seattle public library central library

Seattle Public Library: History And Achievements Today

The Seattle Public Library has modern photography, red floor plans, and downtown escalators. Bright accents, a built-in living area, and a prominent internal entry are photogenic. The Southwest Branch’s magnolia artwork, Ballard Branch’s ancient stair book-lifting idea, and Fremont Branch’s truss design are all distinctive.

About Seattle Public Library

The Seattle Public Library (SPL) is the city of Seattle, Washington’s public library system. Efforts to build a Seattle library began as early as 1868, with the city finally establishing the system in 1890.

Currently, the system has 27 branches, the majority of which are named after the communities in where they are situated. Mobile Services and the Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas and inaugurated in 2004, are also part of the Seattle Public Library.

In addition, the Seattle Public Library established the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL), which it ran until July 2008.

Except for one, all of Seattle’s early purpose-built libraries were Carnegie institutions. Although the central Carnegie library has been renovated twice subsequently, all of the purpose-built branches from the early twentieth century have survived; nevertheless, several have been significantly altered.

The historic Carnegie library in Ballard has subsequently been home to a variety of restaurants and antique shops, among other businesses, while others, like as the Fremont and Green Lake branches, have been updated and continue to serve as libraries.

Seattle – Public Library continues to provide related resources post-pandemic

After a pandemic halt, popular services at the Seattle Public Library, like as homework assistance and citizenship seminars, have resumed. According to Laura Gentry, the Seattle Public Library’s director of communications, all 27 of the library’s branches have been closed for more than five months.

While users may still browse electronic versions of books and participate in virtual activities through the library’s online portal, the shutdown has had a significant effect on access to library services. People and many programs have been put on hold, and many programs have been put on hold indefinitely.

Gentry said that while choosing six sites to revive Homework Help, they considered attendance history and community engagement in past incarnations of the program.

Everyone is thrilled that the program is back up and running, with many Homework Assistance sessions necessitating wait lists owing to a restricted number of tutoring places due to COVID-19 measures.

History of Public library establishment in Seattle

History of Public library establishment in Seattle

Late 19th century: founding

The first effort to establish a library organization in Seattle happened on July 30, 1868, in a conference of 50 citizens, but only had little success over the next two decades.

In 1888, the Ladies’ Library Association launched a more concerted effort to establish a public library. They had accumulated some finances and even got a property promise from Henry Yesler, but their efforts were thwarted by the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.

Nonetheless, emboldened by their ideas, the Public Library was legally constituted as a division of the city government in the amended October 1890 municipal charter.

The charter required at least two of the five library commissioners to be women, demonstrating the ladies’ power. A 10% share of municipal fines, penalties, and licenses was used to pay the library.

The first library, administered by librarian A. J. Snoke, opened on April 8, 1891 as a reading room on the third story of the Occidental Block—later the Seattle Hotel.

It had 6,541 volumes by December 1891, when books were first permitted to be borrowed. Snoke was followed in 1893 by John D. Atkinson, who in 1895 was succeeded by Charles Wesley Smith, who held the office until 1907.

Smith took over a library that, like the rest of Seattle, had been severely hit by the Panic of 1893: its yearly budget was barely half of what it had been the previous year by 1895.

The system seems to have had more overall points of contact with the public at the time than it does now, albeit few of them were actual branches. The central library, 9 branch libraries, 8 drug store deposit stations, 32 fire-engine houses, 420 classroom rooms in 77 schools, 3 play fields, and 8 special deposit stations are included in a civics textbook from the time.

Mid 20th century stagnation

During the Great Depression, Seattle suffered greatly. The Library’s official website depicts the Library as having been “pummeled” at this age of “soaring demands and dwindling resources”.

A 10-year plan declared a “urgent” need for a $1.2 million bond issuance to enlarge the Central Library in 1930. In the end, nothing of the kind occurred. During the Great Depression, the Central Library served as a haven for the unemployed.

In 1932, library circulation reached a new high of 4 million. Budgets were slashed, personnel were laid off, and programs were canceled in the meanwhile. The Library’s budget in 1939 was $40,000 less than its budget in 1931.

The Seattle Public Library disseminated much more than books during the mid-century. The library’s collection has contained materials such as sheet music even in its early years.

