Closed Libraries Leave A Legacy

Library closures and budget sacrifices leave a legacy. In the recession of 2002 and 2003 our library system was closed for two weeks in each of those years and library hours were cut.  Remember when Central was open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m?  Hours at branch libraries were significantly reduced in that recession, with most libraries narrowing operations significantly to, for instance, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. Recognize those hours? We’re still living with them.

This coming week the library system will close for the third time in the last eight years. When the Library and all its brick and mortar and online services shut down on Monday, Seattle library users will begin to feel the  budget cuts of April 09. This library closure, from August 31- Sept 7, is  the visible impact of even deeper cuts. There was also a 66% cut in the Library’s Capital budget. There are no scheduled cuts to existing day to day hours other than this week’s closure and collections funding is unchanged.

Media response to the budget reduction in April varied, but much of it was casual.  In a Friday editorial in The Seattle Times, editors reasoned that a reduction in library services was a consequence to be expected and they called on the mayor to cut hours to libraries in a “sensible manner.” Then, in response to the April 17 budget adjustments, the Times wrote in Reprieve For Seattle Public Library Users that the mayor got it right…the shuttering of our library for a week is the least painful way for the library to meet its obligatory cuts.   What do you think readers? Have we become so used to libraries being cut in recessions that the discussion has moved from why we’re reducing the budgets of core services like libraries to how we should reduce their budgets in hard times?

Many people rely on libraries. Libraries are a critical daily service. That level of need is articulated by a Lake City patron that said to us, “The last thing you ought to be doing is closing libraries. Close the Library for a week? People use the library. I use the Library every day. Closing the library has a big time effect on me.” Closed libraries create hardships for individuals and families. Can you imagine going without a computer for a week during a job search? I can’t, yet that’s what many people have to do this week.  Nearly 12 million people visited Seattle libraries last year. Do the math and you realize that roughly 230,000 people a week use the Library. This isn’t a casual closure of a inessential service, this is a major interruption of the most comprehensive free public resource in Seattle.

At the City Hall Examiner, Keith Vance said, “The way it (the revised budget) shakes out is that the deepest cuts will be felt in transportation, parks and libraries.”  Libraries took the heavy hit with REET fund deductions on April 13 as well.  Preservation of day to day Library hours and collections dollars is a relief, yes, absolutely, but can we protect our investment in these new and renovated libraries by cutting the Capital budget by 66%? Can we say we love our libraries but not mind that they’re asked to close for a week? Can we take pride in our civic vision of a new library system while accepting library funding as a necessary sacrifice in bad economic climates?

To be a civic amenity, our libraries have to be open and accessible. To meet our vision of a public good they need sustained capital and operations funding.  To be excellent they need private investment and strong community support. We can settle for less in hard economic times but each concession we make as a community compromises the power of our investment and weakens our expectation. Please be a voice for the continued preservation of library funds.


Remembering Wilmot Library

Wilmot50Do you remember the Wilmot Library? In 1948, Wallingford resident Alice Wilmot Dennis offered a house at 4422 Meridian Avenue N to Seattle for a library. Dennis was a former teacher and the daughter of Green Lake pioneer Lemuel Alan Wilmot. The gift stipulated that it be used as a library for at least 30 years and be named for her late sister, Florence Wilmot Metcalf. Seattle Mayor William F. Devin and State Senator W. Ward Denison dedicated the Wilmot Memorial Library on September 9, 1949

secret garden 005

Susan Scott of Secret Garden Bookshop sends us this remembrance:

“When I was quite young, in the mid-1950s, I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents, who lived just three doors down from the Wilmot Memorial Library -a precursor to today’s Wallingford Branch. It was then housed in a bungalow, with, as I recall, the adult collection in the living room, children’s books in the dining room, and mysteries and westerns back in what had been the kitchen.

My grandparents were voracious readers, so my grandad was a regular visitor, checking out tall stacks of books each time, which he always deliberately kept a day or two past their due date; he thought the library could use the money. In those days, long before computers, you checked out a book by writing your library card number on the narrow card in the book’s fly-leaf pocket, handing it to the librarian, then receiving a rubber-stamped date-due card in return.

