The Seattle Public Library this week temporarily reduced operational hours across its branches primarily due to ongoing staff shortages caused by COVID-19. The library system hopes to return to its regular schedule this fall.  

Of the 27 SPL 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 weekly, including at least one day on weekends. Hours vary by day and location, and a full list of each location’s hours can be found at

Seattle Public Library “has worked diligently over the last year to increase staffing levels and open hours,” wrote Andrew Harbison, interim director of Library Programs & Services, in a news release announcing the 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 consistently staff each building at pre-pandemic levels,” he wrote.

The goal for this schedule change is to bring “stability” to library operations.  

The library has reduced and expanded its hours several times in response to the pandemic. SPL closed all branches March 13, 2020, reopening some branches for in-person services starting April 27, 2021. All branches opened by October and most were restored to normal hours in December. The library again reduced hours in January in response to the omicron coronavirus variant before extending hours in March


There were 46 new COVID-19 cases among library staff from May 1-17 and 37 cases from May 29-June 25, said SPL communications strategist Elisa Murray. Approximately 8% of the library’s 650 total employees had to take time off during that time period. 


Seattle Public Library employees are required to quarantine for 10 days after a positive test. The uptick in unexpected time off leaves libraries struggling to maintain the minimum number of employees required to stay open. 

“In some cases, we’ve had to unexpectedly close locations for a day,” Murray said. “Hopefully, through the summer, we can begin to stabilize our library operations so that people have really predictable open hours for each neighborhood.” 

SPL staff members are vaccinated, wear masks in public areas and provide free masks to library patrons, who are encouraged but not required to wear masks.

The minimum number of employees required to run a library depends on the size of the branch. Even the smaller 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 Seattle Public Library will be expand hours again in September, she can’t predict how the pandemic will impact those plans. 

In the event of another heat wave, like the one that hit the Pacific Northwest last summer, there are 19 air-conditioned library locations where people can seek shelter from the heat. A list of those locations can be found at Murray said library personnel are looking to install air-conditioning in the remaining branches, too. 

Despite the reduction of hours, the library’s online system, including e-book checkouts, tutoring and job help, remain fully operational. Summer programs like Summer of Learning and Summer Book Bingo will also still be offered online and at physical locations. 

“We do have physical buildings, but we offer many services beyond the physical buildings,” Murray said.