To Advance Equity and Opportunity, Mayor Jenny Durkan Announces “Libraries for All” Plan to Renew and Expand Investments in The Seattle Public Library

If Enacted, Proposal Would Maintain Current Services, Expand Hours, Eliminate Fines, Help Close Digital Divide, and Make Seismic Retrofits

SEATTLE (March 13, 2019) – To advance equity, education, and opportunity in Seattle, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced a “Libraries for All” plan to renew and expand investments in The Seattle Public Library’s (SPL) 27 locations across Seattle. The proposal will be reviewed by The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees for an advisory vote on March 19 before being transmitted to the Seattle City Council.

Joined at The Seattle Public Library Lake City Branch by community members, SPL Board leadership, SPL staff, Councilmember Debora Juarez, and Councilmember Rob Johnson, Mayor Durkan released the proposal for renewing and expanding the 2012 Library Levy, which expires in 2019. If enacted, the new Libraries for All plan would maintain current services, expand library branch hours, eliminate fines, improve digital access, and make seismic retrofits of existing libraries, among other key steps. The plan was developed based on community feedback and in collaboration with The Seattle Public Library’s Board of Trustees and its administration.

“From story time to summer learning programs to adult learning classes, The Seattle Public Library advances equity, education, and opportunity for all who call Seattle home. If we are going to build a city of the future, then we must build the libraries of the future, too” said Mayor Durkan. “By renewing our shared investments in The Seattle Public Library, we can lift up the places where communities come together, open up doors to learning, and make Seattle a more equitable place to live.”

In 2018, The Seattle Public Library hosted more than five million visitors and circulated almost 12 million items. Adult learning programs like English as a Second Language, Adult Education Tutoring, and Ready to Work programs helped over 13,000 people. More than 45,000 kids participated in last year’s Summer of Learning and The Seattle Public Library hosted more than 1,100 homework help sessions.

As proposed, Mayor Durkan’s plan would:

  • Maintain Existing Services: Mayor Durkan’s plan would fully fund current SPL services, including free access to libraries, which see more than five million annual visits by Seattle residents.
  • Increase Library Hours: System-wide, The Seattle Public Library would receive an additional 5,000 hours. All 26 SPL neighborhood branches would be open an additional hour on Sunday. Seven libraries around Seattle would receive expanded hours, including: the Delridge, Green Lake, High Point, International District/Chinatown, NewHolly, South Park, and Wallingford locations.
  • Eliminate Overdue Fines: Higher average balances and blocked accounts occur in greater numbers in lower-income and historically underserved neighborhoods, resulting in almost 20 percent of Seattle Public Library accounts without access to the library. Mayor Durkan’s proposal would invest $8 million over the next seven years to provide fine-free access to books, materials, and resources for all residents and correct a historic inequity.
  • Help Close the Digital Divide and Promote Digital Equity: Library patrons increasingly check out e-books, listen to audiobooks, access online instruction, and use other digital resources from The Seattle Public Library. Mayor Durkan’s proposal adds approximately $5 million to maintain and expand these popular digital resources. To promote digital equity, Mayor Durkan’s proposal would invest $4 million to maintain high-speed internet at library facilities. The proposal also includes $5.3 million to provide internet access through programs such as short-term check-outs of WiFi hotspots – for residents who may otherwise have no access. This includes providing internet access at low income housing developments, and longer-term access at permitted villages for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Support Safer Buildings through Seismic Upgrades: Three branches of Seattle Public Library have been deemed high-risk unreinforced masonry buildings. To make those branches safer, Mayor Durkan’s package proposes $13.8 million in seismic retrofits for the Columbia, Green Lake, and University branches.

“Our libraries do so much more than lending books. These pillars of our community provide educational programming for children, workshops for small businesses, and digital and technology access through their computers and wi-fi. The Library also hosted 11,000 free events and helped 9,000 people with their tax returns,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez (District 5, North Seattle). “As our library system’s offerings expand, demand has also increased, with 17 million annual visits to Seattle libraries and library resources, or 23 visits per each Seattle resident. By investing in increased library hours and updated library technology, we can ensure everyone has the continued opportunity to enjoy and utilize these vibrant community spaces.”

“Seattle loves our neighborhood libraries. Through this new library levy we will be able to expand hours and resources across our city,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (District 7, Pioneer Square to Magnolia)  “This is good news for all of us who believe in equitable access and lifelong learning!”

“The Library Board is honored to have the full support of Mayor Durkan and her office in developing a Library Levy renewal proposal that includes funding for needs and interests identified by the community, as well as updates to current operational systems that run our 129-year-old Library system,” said Library Board President Jay Reich. “This proposal includes funding for our biggest areas of growth, as well as safety investments for our buildings—including I.T. infrastructure updates for internet and technology access, increased e-material investments, and seismic retrofitting for our historic Carnegie-era libraries. ”

“In our outreach efforts to the public, nine out of ten Seattle residents told us that The Seattle Public Library is a critical element to the health of this city. The elements of this proposal speak directly to the priorities identified by the community, including more open hours, more investment in our collections, modern technology and internet infrastructure, and well-maintained buildings—all with an eye toward ensuring we are serving our city equitably,” said Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner.

Mayor Durkan’s plan was informed by outreach to over 26,000 Seattle residents and SPL patrons. Community consistently ranked expanding branch hours, increasing the digital collection, and serving those furthest from opportunity as the highest priority.

Under Mayor Durkan’s plan, making additional investments in equity and opportunity like expanding hours and eliminating fines would cost the median homeowner an additional $1.58 per month, for a total of approximately $7 per month.

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