In 2020, The Seattle Public Library eliminated overdue fines; increased its digital collection; and transformed every aspect of its work in the face of a global pandemic.

Those are a few highlights of the Library’s 2020 Impact Report, an annual accounting of the Library’s performance and impact on the community.

“In March of 2020, The Seattle Public Library faced an unprecedented question,” wrote interim Chief Librarian Tom Fay and Library Board President Jay Reich in the report’s introductory message. “How does a large urban library system continue to serve its communities during a pandemic, when library buildings are closed, and patrons and staff alike are facing challenges ranging from economic disruptions to child care, social isolation and even COVID itself? This report tells the story of how Library staff set about answering that question, with the support and guidance of our communities.”

The Impact Report includes key Library statistics, a month-by-month timeline of the Library’s COVID response, as well as summaries of the Library’s impact in five areas: expanding Library access, student success, adult learning, small business support, and civic and cultural engagement


  • Overdue fines eliminated, 51,000 accounts restored: Starting on Jan. 2, 2020, the Library no longer charged daily late fines for overdue materials, which restored an estimated 51,000 accounts of patrons whose Library accounts had been suspended. All outstanding late fines were also cleared.
  • Digital collection increases by 35%: While the Library’s total circulation decreased in 2020 because of the pause in physical circulation due to the pandemic, circulation of e-books and e-audiobooks increased 26% from 2019 to 4.3 million. The Library also increased the size of the digital collection by 35% to 716,500. To help readers discover titles, we created many curated book lists, such as the Always Available OverDrive list of Readings on Race, as well as customized reading plans through the Your Next Five service, which readers accessed 45% more than in 2019.
  • 140,000 served through Curbside Service: By August 2020, the Library created a contactless Curbside Pickup Service so patrons could safely pick up available holds of books and DVDs. Curbside Service was offered at 11 Library locations by December, and 140,000 patrons checked out 435,000 items through the service (not including renewals). Starting in October, we also added Peak Picks titles, our “no holds, no wait” collection of high-interest titles, to Curbside Service. Mobile Services was restored in August.
  • Tutoring and more for remote learners: To support children and teens newly learning from home, the Library expanded access to Library Link to allow all Seattle Public Schools students and staff seamless access to our digital collection and services; and launched, free one-on-one virtual tutoring. Children’s librarians adapted in-branch story times to virtual story times on our Facebook page and our Kids’ YouTube channel, creating 43 videos available for viewing on the YouTube channel.
  • 26,000 books to families: We partnered with community organizations supporting BIPOC families to distribute nearly 26,000 books to youth and families through programs such as Summer of Learning and Raising a Reader.
  • Collecting COVID stories: To help document the pandemic in real time, the Library’s Special Collections team launched the COVID-19 Community Collection, a community crowdsourcing project, to document the local impact of the pandemic. We collected more than 100 photos, stories and videos by the end of 2020. 
  • Connecting communities: In addition to loaning 675 Wi-Fi hot spots to cardholders, we also loaned 325 hot spots on a long-term basis to communities that faced barriers to internet access, working with organizations such as Alphabet Alliance of Color, API Chaya, Casa Latina, Compass Housing, and the Low Income Housing Institute to distribute and install them.
  • Personalized help for jobseekers: In June 2020, the Library launched the Your Next Job service with neighboring library systems and other partners to provide one-on-one help with jobseeking, job skills and digital literacy. The service is available in 11 languages and American Sign Language. In 2020, more than 300 people contacted the Your Next Job service.
  • Virtual help for entrepreneurs: Within a week of the Library’s COVID closure, our Library to Business team began offering one-on-one business appointments remotely, holding 196 virtual one-on-one help sessions for entrepreneurs. Working with more than 25 community partners, we also offered 72 virtual events and workshops, as well as 20 legal consults with the UW Entrepreneurial Law Clinic.
  • Virtual programs for all: The Library created more than 1,100 virtual programs in 2020, including online story times; virtual English classes; and virtual Job and Life Skills classes. We also worked with partners to offer about 140 programs for people ages 50 and over, including more than 100 interactive and intergenerational art programs with SilverKite. In October, 600 people attended the first-ever virtual Seattle Reads event, featuring Tommy Orange’s “There There,”
  • Love in the Time of COVID: During the pandemic, the Library participated in Seattle Together, a City of Seattle effort to foster feelings of belonging, connection and joy. Our Reflections virtual dance festival reached over 4,500 viewers while celebrating Native and Black performing arts groups. We also helped produce two virtual “Love in the Time of COVID” events, using a heart-centered approach to examine themes such as mutual aid, solidarity, abolition and immigrant rights.
  • Prioritizing patron and staff safety: As the Library added and restored services during the pandemic, we prioritized the health and safety of patrons and staff, developing health protocols and testing new service models before expanding them. We also improved the Library’s safety infrastructure, including installing HVAC energy efficiency improvements at five branches.

The report also highlighted areas for improvement in the Library’s pandemic response. While the Library always had a goal of reaching Seattle’s communities with equitable, accessible services, “the disruptive and isolating nature of COVID-19 meant we weren’t able to reach and support everyone who needed us,” wrote Fay and Reich in the report’s introductory message. “We have learned a lot about what it takes to safely operate a Library during a global health crisis, and what it takes to keep materials and information flowing through the community.”

The complete Impact Report is distributed online at


The Seattle Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. Learn more about the Library’s reopening progress at Contact the Library by email or chat at or by phone at 206-386-4636. Staff are ready to answer questions and direct you to helpful resources and information.