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Return of Seattle libraries brings joy to patrons, staff

Shauna Sowersby
File photo of The Seattle Public Library Central Library downtown

Another sign that things are returning to normal: More libraries are reopening. The majority of The Seattle Public Library branches were back to nearly pre-pandemic operations as of Tuesday, including the Central Library.

Outside the iconic 11-floor glass-and-steel building downtown, patrons waited anxiously for the doors to open on Tuesday morning. Even though the libraries have been offering online and curbside services, people seemed thrilled at the prospect of walking in, browsing the shelves and picking up books themselves.


“Inside you can get in there and look around, and you may find something else interesting,” said Daren Davis.


Eva Pierson said she’s missed the library so much because there aren’t a lot of other places to find the services it offers.


“Being able to have any kind of Wi-Fi and just to have kind of a peaceful place to come and do what I have to do,” she said. 


Dennis Saxman, who sometimes spent seven hours a day in the library pre-pandemic, said he’s missed “the ambiance and the people.”


As the public walked through the doors for the first time since the pandemic, librarians were on hand taking photos and welcoming them. Valerie Wonder, regional manager for The Seattle Public Library downtown region, says it was emotional to see people back in the building for the first time.


“Having the entire city have such limited access the last 15 months has been painful, as librarians, to see,” she said.


Some floors of the library are still off limits to browsing. Wonder said it's a result of budget cuts during the pandemic and getting staffed up again will take a few months. Still, people who came in found plenty to check out from large shelves of brand new fiction and nonfiction.


Within a few minutes of arriving, Saxman had an armload of 15 books.


"Too many good new books. Look at this," he exclaimed.


Michael Smith and his 3-year-old son, Eric, made a beeline for the children's section. Smith said there are very few things to do with kids downtown that don’t entail buying something. As for Eric, he summed up coming to the library in one word. “Cool,” he said.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.