive train-

ing right away, and KCLS will begin to grow Renton’s collection. Ptacek was pleased with the vote. It gives KCLS the opportunity to offer more consistent services in South King County, he said. “We’re really interested in fulfilling that promise,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of work.”

Celeste Gracey can be reached at 425-255-3484, ext. 5052

February 26, 2010 [5]


LIBRARY ANNEXATION: A SPECIAL REPORT