By 1948, the circulating collection had grown to include 3,500 phonograph recordings, which had been borrowed 53,000 times that year, as well as 6,000 pieces of sheet music, 6,000 song books and piano albums, 200 replicas of great paintings, and 27,000 other photos. In 1950, the library had 200 subscriptions to newspapers (mainly from Washington State) and 1,700 subscriptions to journals.

The 1960s

In 1956, the city ultimately approved its first library bond issue. This provided funding for a new $4.5 million, 206,000-square-foot (19,100 m2) central library designed in the International style by the Seattle company Bindon & Wright and constructed on the same location as its Carnegie predecessor.

It included the first-ever escalator in an American library, a drive-up window for book pickups, and was Seattle’s first public facility to contain substantial new pieces of art when it opened on March 26, 1960. James FitzGerald, Glen Alps, and Ray Jensen were among the artists represented.

It also included a fountain by sculptor George Tsutakawa, the first of many fountains Tsutakawa would build during his career. The opening of the new library revitalized the public library system. According to the library’s official website “During the first few weeks, the mood was compared to a department store during the Christmas shopping season.

In its first nine months, the new Central Library leased out almost 1 million books, a 31% increase over the previous year’s circulation. “A library that had previously been” struggling with apathy in a dilapidated headquarters” was now “loved to rags,” with more demand than it could easily meet.

Late 20th century: Recession and recovery

The Seattle Public Library faced another era of limited finances and reduced services in the 1970s and 1980s, although the picture was never as dismal as it was during the Great Depression. The Yesler Branch, which had been on the verge of closure, was renamed the Douglass-Truth Branch in 1975 to commemorate Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. This section has a large African American collection.

In 1979, the Central Library’s public sections were renovated and extended thanks to a $2.3 million government grant. Another federal grant of $1.2 million was awarded to the Rainier Beach Branch (1981). In the late 1980s, a $4.6 million initiative rehabilitated the Library’s six Carnegie branches, which received a National Trust for Historic Preservation award.

Meanwhile, The Seattle Public Library Foundation was founded in 1980 to strengthen outside financial support for the Library, completing the tenure of Library Board president Virginia Burnside. Annual contributions had surpassed $1 million by the mid-1990s, during the dot-com boom years, and library circulation had surpassed 5 million items per year.

1998–present: “Libraries for All”

Seattle voters passed the biggest library bond issue ever proposed in the United States in 1998, with an astonishing 69 percent support percentage. The $196 million “Libraries for All” bond measure, along with private funding collected by The Seattle Public Library Foundation, almost quadrupled the square footage of Seattle’s libraries, including the construction of additional branches and the construction of a new Central Library.

The Seattle Public Library system employed 699 people as of 2006. (538 full-time equivalents). It distributed 3,151,840 adult books, 1,613,979 children’s books, 570,316 WTBBL materials, and 3,895,444 other forms of media (CDs, DVDs, videotapes, etc.)

Over 1 million reference inquiries were addressed by staff members. There are also 1,134 public computers available via the system. Anyone with a library card may use the computers for up to one and a half hours each day; the system allows reservations for a computer at a certain time at a specific branch.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020, the library shuttered all of its branches and in-person services, switching to curbside collection at select sites starting in August.

Five branches reopened in April to offer public restrooms to the city’s unsheltered and homeless residents, while other services remained closed. The first branches reopened on April 27, 2021, and the last in October. During the pandemic, the library system suffered an estimated $434,188 in property damage, mainly at the Central Library.


Many of The Seattle Public Library’s facilities are famous architectural masterpieces. They mirror the aesthetics of various distinct eras. The numerous previous Carnegie libraries, as well as the Douglass-Truth library, all originate from the early twentieth century.

Between 1921 and 1954, no new branch libraries were created, and when branch building did start, the International style had swept away the previous revivalism. The Greenwood and North East branches of today are both extended versions of 1954 libraries, the latter built by Paul Thiry; a third 1954 library, the Susan J. Henry branch on Capitol Hill, has been completely replaced, as has Bindon & Wright’s 1960 Central Library.

In addition, the Landmarks Preservation Board of Seattle has recognized the following buildings as landmarks: Columbia,[39] Douglass-Truth, Fremont, Green Lake, Lake City, Magnolia, North East, Queen Anne, University, and West Seattle.

The new Ballard Branch is also one of Seattle’s first buildings to use green architecture. The library is outfitted with solar panels to minimize its power use, as well as a green roof, which helps to insulate the building while simultaneously reducing stormwater runoff.