My grandad had grown impatient with this system, particularly since he checked out so many books at one time, and had eventually badgered the good librarians into keeping his card under glass at the big front desk. He just collected the cards and handed them over to the obliging ladies of Wilmot. If they thought he was a pain in the neck, they were too nice to say so.

At a very tender age – those were simpler times – I was allowed to visit the library alone, since it was so nearby. And when it was time to check my books out, I’d been instructed to explain that my grandad’s card was “there” under the glass – I could barely reach high enough to point – and I was allowed to use it. This worked well unless there was a new employee, who had not yet been introduced to the eccentric borrower down the block, let alone his very young granddaughter. Then the whole story had to be explained all over again and a co-worker fetched to corroborate, before I’d be allowed to leave with my books.

I took to looking straight to the desk when I walked in, to see if I needed to gird my 4-year-old self to break in another rookie on this visit.

Eventually, I asked one of the library ladies if I couldn’t have my own card. “Well, you could,” she said, “but you’d have to be able to write your name.” Well, that was no problem, I quickly explained – I’d been able to write my name for ages. She looked at me skeptically, but took out the form, it was duly filled out, and on my next visit to my grandparents, I skipped happily down the street to pick up my newly minted Seattle Public Library card. As it was handed over, the librarian told me I was the youngest person in town to have one!

Naturally, I was very proud at the time, and as the years have gone by, of course there has always been a library card in my wallet. My first job was at the Northeast Branch, not so very many years later. And now, as a bookseller, I haven’t strayed too far from these bibliographic beginnings. But my favorite part of the story is the flexibility of all the parties involved – most especially the library staff. Our much faster paced, more standardized and regulated world today rarely affords an opportunity for this kind of institutional improvisation. But when it does, I always say the same thing: This is the way the world should work.”

Read more about Wilmot Library at History Link

Seattle Free School Started in Meeting Rooms of Public Libraries Says Founder

Jessica Dally
Jessica Dally

“Libraries create a space where groups can meet to do community building without having to pay anything,” Jessica Dally told us when we met up with her in a Belltown coffeehouse. She reads a lot and regularly uses Greenwood library to check out books, but her role as the founder of Seattle Free School makes libraries even more important in her life. “Seattle Free School wouldn’t have been able to start or at least wouldn’t have started so strong without the library’s free meeting rooms. We now have alternate meeting spaces but those opportunities came along because we were able to gain credibility over time,” she said.

Seattle Free school is completely free. The school doesn’t take donations and is run by volunteers. “We’re unique among free schools. Most have a political affiliation or they take donations.” The library’s philosophy of providing free resources  fit well with the model of Seattle Free School.  “It’s easy for us to use the library system and it helps us spread our classes out across the city. For us it’s about getting people in lots of neighborhoods involved and offering convenient class locations. We’ve had classes in the meeting rooms at many public libraries: Ballard, Montlake, Greenlake, Greenwood, Highpoint, West Seattle… ” Most of Seattle’s new and renovated libraries now have public meeting spaces which host a wide variety of uses and are always busy.

Have you attended a Seattle Free School class at your neighborhood library? Have you been to a meeting held in the library? Let’s talk about it.

Take Our Five Minute Survey On Library Value

Friends of The Seattle Public Library seek your input. Please take a moment to answer our survey. Your responses are needed for our Neighborhood Report on library value.

What is the Neighborhood Report? Last year The Seattle Public Library celebrated the completion of the Libraries For All bond that built and rennovated our new library system. This year Friends of The Seattle Public Library is talking to our neighborhoods to understand the value these libraries are contributing to business, organizations and people who enjoy or depend on library services. We want to include your voice. Some responses will be quoted in our Neighborhood Report that we’ll present to city leaders and elected officials in coming weeks.

Take the survey  and please pass it on to your friends and family.

