by Victor Simoes
Fulfilling promises made in 2019, this year The Seattle Public Library (SPL) plans to add 10,000 new hours to the 27 Seattle library branches and implement new youth services. The levy fund approved by 76% of Seattle voters enabled branches to provide additional services, eliminate overdue fines, and increase open hours, which will continue to expand starting this spring.
Since the library system began implementing changes funded by the levy, key priorities have been fulfilled. Others have had to be delayed because of pandemic-related challenges and staff shortages. Starting this month and next, the SPL will add almost 7,000 new annual hours. The expansion comes in two phases. The first began on March 20, and the second will take place on April 3.
The South End branches that increased their hours of operation include:
- Beacon Hill, which now operates 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; 12–8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.
- Columbia, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; 12–8 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday.
- High Point, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Monday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; 10 a.m.–8 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
- Rainier Beach, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; 12–8 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.
- Southwest, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; 12–8 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Regarding equity programming and services, SPL intentionally used levy funds by reaching out to historically underserved populations within their service areas and rethinking how they conduct their programs and services and where they offer them, expanding beyond the limits of the library buildings. In South Seattle, the High Point Branch works very closely with Neighborhood House, a human services-centered organization, to engage youth after school, primarily codesigning and codeveloping programs, offering support to provide a safe space for youth to use their resources.
“That means establishing relationships with our community to discuss what they need,” said José M. García Jr., regional manager of Southwest Library Branches. “Because we all live in the same community, we all celebrate our successes, and we all work towards solving our community issues.”
Beyond more open hours, libraries will bring preschool storytime, baby storytime, and family storytime back to branches in the southwest region and South Park, as well as additional Homework Help hours and days. Homework Help is a volunteer-driven drop-in program that operates on a first-come, first-served basis and is offered to K–12 students. Volunteers circulate through the room, checking in with all youth periodically to ensure they get the help they need. All Homework Help sessions now also offer complimentary snacks. In February 2023, SPL added Homework Help days in the South Park Branch and increased hours at the Columbia, High Point, and Rainier Beach branches. New capacity and times are available on the SPL website.
“I think there was a certain level of online fatigue coming out of the pandemic, where folks were just kind of tired of the screen,” said Garcia. “Both parents and students were being put in positions to offer that academic support that sometimes they might not have the expertise or the time to offer, and so that’s where Homework Help helped fill that gap.”
More levy-funded changes are set to impact South End branches in the second semester of 2023. SPL is building a new social service team to enhance staff’s agility in crisis de-escalation tactics. While SPL already offers some social services, a youth community resource specialist, funded by the levy, will join the social service team to address the specific needs of patrons up to 26 years old.
Elisa Murray, digital communications strategist of The Seattle Public Library, wrote to the Emerald, “We hope these changes can engage the community to think of the Library for their recreational and educational needs and that patrons see SPL as a partner in the community, so that historically underserved patrons have the information and tools necessary to lead healthy and self-sufficient lives.”
Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.
📸 Featured Image: A young library patron browses the selection at the Beacon Hill Library. During a survey to determine priorities for Seattle’s property levy tax fund, 98% of respondents said they considered libraries as essential as roads and schools. (Photo: Anthony Martinez)
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