From Aug. 29 to Sept. 5, The Seattle Public Library system will shut down for a week due to budget cuts, greatly impacting needy communities during a down-turning economy. Services that many rely on will be drastically reduced or come to a halt during the closures.
“People depend on our services everyday,” said Andra Addison, Seattle Public Library Communications Director.
Classes and programs will not take place during the closure, in addition to the inavailability of item check outs and computer and Wi Fi use. Libraries are particularly crucial during tough economic times, as they provide access to tools, information, and entertainment at no cost to their users.
Maggie Taylor agrees. She serves as the vice president of the Friends of The Seattle Public Library and its President elect for next year. Taylor adds that while services have gone down, users are up. Due to the slumping economy, many rely on the library for more than borrowing books — patrons can utilize the library’s resources for services they are in need of in a down-turning economic environment, such as vocational training and development, and instructional and educational tools for all ages. For communities of color, the elimination of such programs as ESL and citizenship classes, internet services, and multilingual classes are particularly disheartening.
“It’s so much more than books,” said Taylor, noting that the closures have a definite impact on families, students, and teachers preparing for the upcoming academic year.
Wei Cai, manager of the southwest branch libraries (which include the International District-Chinatown and Beacon Hill branches), noted that many people depend on the library computers for internet access to file unemployment, to create resumes, and for job searches. She said for these people, the library services are just as essential as the fire and police departments.
“It’s not just an inconvenience,” Cai said about the library closures. “To me, it’s like cutting off their lifeline.”
All departments in the City of Seattle are implementing cuts to address a $67 million gap in the 2011 city budget. The week-long closure will help the library achieve its $3.7 million budget reduction target for 2011. As staff will not be paid during the furlough, the closure will save about $650,000. This is the third annual such cost-cutting measure for the library system. In addition, the book budget has been reduced by $150,000, positions have been eliminated, and 2010 cuts to branch hours have continued this year. Fifteen branches in Seattle are now only open 35 hours a week.
The majority of the library’s $50 million budget pays for operational costs such as library staff. The remainder of the budget pays for books and materials, and fixed costs, such as telecommunication and Internet services and utilities.
In a statement, Lin Schnell, Interim library Chief Executive Officer, said she understands how difficult the closure will be for patrons who depend on and need library services.
“Unfortunately the library has limited options when dealing with cuts of this magnitude,” she said. “Without the closure, we would have had to cut more operating hours or further reduce the book budget.”
Libraries like the International District-Chinatown library branch depend on the budgets to sustain its unique assortment of reading materials in a variety of languages – Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese are just a few – and which provide an important connection for a number of library visitors.
“Reading something from their native country is like fuel or food for their soul,” Cai said.
The International District-Chinatown library branch also serves as a community center where visitors can learn about local social service agencies, research resources, and connect with others in the neighborhood, offering a quality of life to all patrons. This branch has the most concentrated collection of Asian language materials in the Seattle Public Library system. Visitors range from those who live in the neighborhood to international visitors passing through.
“It’s very heavily used,” Cai said. “It’s everything that the International District-Chinatown could ask for.” When closures like this happen, many express their disappointment, she said.
“Most people in Seattle recognize the importance of the library,” Cai added, noting that library patrons often bring ‘thank you’ notes and cookies, in addition to expressing their thanks verbally when the library is open.
The Seattle Public Library is likely to face additional budget cuts next year, as the Seattle City Council determines the final outcome of the city’s 2012 budget in November. During the closure, those who have access to a computer aside from the library’s, may download books, movies and music at www.spl.org. However, online services will be limited.
The last day to check out library items before the closure is Sunday, Aug. 28. Visit www.spl.org or call (206) 386-4636 for more information on library locations and hours. For more information about how to support the Seattle Public Library, visit Friends of The Seattle Public Library at www.friendsofspl.org.