Library Use Shows Dramatic Increase As Furlough Approaches

Dramatic increase in library use
Visits to libraries nearly doubles

Visits to Seattle’s libraries have nearly doubled in the past five years according to figures collected by the Seattle Public Library. Visits have jumped from under 7 million annually in 2004 to over 12 million in 2008.  Use continues to increase in 2009. Visits this year already exceed the number of visits in all of 2004. Year to date, as of July ’09, visits were up 8% over year to date figures in July 2008.

Community members notice the increase, “I see a lot of kids in there doing homework. It’s always busy,” said Broadview Community Council secretary, Janice Burnell.  Programs, like Homework Help, have also seen participation spike this year.  Circulation of library materials is also increasing at a dramatic rate – up 20% between 2007 and 2008 – the largest jump in materials requests in five years. In July of 2009 circulation was up another 12% over 2008.

On August 31, 2009, The Seattle Public Library will close for one week as a result of city budget shortages in  2oo9. The City of Seattle funds all operations, staffing, and materials costs for our libraries.  During that one week  staff will take an unpaid furlough and the entire City will be without Library service.


Will you join us in our work to keep libraries open and fully funded?

Be a friend of the library. Join our organization: Friends of The Seattle Public Library

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Summer Reading Program Coming to a Close; All Library Branches Closed August 31 – September 7

Make your own comicsThanks to all our patrons, fans and sponsors who participated in the 750+ free programs that were held this summer throughout Seattle for the Summer Reading Program!  What a great array of choices there were — African Drumming, Bee-Boppin’ Bugs, Duct Tape Mania, Bookmaking, Nature PSnake Experiencerintmaking, Snake Experience, Make Your Own Comic, and Watercolor Workshop, to name just a few.

We’ll report back in September as to whether the city-wide goal of 125,000 books read this summer was reached, but in the meantime here are photos from some of these events for you to enjoy.

Hands on Henna

Friendly reminder:  all branches of The Seattle Public Library will be CLOSED from Monday, Aug. 31 through Sunday, Sept. 6 due to citywide budget cuts. Monday, Sept. 7 is the Labor Day holiday so regular Library operations will resume on Tuesday, Sept. 8.  Click here for more information about the closure.  We’d love to know how the closure affects you, so please write us at

“Library is invaluable, ” Literacy Americorps teacher says

kennyKenny Short worked with Casa Latina this summer as a volunteer teacher coordinator through Literacy Americorps. He talks about how The Seattle Public Library’s resources strengthen and supplement Seattle’s social service network and why our libraries have special relevance for people without technological resources.

Short says: The library is invaluable. If we didn’t have library services there would be a serious lack in educational resources for those who don’t have money or the free time to pursue education on their own. It’s important that the library has those resources, offers them consistently and is open on a regular basis.

Some of the library’s services overlap with the services of other helping organizations but many of those organizations rely on The Seattle Public Library to supplement resources or to offer something that they don’t offer, like computer access. There is overlap in programs, but not redundancy. ESL classes across the city are full and there’s a strong need for them. The library adds onto and expands that service system. In addition, the library offers ESL computer literacy classes. We send students there for added literacy because I don’t think that free program exists anywhere else.

The idea that libraries may become less relevant with technological advances like google and google books is a socio- economically biased belief. There are good statistics on who has educational technology and who doesn’t, and they fall along socioeconomic lines. In general, the less you have the less opportunity you have to access those resources. For the population I work for or for everyday people who don’t have much, the library will continue to be an invaluable resource.

I think the library can and will adapt and change and provide new services and resources. They will continue to serve a need as long as they are organizing and managing new educational technologies and information. One of the things I think public libraries do well is present new technology and information in a format that both young and old, versed and unversed can understand. There will always be a need, especially for poorer folks, to present people with usable, manageable new technologies or information, give them access and knowledge of how to access/use it, without taking too much time, money or prior knowledge. This is the gatekeeping equalizer that the public library offers, in my opinion, and it is truly a worthwhile public service.


Why is the library important in your work or intellectual life? Let’s talk about it.

Become a friend of the library. Join Friends of The Seattle Public Library.