Reimagining our Libraries for the Next Generation

Eighteen months ago, I assumed one of the most revered positions in the library world – serving as your city librarian.  The responsibility of managing one of the city’s most treasured community resources has truly been an honor and a privilege.  Seattle is a city of readers and it’s wonderful to live and work in a city where people care deeply about their libraries.

In 1998, we embarked on the “Libraries for All” program to give Seattle a system of libraries to revolutionize what we do. And we did, renovating or building new libraries including the world-renowned Central Library.

Unfortunately, several years of budgets cuts followed.  But we managed, streamlined and survived.  And we developed a plan to stabilize the Library budget.  A seven-year, $122 million Library levy received overwhelming public support, thanks to each and every one of you.  As a result, we are delivering on our promises for increased operating hours, more print and electronic books, movies and music, upgraded technology and an improved budget for building maintenance and repair.

Now, however, we face the challenge of redefining how our Library does business. The technology and publishing industries are physically and literally changing the landscape of libraries. They are causing us to rethink what we do, how we do it, and more importantly, who can have access to it. Technology and publishing combined are the two biggest game changers in the Library world today. They are impacting what we do with our collections and that in turn changes the work of our reference and shelving staff.  In effect, our current way of doing business is losing its relevance and is slowly becoming a dated business practice.

As more books are available online and more people buy devices to access them, the circulation of physical books will decline.  At our libraries, circulation of downloadable media is up 67 percent over last year and virtual visits have surpassed our in-person visits by nearly 1 million. Likewise, our Wi-Fi access has increased and onsite computer usage has lessened.  While some of that was the result of significant budget cuts and policy changes around the lending of materials we can see shifts in how patrons are using us.

Even so, we hope that the restoration of critical resources and services via the Levy will reverse these trends.

Over the next decade, as more children grow up in an increasingly digital world, our lives and libraries will continue to change.  We must serve our community in new, innovative and compelling ways to meet our mission and survive in an increasingly competitive and difficult public funding environment.

And lest you think our core service deliverables are changing, they aren’t. Patrons still want to check out materials, ask librarians for help, and seek educational classes and lectures to further their intellectual and recreational interests. It’s just that the ways people now access information are transforming the way people use libraries and we must adapt.

Our solution, the vision I am sharing, has been shaped by public and staff comments, philosophical and directional discussions with other Library systems, personal introspection, and what is happening in the world, including advances in technology.

Our efforts are grounded in the Strategic Plan and emphasize five key areas that will assure our long-term success as we adapt to a changing world, blending our work with the values of Seattle residents.

These five areas are:

  • supporting youth and early learning
  • using technology for access and experience
  • enhancing our program of civic and public engagement
  • curating and preserving Seattle culture and history and
  • reimagining our Library spaces to create new patron experiences.

Our business, role and value still matter. Our business remains access to information.  And our role and value – providing a means for continuous personal growth and self-fulfillment, and serving as a vehicle for community connection and betterment stays true.

We have the opportunity to focus on what we want our future to look like and how we can get there. As we move forward on the five priorities, we will explore new and innovative ways to serve our community. We need to put aside our traditional thinking about libraries. We want to reimagine The Seattle Public Library in creative new ways that ensure the educational, cultural and economic health of our vibrant city. I’m excited about the Library’s future and want to hear your thoughts or ideas.




One thought on “Reimagining our Libraries for the Next Generation

  1. Expanding SPL partnerships to serve Seattle students and schools clearly fits into this vision for the library. Students, schools and teacher-librarians should seek and share what works best: everybody wins when we collaborate for student success.

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