Planning for a Safe and Phased Library Reopening

Updated June 30, 2020

Executive Director and Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner
Executive Director and Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner

Dear patrons,

I know many of you are eager to check out physical books once again from your Library; and we are eager to serve you in person as soon as we can.

I wanted to share more about our reopening planning, so that you have a better understanding of how we are thinking about our responsibility as a public service agency, and how we are working through many important details in order to bring you more services.

First, it’s important to note there is no blueprint for providing Library services during a pandemic. As I have heard several people in the library industry say, “we are building the plane while we are flying it,” and that certainly rings true.

We are a large urban library system with 27 city locations, over 12 million items circulated each year, hundreds of thousands of patrons and hundreds of employees to consider and care for. As such, we are setting high standards for all stages of our reopening planning. Patron and staff safety and equitable service delivery are being prioritized at every step.

While planning for reopening, we've also been busy transforming many of our in-person programs into virtual programs, such as Summer of Learning, developing new programs that serve important community needs, such as one-on-one help for job seekers. In addition, we've helped the city deliver essential services such as restroom access during the pandemic.

The Library’s reopening efforts are guided by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington plan, the city’s coordinated reopening planning of public facilities, and Public Health - Seattle & King County.

While certain Library activities are allowed in certain phases of the governor’s plan, the Library’s timeline relies on many factors that prioritize keeping you and the entire community protected in our interactions, which include:

  • how we quarantine and handle materials;
  • how we safely receive and lend physical materials (we currently have 400,000 materials checked out);
  • how we ensure our buildings are cleaned according to public health guidelines;
  • how we’re training staff to wear and use protective gear and equipment;
  • how our staff interact with each other behind the scenes; and
  • how we are screening the health of our staff in a safe and comfortable way.

It is our responsibility to think through every detail with care, which means it will take a little longer to start circulating books again. Please know we understand your need to have this service begin as soon as possible and that we are working hard to make that happen.

Important note: You can help us with the reopening process by checking your account for holds you have placed on physical items and deleting those that you no longer need.

Your patience and understanding is appreciated. We are so looking forward to seeing you again in person as soon as we can.

Executive Director and Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner Signature

Marcellus Turner, Executive Director and Chief Librarian

COVID-19 Resources

Find resources to support the communities most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.

FAQs about what the closure means for you

What, if any, Library services will be available during this closure?

We will continue to provide the many digital services you have come to love, such as our Ask Us reference service (available by phone, chat and email); e-books and e-audiobooksstreaming TV, movie and music services; digital subscriptions to newspapers and magazines; and more. We are also hosting a number of virtual programs, such as story times on Facebook Live, virtual Play and Learn groups, programs for people ages 50 and older, business trainings and more. See for a full list. 

You can also see a list of our digital services at

I don’t have a Library card. Can I apply for one online?

Yes! If you don’t have an active account with The Seattle Public Library, go to to sign up for a digital Library card. To be eligible, you must be 13 years or older, live in Seattle and have a mobile phone to verify your account. People who successfully sign up will get immediate access to the OverDrive collection of 200,000 e-books and e-audiobooks, and to the rest of the Library’s resources within two or three days.

Also, through our Library Link program, if you are a Seattle Public School student in grades K-12, or a Seattle Public School teacher in grades K-12, you can access the Library’s digital books and online resources. Find out more at

I have a Library card, but can’t figure out how to sign onto my account online.

If you have an active account with The Seattle Public Library but are having trouble accessing your account at, you can ask for assistance by contacting the Library’s help and reference service at Ask Us

Have due dates been extended?

Due dates for all materials have been extended to July 15, 2020. Due dates may be further extended once the Library has set a reopening date. We will post an update once we have that information.

Can I check out digital materials if my account was suspended at the time of the Library closure?

If an item you’ve checked out was already overdue before the Library closed, it is still overdue; those due dates were not extended. But overdue items will not age to “lost-item status,” meaning patrons will not be billed and will still be able to check out digital items. The policy of suspending accounts when an item is 14 days overdue has also been eliminated during the closure, so patrons with overdue items will still be able to access electronic resources during the closure. 

Patrons with items in “lost” status at the time of the closure (one month or more overdue) will be blocked from accessing digital materials, but we are exploring options for restoring digital access for those patrons.

Can you extend check-out periods for e-books and e-audiobooks?

Unfortunately, we are not able to increase the number of available copies of digital materials at this time. Because digital materials are licensed on a cost-per-use basis and/or are more expensive than print materials, additional copies of e-books and e-audiobooks or increased limits on streaming services is not in the current budget.  Our staff are watching trends closely, and we will continue to review our internal systems to determine if there is a way to make adjustments to digital lending parameters.

How can I stay up to date on Library operations during the closure and what’s available?

We will post updates on, as well as our social media channels on Facebook and Twitter. When there are major updates, such as anticipated re-openings or extended closures, we will reach out to patrons via email as well.

Can I contact the Library through chat, email or phone during the closure?

Yes, even though our physical locations are closed, our Ask Us reference service is now available through all of those channels. Go to to chat during our open hours, or send an email at any time. You can also call us during our open hours at 206-386-4636.

Will patrons be able to pick up book holds during this closure?

At this time, we do not anticipate making material holds available during the closure. Patrons can keep materials that are currently checked out until we re-open. We will be sure to give you plenty of notice when we are ready to re-implement due dates.

What will happen to the holds I’ve already placed?

Holds you have placed in your account on physical materials will still be listed in your account, but will be suspended until we re-open. These holds will begin filling when we reopen, with a minimum of seven days to be picked up. You can still place (and retrieve) holds of digital materials. You can pick up holds that were on the shelves at the time of the closure when the Library re-opens.

Will patrons be able to return items to the Library during this closure?

No, all book drops will be inoperable during this closure, so please hold onto your materials for the time being. As noted, we have extended due dates until after the closure.

What will happen in Library buildings while they are closed?

We will be conducting deep cleanings of Library locations, keeping our buildings secure, and keeping our digital resources available to you. Some administrative work will also occur. As part of the citywide response to COVID-19, we have also opened up five Library facilities to provide reliable restroom access seven days a week.

Will library parking garages remain open during this closure?

Most library parking garages will close for the duration of the Library’s closure. The Central Library parking garage, however, is open during its regular hours: Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 8:45 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Will the Bookmobile or Books by Mail be available during the closure?

All mobile services, including Bookmobile activities, will be suspended during the closure. It is possible we may reactivate some of these services during the closure depending on staffing levels.

Important Health Agency Resources Regarding Coronavirus

Novel coronavirus fact sheets