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Statement from The Seattle Public Library board of trustees about reciprocal agreement with King County Library System

Dear Seattle Public Library patron,


The Seattle Public Library board of trustees recently approved changes to the reciprocal borrowing agreement between The Seattle Public Library and King County Library System (see the news release). These changes will affect some of our patrons, and we are writing this letter to explain why the agreement is being changed.


For many years, the Seattle and King County library systems have had a reciprocal borrowing agreement that has allowed residents served by each system to use the other system's materials and resources at no charge to the user. When an imbalance results from this cross-use, the net "debtor" system is supposed to reimburse the other.


In recent times, The Seattle Public Library has been the net "debtor." For the past six years The Seattle Public Library has reimbursed the King County Library System $104,000 annually to make up this difference.


In 2005, a joint study by the two library systems showed that the imbalance is in fact nearly $1 million. This created pressure to modify or terminate the reciprocal borrowing agreement so that it is more equitable to King County taxpayers.

King County Library System is a special-purpose library district serving the unincorporated areas of King County and the towns and cities outside Seattle whose citizens have voted to join the King County Library System. King County Library facilities, collection, services, staff and operating revenues are funded entirely through property tax levies and capital bonds approved by voters in the King County Library service area. (Seattle residents are not taxed through this district). Seattle residents do not pay a separate tax for The Seattle Public Library; instead, funding for Seattle libraries is allocated out of the city of Seattle's general fund. The general fund pays for other essential city services, such as the police and fire departments. Indeed, as the result of several years of a slow economy, The Seattle Public Library was required to take a reduction in operating hours and heavy cuts to its book budget - cuts that The Seattle Public Library is still working to restore.

In light of these budget realities, we determined that the Seattle system does not have $1 million to reimburse the King County Library System for the imbalance of usage. Taking $1 million out of The Seattle Public Library budget would be the equivalent of closing the entire system one day each week, or cutting the book budget by 30 percent. This would not be acceptable or feasible for any of our patrons.

The King County Library System board of trustees, while concerned about the scale of the imbalance and their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers within their service area, recognizes that The Seattle Public Library is unable to pay the full $1 million. An alternative was recently developed and approved by both library systems. The terms are as follows:

  • The Seattle Public Library will continue to pay King County Library System $104,000 annually.
  • King County and Seattle residents will continue to have access to both systems, but Seattle patrons will be limited from placing holds on King County Library System materials effective Oct. 1, 2006.
  • Cross-use of library services under this agreement will be monitored through 2007 with a formalized cross-use study to be completed by March 30, 2008.
  • King County Library System and The Seattle Public Library will revisit the reciprocal borrowing agreement in early 2008 and work to reach a long-term solution regarding reciprocity in advance of the library systems' 2009 budget processes.
  • End of list


We acknowledge that this new agreement will have a limiting impact on some Seattle patrons who have enjoyed the resources of both systems and that the restriction on placing holds will make some residents' cross-use of the King County Library System less convenient. However, we also know that the agreement previously in place was unfairly burdening the taxpayers of King County Library System's taxing district, which do not include Seattle residents. Further, The Seattle Public Library simply does not have the budgetary resources available to reimburse the King County Library System for the imbalance of usage. We chose to develop a compromise so as to preserve for our Seattle patrons a substantial amount of the benefits of reciprocity.


We hope that if you have any comments or questions about this new agreement and its background, please email city.librarian@spl.org or call (206) 386-4147.




The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees