March 16, 2018

Northern Exposure: A Q&A with Bill Ptacek on Leaving King County Library For Calgary

Bill-PtacekAfter 25 years as Director of Washington’s King County Library System (KCLS), serving the suburbs and rural towns surrounding Seattle, Bill Ptacek is packing his bags for Alberta, Canada, where he’ll serve as CEO of the growing Calgary Public Library. You can read the official announcement on Infodocket here. Library Journal caught up with Ptacek to discuss his late-career move to the Great White North.

LJ: How’s the transition going?

Bill Ptacek: In some ways, I haven’t gotten my mind around the fact that I’m not going to be here anymore. I’ve been with this system for 25 years, and I’ve been active in the community as well. I’m on the board of organizations like the Cascade Bicycle Club, I go riding with legislators. It’s hard trying to imagine what it’s going to be like not having access to all those folks.

Then again, the whole point is that doing new things is a part of life. It forces you to meet different people and build new relationships, learn new things. KCLS has been known as a system that doesn’t rest on its laurels, that is always innovating, and I’m trying to walk the walk.

What made now the right time for you to leave KCLS?

When I look around our system, I can say I’ve been involved in the building or renovation of practically every branch. This is a really great library community, and I’ll always love it. But at a certain point you understand that part of loving a system is letting another generation come in and take the reins, and seeing what they do.

What attracted you to the Calgary job?

In my time here at KCLS, I’ve gotten calls about other jobs, but I had never really entertained them. About a year and a half ago, I took a trip up there to talk to the staff, and the more I heard from people, the more intrigued I became. It’s a rapidly growing city with a lot of resources, a rapidly growing population, and an administration [that] is very committed to the library. The mayor is a very interesting guy, and I really like the energy of people on the city council, some of whom are also on the board of the library. In many ways, it reminds me of King County 15 or 20 years ago, and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to be a part of that?’

What have you accomplished in your tenure at KCLS that you’re most proud of?

First off, the amount of library use we’ve seen in the system. We have a circulation of over 22 million, which makes us one of the busiest systems in the United States. We also do a lot of research here, and we’re a system that’s driven by patrons. We try to come up with services that keep us relevant to the people we serve, and I think we’ve done a very good job on that, from being an early adopter in providing Internet access at the library years ago to being among the leaders in ebook circulation today.

Are there any things you wish you had devoted more time to?

I don’t think that’s the case, though KCLS is doing a lot of things that I would like to be around to see come to their conclusions, because the staff here is poised to do some great things. We have our own social media department, which is really starting to come into its own. We’re expanding our summer reading program into a summer learning program with the potential to do a lot for education, and our work with [open-source ILS] Evergreen is starting to come to fruition.

What advice would you give your successor, whoever that is?

I would tell them to be careful to maintain the tradition, which predates me, of KCLS being a library system that was is innovative, and forward looking, and always striving to be relevant. We were one of the first library systems to move to a computerized catalog, and one of the first to circulate videos regularly. Those are the kinds of things that KCLS was doing before I got here, and that inspired me, and that I’d like to see carried on and improved on by whoever comes in.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.



  1. Michael Kozbial says:

    Looking forward to seeing Bill come to the CPL!

  2. Gail Gross says:

    Bill Ptacek has contributed so much to the King County Community. I’m sure the people in Calgary will benefit from the same enthusiasm and energy that helped build our wonderful King County Library System. Thank you, Bill, and enjoy you new adventure!