Another Black Eye for the Seattle Public Library's Administration


To me, it seems like a similar situation to the zoo, only on a much larger scale. The current administration really only understands administration and capital spending. They've got this terrific new landmark building, and dozens of new or remodeled branches, but they don't have a clue about SERVICE PROVISION. The new central library, whatever its pluses and minuses, was clearly not built with service provision in mind, which is why it's so hard to use, and why they have to have an army of staff -- not librarians -- to sit behind information desks and tell people how to do basic stuff that buildings should tell people how to do by themselves, like find the books and find the stairs, entrances and exits.

Libraries are about books and librarians. SPL has forgotten these two things.
Your shitty Liberal Welfare State is bankrupt and on the verge of collapse.
It's too late to reverse the decline.
Save yourselves.
Close the libraries and invest in paramilitary security forces.
This is what happens when you make the outside of something look pretty while neglecting the inside of the same thing.

You can give a cancer patient a make over but they've still got cancer. And good ole' Nickels sure gave them a face lift. Sadly the tumors are still growing.

And when was the last time you found something at a local branch that you needed without having to get it via inter-library loan?
Cato, Mayor Nickels had little to do with the Seattle Public Library system before or during his administration. As a county councilmember, he spoke against the bond issue that voters approved in 1998 to rebuild and expand library buildings. As mayor, his only role was to appoint members to the library board, with city council approval. The library board runs the library, under WA state law; the mayor does not.
The bums like our libaries!
It's interesting how the comments in American Libraries are relevant, interesting, and on topic. I wish I could say the same for SLOG comments.
Thank you Paul for posting this information. The public needs to be made aware of what is happening.
@3- All the time. Of course, I also use interlibrary requests all the time. The branches are small, they can only stock so many books each. Having grown up in a town with a library about the size of the Wallingford Branch, I can't tell you how mindbogglingly awseome having access to the whole SPL system is. I lived in Boston for a long time, and they've got a nice library system (and a cooler downtown library that looks and feels like a library instead of a science experiment.) but the system as a whole did not serve as well as SPL.
I believe that the changes at Seattle Public Library exemplify the situation Naomi Klein writes about in Shock Doctrine--enormous public service changes are occurring in the library and justified by budget pressure. An element added to staff frustration is the existence of a 'partnership agreement' which in theory permits involvement by members of the library union in discussions of change in the institution. It seems to many of us that this agreement is being ignored by the library administrators, or observed by the installation of a token 'union member' on committees overseeing the changes.
Very strange.
Just to clarify a point abt "interlibrary" loan, requesting books from another SPL branch in the SPL system is still totally free. You can have books from Central or Northgate, etc sent to the Ballard Library and check them out at no cost.

What costs $5 is to request a book that SPL doesn't own from another library system. Say, you wanted a rare book that they had at an Oklahoma library. If the Oklahoma library agrees to loan it out to SPL, the patron can have the item for 21 days but it will cost that person $5. Since other library systems charge SPL to borrow their items (mailing, etc), this $5 helps defray that cost. From what I understand, it often costs SPL more than $5 for each interlibrary loan.

Personally, I am quite happy with the items that SPL has in their collections. So as someone who never requests interlibrary loans, I'm actually fond of the fee. Because I think it keeps frequent interlibrary borrowers in check. There are always going to be people who repeatedly request weird items just because it was free and not because they really needed something. I mean, a lot of "crazy" people feel quite at home in the library system and it doesn't seem fair that a disproportionate amount of money goes to fulfilling those oddball requests. And I hope that doesn't sound mean.

Mr. Constant,

Thanks for your interest in libraries. We need more people to get concerned and advocate for the support needed in order to maintain our mission.

I guess my column did not persuade you that SPL is an inspiring library. I had the pleasure of visiting the downtown building last spring and I found it to be a special place. Additionally, if you look at all the outreach that SPL is doing in relation to other large libraries across the country you’ll find they are quite progressive and community-focused. Maybe this theme is too touchy-feely for you? I see you worked in book retail for twelve years and I can only assume that you might have a different perspective than my colleagues and I.

It seems you took pleasure ridiculing the premise of my column, which is to look at what makes a library inspiring to its users. My belief is that it is the ongoing relationship that a patron develops over time that distinguishes the experience. Libraries, in my view, are therapeutic entities.

It should not be a news flash that we’re not immune to this bad economy. Libraries everywhere are struggling… and at the same time thriving. Over and over again I see reports of usage skyrocketing. People are discovering/rediscovering their public library.

One of the comments you highlighted really puts things in perspective:

“With the library’s operating budget being at the mercy of the city’s general fund, there is not enough money to adequately staff them.”