  • Fremont Branch (built 1921), originally a Carnegie library
  • Fremont Branch, exterior
  • Ballard’s former Carnegie Library
  • Ballard Branch
  • 2006 wing of Douglass-Truth Branch, Central District
  • Reading Room in the present-day Central Library
  • Main reading area in the Central Library

Queen Anne Library in Seattle

Queen Anne Branch of The Seattle Public Library

Since its refurbishment and reopening on August 25, 2007, the Queen Anne Branch has served the community. The building’s high ceilings, massive leaded glass windows, and dangling lighting provide the impression of ample room. The Landmarks Preservation Board of Seattle has designated the historic branch as a local landmark, and the National Register of Historic Places has included the structure to its roster of historic sites.

Museum Pass for the Seattle Library Washington

Museum Pass for the Seattle Library Washington

Residents in the Seattle region who have a card with The Seattle Public Library may visit additional museums for free thanks to the Library’s Museum Pass program. The Center for Wooden Boats, the Henry Art Gallery, the Museum of History & Industry, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Seattle Asian Art Museum have all rejoined the program. In addition to these partners, the Library currently provides passes to 11 cultural institutions:

  • The Burke Museum
  • Wooden Boats Center
  • Henry Art Museum
  • The Museum of Flight
  • History and Industry Museum
  • Pop Culture Museum (MoPOP)
  • Nordic National Museum
  • The Aquarium of Seattle
  • Seattle Asian Art Museum and Seattle Art Museum (shared pass)
  • Wing Luke Memorial Museum


Library users are eligible for one free Museum Pass each week. Each Museum Pass includes entry for at least two people; certain tickets allow for more, and free entrance for children aged 17 and younger may be included. Once every 30 days, you may sign up for a pass to a certain organization. Every day at 12 p.m., new passes become available.

Enter your Library card number and personal identification number (PIN) into the program reservation system, then choose a day and print the museum pass. To learn more and book a museum pass, go to


The Library also lends the Discover Pass, which you may read about on our Outdoor Recreation website ( The Discover Pass grants entry to over 100 state parks, 350 primitive recreation sites, approximately 700 water access locations, and nearly 2,000 miles of designated water and land recreation trails. Library users may reserve a Discover Pass in the online catalog using their Library card, just as they would a book or other tangible material. A Discover Pass has a two-week checkout period.


What if you don’t have a library card? No worries. Residents of the Library’s service region may sign up for a card in minutes and in a variety of languages. To get started, go to

The Library connects people, information, and ideas to improve lives and foster community. We advocate for universal access to information and ideas, and we work closely with local groups to provide services that are accessible to everyone.

Call 206-386-4636 or email or chat with the Library’s Ask Us service at During this difficult time, staff is available to answer questions and guide you to useful resources and information.

Leave a comment and visit Seattleducation for further interesting information regarding Seattle’s education. Regarding reading!


You may get a free Seattle Public Library card if you reside, work, attend school, or own property in one of our free service zones. Included in this are the cities of Seattle and Bothell. excluding the cities of Yarrow Point and Hunts Point, King County (see our reciprocal use agreement with the King County Library System).

The Seattle Public Library works to make library facilities pleasant and safe for its users, volunteers and staff members. At order to be responsible stewards and caretakers of publicly financed facilities, the Library informs users and staff members on how and where in the Library food and drinks may be consumed.

Meeting and Study Spaces

Our local branches provide complimentary meeting spaces that may be reserved in advance. Many also include solo or small-group study spaces. In select locations, our branch meeting rooms may accommodate up to 100 individuals.

The construction of the new 206,000-square-foot Central Library, which was dedicated on March 26, 1960, took 21 months and cost $4.5 million. The new five-story library has a contemporary, international design with open, practical interiors. It had a drive-through service window to compensate for the lack of parking.

Odegaard Undergraduate Library and the Health Sciences Library are UW Only and need a valid Husky Card for entrance. The majority of campus libraries are available to the public.

On October 7-8, 2022, the first Human Library will be hosted at Folio in Pike Place Market. The Human Library is a dialogue-based organization that strives to combat preconceptions and biases.

Apply for Library Employment

If interested, please click the “Apply” button. Create an application profile for the City of Seattle, if this is your first time using NEOGOV (or log into your NEOGOV profile). Upload the necessary documents (cover letter, résumé, etc.) to your NEOGOV profile so that they may be attached to your application.

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