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Cheih-Hsin (Jessie) Lin of The Skanner News
Published: 19 July 2011

The Seattle Public Library system will close for a week at the end of August and reopen after Labor Day, responding to a $67 million city budget gap. That's the bad news. The good news is, a new service is available to help readers plan ahead.

"Your Next Five Books" can save patrons a phone call or trip to the library, according to Jennifer Reichert, assistant managing librarian at the Central Library.  Patrons fill out an online form with basic information such as books they enjoy reading, authors they like and reasons why they like them.  It usually takes two to seven days, she said, for an experienced librarian to process and send back a recommendation of five books to the requestor via email.

 "The goal is really just to reach out to our community and let them know we have librarians here who can give excellent reading recommendations," said Reichert. "Because we know they ask us for reading recommendations all the time in person, and this is just a way to offer that online."

Kevin Johnston, 38, a crane operator working evening shift at Seaport Steel, comes to the Central Library every week or two to check on the library's comics collection before he goes to work. He said he thought the service is great but he still prefers finding books in his own way.

"Usually if there is a book I need and they don't have it, I will (look for it) somewhere else, and eventually I will go buy it," he said. "For my entertainment, for my enjoyment, I love the comics and it's not something I like to discuss with people."

Although many services are now digitalized, Johnston said he still prefers to read print.

"I feel too young to say that I am old-fashioned, but I personally like books," said Johnston. "I'm not against getting on iPads or computers but as far as the eBooks, I personally like to get a book and turn the page myself."

Reichert said more than 300 requests have been received since the service launched June 13. She noted that although most of the requests are still for print books, librarians have seen a steady growth on requests for electronic books as well as CDs and audio books.

"People will say 'can you try to get me eBooks' or 'can you get me eBooks when (a certain title) becomes available,'" she added.

The upcoming temporary closure is a good opportunity for local library users to plan ahead. "For those who aren't familiar with our digital collection, this is a good time to learn how to download books, movies and music, since they will be available during the closure," said Lin Schnell, interim chief executive officer for the library, in a press release.

Regarding the closure, Schnell said the library has limited options when dealing with cuts of this magnitude.

"There weren't any easy choices," she said, noting that the majority of the library's budget pays for personnel to run the libraries. The remainder pays for books and materials, and fixed costs, such as telecommunication, Internet services and utilities. "Without the closure, we would have had to cut more operating hours or further reduce the book budget," she added.

The closure will reportedly save the library about $650,000; it also means reduced paychecks for nearly 640 employees, according to the press release.

When asked about how the week-long closure would affect his right to access library resources, Johnston said the impact is going to be negligible but added that the closure to him is a political move and the government should justify a little more of their spending.

"I kind of feel bad for people who work here," Johnston said. "I don't like that we have to close our libraries. A lot of things that have been in place for years, now, they don't have it anymore. At the same time, they are offering tens and thousands of dollars for an artist to come in. I am not against art, but art to me isn't a requirement. I just feel bad that these guys have to forgo their work for a week."


Seattle Public Library Closure Information

-- Seattle library services Aug.29-Sept. 4:

-- No materials will be due, and no book drop will be open during the closure.

-- No Internet access or library computers during the closure.

-- No Text a Librarian, email a librarian or chat with a librarian.

-- No Story Time or author readings.


For more information, visit the library's website here

Cheih-Hsin (Jessie) Lin is an intern at the UW NewsLab

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