Seattle Public Library temporarily reduces hours
The Seattle Public Library this week temporarily reduced opening hours at its branches, primarily due to ongoing staffing shortages caused by COVID-19. The library system hopes to return to its regular schedule this fall.
Of SPL’s 27 branches, the flagship central library and 14 neighborhood libraries will continue to operate seven days a week, while the remaining 12 locations will be open five or six days a week, including at least one day on weekends. Times vary by day and location, and a full list of times for each location can be found at st.news/spl-hours.
The Seattle Public Library “has worked diligently over the past year to increase staffing and hours of operation,” Andrew Harbison, the library’s acting director of programs and services, wrote in a statement. Press release announcing reduced hours.
But “the ongoing surges and challenges of COVID-19 have taken a toll on library workers and are impacting the library’s ability to staff each building consistently to pre-pandemic levels,” it said. he writes.
The purpose of this schedule change is to bring “stability” to library operations.
The the library has reduced and expanded its hours several times in response to the pandemic. SPL closed all branches on March 13, 2020, reopening some branches for in-person services from April 27, 2021. All branches opened in October and most were restored to normal hours in December. The library reduced hours again in January in response to the omicron variant coronavirus before extending hours in March.
There were 46 new cases of COVID-19 among library staff from May 1 to May 17 and 37 cases from May 29 to June 25, said SPL communications strategist Elisa Murray. About 8% of the library’s 650 employees had to be absent during this period.
Seattle Public Library workers are required to self-quarantine for 10 days after testing positive. The rise in unscheduled holidays leaves libraries struggling to maintain the minimum number of staff required to stay open.
“In some cases, we had to unexpectedly close sites for a day,” Murray said. “Hopefully over the summer we can start to stabilize our library operations so that people have really predictable opening hours for each neighborhood.”
SPL staff members are vaccinated, wear masks in public spaces, and provide free masks to library patrons, who are encouraged but not required to wear masks.
The minimum number of staff required to operate a library depends on the size of the branch. Even small branches need at least three members, Murray said. At least one SPL employee on duty must be trained to operate safety and security systems and to implement emergency response procedures and de-escalation training.
While Murray said she hopes the Seattle Public Library will be expanded again in September, she cannot predict the impact of the pandemic on those plans.
In the event of another heat wave, like the one that hit the Pacific Northwest last summer, there are 19 air-conditioned libraries where people can take shelter from the heat. A list of these locations is available at spl.org/shelter. Murray said library staff are also considering installing air conditioning in other branches.
Despite the reduction in hours, the library’s online system, including e-book checkouts, tutoring and job assistance, remains fully operational. Summer programs like Summer of Learning and Summer Book Bingo will also still be offered on line and at physical locations.
“We have physical buildings, but we offer many services beyond the physical buildings,” Murray said.