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Sunday, June 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Save the King Co. library system

The King County Library System and its board of trustees must get a grip on various tempests brewing because they threaten one of the best things going for this region.

The library system is a crown jewel, consisting of 43 well-appointed libraries, including its sparkler, the Bellevue Library, highly regarded for its well-designed interiors and user-friendly hours. Yet nearby, the Medina City Council is considering a ballot measure asking residents if they want to leave the system and avoid having to pay a library assessment that comes out to about $934 annually for the average Medina homeowner. If e-mails and letters to Medina council members are any indication, most residents want to stay a part of the system. So they should.

Other problems brewing with the library system deserve swift attention.

• Library workers voted overwhelmingly (92 percent of those voting) that they have no confidence in longtime director Bill Ptacek's management. Calls for his ouster center on his management style and a controversial reorganization of library staff. Last month, about 80 library workers and patrons demonstrated before a trustees meeting, carrying signs that read, "No confidence," and "Low morale = loss of service."

• And then there is the threat to a 60-year-old reciprocal-use agreement between Seattle and King County library systems. The agreement has allowed patrons to use either system without cost.

This worked without a hitch for decades and most citizens today don't know there is a difference in the two systems. But budget cuts in Seattle have led city residents to use county libraries more often than the reverse. The city has paid King County $104,000 a year for the past three years to offset the imbalance. But King County Library estimates the disparity at nearly $1 million.

Seattle claims it cannot afford to pay more. Twaddle. Seattle's mayor and City Council have an amazing capacity for finding money to fund priorities.

Until Seattle pays up, King County is right to restrict use of its system. Starting in October, Seattleites will no longer have reserve privileges, although they can still visit county libraries and check out materials.

All of this hullabaloo is unfortunate. A bibliophile's version of heaven, the county system is the second-busiest in the nation and deserves to remain a top priority.

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