This is an important notion to keep in mind when passing judgment on library administration. I’m sure they have a list of “great projects” they’d like to work on but funding is limited and so the belt gets tightened. It’s unfortunate because many of us in the profession have projects we’d like to push ahead but logistically we just can’t right now. I’ve run into this myself a number of times. What is important though is that we don’t surrender to angst, despair and cynicism, but acknowledge this problem and move forward. With the reality of the budget situation as it is, what is the best way to serve the community? What can you do to help? That’s the key question.

I sympathize with the person who alleged that employee moral is low. I think any time that there is a climate that mixes change with uncertainty people get nervous. I can assure you that many organizations around the world are feeling the impact of the financial shortfalls.

So, Mr. Constant, rather than just trying to stir things up why not consider helping SPL? Their volunteer program looks amazing and I’m sure they could use more support:…

Brian Mathews (author of the "blowjobby piece")
Brian Mathews, you are clearly a moron, a douchebag, and an ass-kissing slimeball.
God, Brian................Volunteers aren't the answer. Do you want volunteers to perform an appendectomy on you? Professional Librarians are TRAINED to help you. How about letting volunteer administrators work on the 11th floor of SPL & use the salaries saved to hire some librarians and Library assistants to do the frontline work.

Only bozos think volunteers can provide professional assistance at the library!
nabfusty I guess I'm a big bozo huh? My comment was directed to Mr. Constant and the challenge for him to help out. Obviously he's not going to get a library degree, but are you saying he could not do something to help SPL?

Lizzie, I love your positivity! And thanks for spelling my name right.
Welcome to the mud pit, you lameass, prissy, repressed little turdsickle - I will gladly ram a raging hot shaft of positivity right up your tight little puckery librarian sphincter any time you please, BRAIN! I saw your own defensive, dismissive wussy little piece about all this back on your damp shitstained doiley of a blog ( and I can't wait to crawl along behind devouring your little rabbit turds of nothingness on Twitter ( So anyone who disagrees with your bland candyass BS is selfish and has a chip on their shoulders. At least we HAVE shoulders: you're just a chip. A wee little self-important chip. Chip Chip Chip away at your life's blowjobby work, Chipster.
Link's busted - here's the new one:…
Brian: SPL is a Unionized organization. Very clear lines on what volunteers can and can't do. And it ain't much. And even if they could do more, they shouldn't be doing the heavy lifting as in the appendectomy analogy. Do you ever research anything? Or just flit around polishing turds???
The budget cuts ARE a huge problem for SPL and all of Seattle should be concerned about them. If it was only the budget that was the problem, and there had been a reasonable, logical, collaboratative process by the administration to figure out where to make the cuts, which services to prioritize, and which services to reduce, staff would be sad, but not angry, frustrated, royally pissed off, and calling the whole situation "a hot tranny mess". Instead, people are being randomly shuffled around, services that are supposed to be our highes priority are being purposefully or accidentally gutted, and a new layer of middle management has been created. So, next time you go into a branch, don't be surprised if the person whose job it is to help find you a good book to read is someone who got shoved into that posiition EVEN THOUGH THEY DON'T LIKE TO READ, or you go into a branch with a Spanish language collection and no librarians who speak Spanish, or try to get help using the African-American Authors collection at Douglass-Truth and find out that the specialist in that has been moved to Central.
"I sympathize with the person who alleged that employee moral is low. "

Brian Mathews, in the real world, we don't need to conduct 5 or 6 bullshit studies to to figure out how people are feeling. You can simply ask them, or better yet, LISTEN to them. You obviously didn't listen to anyone but the administration, and your comment using the word "alleged" is disrespectful to people's feelings. People don't need to qualify their feelings, that's why they're called feelings. For you to imply that their low morale is somehow artificial reveals you, like so many in academia, to have your head up your academic ass. These people are the authorities on their own feelings; that dried up old hag, Susan Hildreth, is not. Your blowjobby piece is a disgrace to the journalistic process, and your comment is even more disgusting.
I've noticed that the Douglas Truth Library is no longer as friendly and welcoming as it used to be for the library patron. I have been going to that library since 1996. I am not happy with the change.

Flyers, information about community concerns and social justice concerns used to be welcome. Now we are not allowed to display out posters etc. prominently and I was told by a library staff manager today that a community petition couldn't be discussed when I was simply offering information about it. I thought one of the main reasons for a library was to offer information. Seems like this library administration doesn't like community concerns and community activism.
In general, the staff they have at the library is doing a pretty good job with the resources that they have. A lot of homeless people hang out there every single day because they have nowhere else to go. Some of them seem to make better use of the library than other people. The computers are really great, almost always up to date and the techs try really hard to answer people's questions, sometimes going far out of their way to do so. It's very helpful to be able to use the job search computers there instead of having to go all the way to Worksource. Yes, it'd be great if they had more money and if they made better use of the money they have but it's a pretty good library just the same.