The Seattle Public Library (SPL) did not bounce back after its planned eight weeks of rolling closures from April 12 to June 2. With significantly less fanfare than their announcement in April, SPL unveiled new summer hours starting June 20 that reshuffle the closures but cut an additional 11 hours of service per week across its 27 locations. SPL did not give The Stranger a clear end date to the service cuts, but it doesn’t seem as if the Library wants to get patrons' hopes up for much to change until budget season this fall. And that’s assuming the anti-tax corporatists who run this City feel compelled in any way to choose public goods over austerity. 

Eight Weeks 

On April 11, The Stranger broke the news that SPL would cut nearly 1,500 service hours over eight weeks because they did not have the staffing necessary to keep libraries open. Chief Librarian Tom Fay and Mayor Bruce Harrell struck a deal, granting SPL limited exemptions from his hiring freeze on all departments except for cops, fire, and the new dual dispatch program. Technically, SPL is not under the Mayor’s purview and they don’t have to adhere to the freeze, but he signs the budget, so there's a strategy to playing nice with him. #OneSeattle. 

SPL spokesperson Laura Gentry said they would use the eight weeks to hire 12 more mostly temporary staff members, but she made no guarantees that they would restore service hours at the end of that period or after hiring the new workers. The Stranger asked Gentry how many people SPL hired since the reductions took effect, but she said she’s having difficulty accessing that information after the recent ransomware event. The ransomware event “complicated [SPL’s] onboarding process, along with a whole lot of other processes, but [SPL’s] HR team is looking for creative ways to welcome new hires despite the technology outage,” she wrote in an email. 

Regardless of how many people SPL hired in the last eight weeks, it's not enough to fully restore hours for summer when more school-age kids and those seeking refuge from the heat will seek their facilities. 

New Hours, Same Sadness

According to the new hours posted on SPL’s blog, Capitol Hill and High Point will reopen on Sundays, South Park will reopen on Mondays, Montlake will reopen for a partial day on Tuesdays, and Douglass-Truth will reopen on Saturdays. According to SPL’s blog, the new schedule increases hours at larger, heavily used locations with air conditioning in anticipation of a hot, dry summer ahead.

On the other hand, SLP announced new closures for Deldrige, Chinatown International District (CID), New Holly, and Northgate on Sundays, and the University Branch on Saturdays. That puts CID, New Holly, Northgate, and University branches at two closures per week. Fremont and High Point will close two hours earlier on Tuesday and Wednesday. University Branch’s hours will shift two hours early on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the branch will still be open eight hours both days. 

Your Move, Mayor

Gentry did not have a lot of information about the future of the libraries—”The short answer is: We are still waiting to learn more about our financial situation in 2025, and we should have a better understanding of our staffing capacity once the Mayor announces his proposed budget this fall. We have hired a few new staff and continue to work on hiring, but those positions are helping to create more stability rather than to expand hours.”

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a question about the future SPL’s budget. Instead, mayoral spokesperson Karissa Braxton said, “The ongoing budget process has no impact on the summer hours announced by the Libraries last week.”

But that statement ignores the reality that the new schedule continues service cuts brought on by a staffing shortage that SPL cannot address until they see how austere the Mayor goes with his budget proposal. Braxton did not respond to my follow-up questions. 

SPL’s staffing capacity will be but one line item in the Mayor’s and the city council’s budget, which they will endeavor to balance either by raising revenue or by cutting programs and staff in the face of a $250 million shortfall. Council Member Tammy Morales came out in immediate support of pumping new revenue into the libraries to increase capacity.

“This is a wake-up call for our city,” Morales said in an April 11 press release. “Without urgent action, things will get so much worse than this.”

Other council members have not taken strong stances in support of new progressive revenue to restore service at the libraries. 

The council does not have a clear progressive-revenue-supporting majority—likely because most of them have corporate donors to please. Budget Chair Dan Strauss supported new revenue during his campaign, but he is holding off on implementing any until the fall. The council member who should care the most, Chair of the Libraries, Education, and Neighborhoods Committee Martiza Rivera, didn’t jump to throw money at SPL but rather blamed the Library’s budget issues on e-books and the union. I asked Rivera (again) if the recent closures have inspired her to support new revenue and she did not respond.