Budget cuts have forced The Seattle Public Library to phase in a strategic and dramatically abbreviated 2010 service plan. On Feb 3rd, 2010, 15 neighborhoods lost convenient library access for the year and 11 neighborhoods gained operating hours to accommodate those displaced patrons. In addition the entire library system will be closed for one week from August 30th to September 6th. The Library sustained a 13% cut to operations and a 37% cut in the capital budget. Unbelievably, there is ongoing concern that even further cuts could come in April.
Longer hours and seven day operations at the 11 libraries, chosen for their size, available meeting space, collections and computers, and access to public transit are welcome. But kids in the 15 neighborhoods losing service, including Highpoint, New Holly, Columbia, Northgate, and South Park, find that their afterschool computer access isn’t available on Friday and they won’t have access to library computers on Sundays because their library is closed. Wednesday and Thursday their work must be done by 6 p.m. because the libraries now close two hours earlier. In those same neighborhoods the reduction in hours means working families have difficulty accessing The Library; community organizations and study groups, which relied on The Library for evening meetings, are now looking for other arrangements.
This budget cut and the resulting reduction in service hours is a discouraging and shocking development that sends a troubling message to the growing number of people who turn to The Library for a lifeline in Seattle, and to the nation that watches this city: the most literate city in America boasting an award winning internationally recognized library system.
Your voices of support have helped. You sent emails to elected officials and some of you came out to public meetings. Thanks to your voices an additional six libraries were added to the proposed 2010 budget of just 5 scheduled to have longer hours. City Council now realizes there needs to be a long term funding solution and are exploring alternative resources, but this is a 2-3 year process. There may be an end to this struggle, but this year we need your vocal support again. The library is still stuck in a competitive funding mode and only citizen input will move officials to keep prioritizing library services.
Lost hours and lost resource funding have a unique and critical impact on libraries. Library service demand continues to grow and information needs continue to multiply and diversify. We want libraries to have computers, podcasts, books, downloadable books and databases. We want libraries to provide computer literacy, job resources, and story times. We want to be able to ask librarians questions. We want libraries to have world language collections for our increasingly diverse population. This can’t be done on reduced or stagnant budgets. Information service is a dynamic industry with constant and rapid changes. This can only be achieved when we make a civic commitment to stable funding.
Library hours were also reduced in early 2000, shortly after Seattle voters passed Libraries For All, the capital bond that funded the expansion of our neighborhood library system. Those cuts left a lingering legacy. They set a precedent for closing libraries in hard times and set a lowbar for funding that hampered efforts to improve the library budget throughout this decade. Funding has never caught up with patron demand or the new size of our beautiful library system. Ironically, 2 months after the Libraries For All project finished in Sept 2008, library budget cuts were announced that forced a week long system furlough. Seattle voters committed to a visionary investment in libraries now we find we can’t keep the doors open in, of all times, this time when people need them most.
Won’t you join us with your active library support? Protect our investment. Stay tuned to developments throughout coming months. And, right now, please take a minute to email Mayor Mike McGinn and Council president, Richard Conlin (firstname.lastname@example.org). Tell them your name and neighborhood and ask them to preserve library funding in 2010 and to budget full library funding in 2011.