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Originally published Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 4:51 PM

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King County Library System wins prestigious national award

The King County Library System, a 46-branch system that serves King County patrons from Skykomish to Vashon Island, has won the Gale/Library Journal 2011 Library of the Year award.

Seattle Times book editor

King CountyLibrary System

Facts & figures

Branches: 46

Population served: 1.3 million

Square miles of service area: 2,131

New library cards issued in 2010: 100,000

Items circulated in 2010: 22.4 million

Annual budget: $97 million

Source: Library Journal

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The King County Library System, a 46-branch system that serves King County patrons from Skykomish to Vashon Island, has won the Gale/Library Journal 2011 Library of the Year award.

"This is the big one," library director Bill Ptacek said Tuesday morning. "There's not a bigger award in the library world." In honor of the award, Gov. Chris Gregoire proclaimed Tuesday King County Library System Day.

A release from Gale/Library Journal said the award "goes to the public library in the United States that most profoundly demonstrates service to community, creativity, leadership and innovation in developing specific community programs, particularly programs that can be emulated by others." It carries a cash award of $10,000 and a cover story in Library Journal (www.libraryjournal.com).

The county library system, founded in 1942 to serve rural areas and small towns, today "is one of the busiest libraries in the U.S.," serving 1.3 million county residents, said the Gale release. It circulates more items than any other library system in the country, according to a story posted on Library Journal's website.

Unlike Seattle Public Library, which gets its operating funds primarily from the city of Seattle's operating budget, the county library system relies on a dedicated property-tax levy to fund its $97 million budget. In February 2010, King County residents approved raising the library levy cap to 50 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, which has helped the library to ride out the recession despite falling property values in some areas of the county.

"To have a separate taxing district is almost as powerful as having strong public support. We're lucky here; we have both," Ptacek told Library Journal.

Ptacek credited county residents for continuing to support the library during the recession, and said the county's highly educated, tech-savvy population has pushed the library to adopt technical innovations earlier than other libraries. "We really feel that this award is for the community," he said.

The library also has responded to patrons in need, providing help with job finding and expanding library-system hours to help people looking for work. The library's "Look to Your Library" project offered 46 workshops on job searching, résumé writing and networking.

Previous winners of the award include the Columbus Ohio library system (2010); the Queens Library of New York (2009); and the Laramie County, Wyo., library system (2008).

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com.

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