The Seattle Public Library, whose buildings have been closed to patrons for more than a year, said Wednesday that three of its branches will reopen April 27: Lake City, Southwest and Beacon Hill.
The three buildings will be open, at 25% capacity, from Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m., with cleaning breaks scheduled throughout the day. Patrons, who are required to be masked, may enter to pick up holds and check out books, use a computer or a restroom, speak to a library staff member, charge a device or sit and read. At this point, browsing the shelves and using meeting or study rooms will not be allowed.
Because of the system’s current policy of quarantining books, browsing is on hold for now, said Laura Gentry, SPL interim communications director. “We don’t track the use of people going through our collections and handling books and putting them back,” she said, noting that returned books currently are quarantined for 48 hours. “It gives us an operational challenge — which of those books to quarantine?” she said. “And the more books we are quarantining, the fewer we have to lend to our patrons.” She added that the state’s operating guidelines for libraries in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan recommend “as many contactless services as possible.” The no-browsing rule won’t be forever, she said, “but that’s how we’re starting.”
The first three locations for reopening were chosen with an eye to equity and geography, covering the north, south and west areas of the city. Though Gentry could not say which branches might reopen next, or when, she said the library is working on a road map to do so, and that it will unfold in the same way curbside services did. Curbside services, currently offered at 15 of the system’s 27 branches, began at a handful of branches in August, with a few more added every month or so.
“Part of it is really just about health data, and what we feel safe doing,” said Gentry, of the reopening pace. The plan, she said, is to open very cautiously, following Phase 2 guidelines (which limits capacity to 25%) even though all counties in the state are in Phase 3 (which allows for 50% capacity). That’s so if a new wave of cases arrives and the county gets scaled back to Phase 2, the library won’t need to adapt its services, Gentry said.
Meanwhile, King County Library System opened six branches at limited capacity in early March and added five more this week: the Enumclaw, Federal Way 320th, Snoqualmie, Vashon and Woodinville branches. Services vary by location; some are offering only indoor services (which includes browsing), while others offer a hybrid of indoor and curbside services. The majority of KCLS’ 50 locations currently offer curbside service only; more locations will be reopened gradually throughout the spring.
Gentry said SPL is taking until the end of April to open three of its branches because “we feel a deep responsibility for being extra extra safe for our patrons, extra extra safe for our staff.” After spending several months developing “safety-conscious plans that we feel good about,” and having reached a time when library workers are eligible to be vaccinated, late April felt right. “Everyone’s timeline is a little different; everyone’s in different circumstances,” she said, of comparisons between SPL’s and KCLS’ reopening timelines. “It’s truly been unprecedented.”
In the Sno-Isle Library System, serving Snohomish and Island counties, 18 out of 23 branches have reopened for limited in-building services (which vary by library).