A message from the Chief Librarian
Happy New Year from The Seattle Public Library! A look back at an unforgettable 2020 and a look ahead to Library services in 2021
From Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner
Posted January 5, 2021
As a new year begins and Library services get under way in 2021, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on 2020, a truly unforgettable year.
As a city and as a society, we have never experienced a disruption quite like the COVID-19 pandemic in our modern lives. It impacted us personally and professionally. It made us worry for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and friends around the world. It was a crisis that put more emphasis on existing social strains. We saw too many shocking incidents of race-based violence and too many people suffering from economic distress, homelessness and lack of access to health care.
As a Library, almost everything about our daily circumstances changed, and practically overnight. All aspects of our work had to be reassessed for health and safety concerns – from placing a book on a shelf to answering patron questions to hosting story times for children. We navigated building closures, budget cuts, and everything in between. But we also had some great news to share. Our new fine-free borrowing system launched at the beginning of the year and we were awarded the 2020 Library of the Year designation by the Library Journal – a great honor.
And we were able to do what once felt nearly impossible: we made it through 2020, delivering Library services to grateful patrons in the midst of a pandemic. In partnership with our staff Union, we navigated many workplace and workforce issues, prioritizing patron and staff safety every step of the way.
Day after day, Library staff stepped up to serve their community in the context of a global pandemic. It was a tremendous effort, and I want to share just a few ways Library staff members have responded during this once-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances:
- They helped deliver over 700,000 items of personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, respirators and more) for frontline workers and regional health agencies.
- They staffed five public restroom locations to support the city’s hygiene efforts.
- They developed hundreds of interactive programs to inform, entertain and educate homebound Seattleites of all ages. Those programs have included virtual activities and discussions for seniors, support for those out of work through the Your Next Job program, learning programs and Tutor.com help for students, and much more. View our calendar to see upcoming programs.
- They kept Library books and information services flowing into the community, while adhering to – and often exceeding – the latest in health and safety standards through our Curbside Pickup efforts, a brand new service for us. Mobile Services staff are also back on the road providing contact-free book delivery to retirement homes, preschool centers, nursing homes, and more. Staff who support our Ask Us platform are busier than ever, ready to take your calls and emails.
- They launched free printing services and are looking at expanding the service to more locations.
I want to acknowledge ways our community supported us through the year as well.
- Library neighbors across the region and country shared ideas with us in real-time about how they were doing library work in their communities.
- Our partners at the City of Seattle coordinated access to resources, from personal protective equipment to cleaning supplies.
- Partner agencies helped us with so much, including delivering 20,000 physical books to families who lacked Library access in 2020.
- The Seattle Public Library Foundation, with support from community donors, made it possible for us to buy more e-books when demand was soaring. The Foundation provided us flexible funding opportunities that helped develop timely and relevant programs quickly, which was critical as we weathered significant budget cuts to our General Fund support from the city.
- And the patience, kind words and expressions of gratitude many of you, our patrons, have shared have lifted our spirits many times. This patron message stood out to me recently as I reflected on the year: “You keep our youth inspired with ideas, technology and books. You keep kids and adults reading and learning. Thank you for supporting e-books, authors, and our amazing librarians during the pandemic. Thanks for getting us through these challenging times.”
Truly, I am grateful we were able to do so much. And while these challenging times are not quite behind us, there is great hope on the horizon with COVID-19 vaccines making their way into our communities. The Library will continue to expand Curbside Pickup service to new locations, while also planning for a safe and phased-in building reopening later in the year.
Like you, we are anxious to be back in our libraries greeting you in person, helping you with your informational needs, providing you access to Wi-Fi and technology, leading in-person story times for your little ones, and more. We know that will occur in 2021, and it will be a great day for us all.
Happy New Year to you,
Marcellus Turner, Executive Director and Chief Librarian