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Seattle Public Library reopens all branches

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Photo by Nick Rapp
Photo by Nick Rapp

As Seattle begins its transition from beautiful fall colors to gloomy nine-hour days, you may be wondering how to occupy your time indoors during the next few months. What better way to celebrate the return to gray skies than to curl up by a window and moodily read a book?

Luckily, the Seattle Public Library system is working hard to gradually bring back the multitude of services it offered pre-pandemic. For months, COVID-19 relegated most library operations to online holds and curbside pickups. Now, the SPL is following its "Road to Reopening" schedule with modified access to all branches. Let this serve as a guide for navigating the return to your local one.

Can you go inside?
Yes. Though library doors are open, though, not all in-person services are available. Community members still do not have access to meeting rooms or study rooms. Additionally, certain floors may yet be closed to the public.

If you cannot access a specific floor, you may still be able to get assistance retrieving what you need. For example, the Central Library branch has only opened floors 1, 3, and 5, but library staff members can access requested materials on all other floors.

Are there limited hours?
While all branches are open in person, they do not all have the same hours of operation for browsing the collections, using public computers, and restroom access.

Opening and closing times, along with days of operation, vary by branch. For a detailed list of hours, check the SPL's website (https://www.spl.org/) under "Hours & Locations."

Book returns are available 24/7 at almost all branches, however. The only exceptions are the Central Library (open for returns 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and inside during library hours) and the Wallingford Branch (where the book return is closed; it is only available inside during library hours).

What is available for checkout?
As of a 2020 statistical summary, the SPL is home to over 1.7 million books and nearly 700,000 CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks. Seattle community members can check out up to 50 items at a time.

If you're worried about the book that you checked out last year and just haven't had the energy to return, don't fret. The SPL has stopped charging daily late fees; you will not be charged for returning overdue materials — no matter how late they are.

If a desired item is not available at your home branch, you can request a hold for pickup; it will be delivered to the branch of your choice. The SPL also has global access to thousands of other libraries. Through the interlibrary-loan system, you can retrieve almost any book or audiobook you could think of.

In addition to its large physical collection, the SPL is home to over six million e-books and audiobooks, along with more than two million pieces of streaming and downloadable media.

Will reopening lead to any new library services?
Though pandemic adjustments led to an uncertain future for libraries nationwide, the SPL is slated for exciting growth through 2022. Interim Chief Librarian Tom Fay outlined some exciting updates regarding the Library's future in a statement on the SPL's website.

"In 2021, budget reductions were made citywide, including $5.8 million from the Library's budget, due to COVID-19 impacts on City revenues. The proposed 2022 budget fully restores the $5.8 million reduction, using $5.1 million from the City's General Fund and $700,000 of accumulated salary savings in 2021."

If passed, the budget would allow the Library to add more hours and implement additional improvements to accessibility and programming.

Fay mentioned new virtual programs and 24/7 hold-pickup lockers as exciting changes in the future. The SPL is also offering the public a chance to weigh in on posited changes during the next year. If you want a stake in programming, adjusted hours, and future library services, you can take the Library Levy Priority Survey on the SPL's website. For survey access, visit https://www.spl.org/about-us/the-organization/budget-and-operations/library-levy/2021-library-levy-priority-survey.