Why Seattle libraries had more than 130 closures this summer

From The Seattle Times:

As record-breaking temperatures baked Seattle this summer, box fan sales spiked, wading pools grew crowded, health warnings were issued …

And libraries closed.

There were more than 130 full- or partial-day closures due to heat in June, July and August, according to the Seattle Public Library.

Nine of the system’s 27 branches lack air conditioning, and SPL’s current policy is to close them when indoor temperatures hit or are expected to hit 80 degrees for more than an hour.

Such closures have become more common recently, interrupting services at the branches that many Seattle residents rely on for checking out books, internet use and resting in a quiet environment.

SPL staffers don’t like the closures, because they get in the way of processing materials and interacting with patrons, said Jessica Lucas, teen services librarian at the Northeast branch and vice president of AFSCME Local 2083, the union for Seattle library workers. The book drops stay open so returned books pile up. Staffers are usually redeployed to branches with air conditioning, which means extra travel, Lucas added. But the closures are necessary nonetheless, because working in the heat is worse, she said.

“Some patrons really understand and some don’t get it at all,” said Lucas, who sometimes hears patrons complain. “We have to be in here all day long for an eight-hour shift and do physical work during that time.”

SPL’s heat-closure threshold used to be 90 degrees but was lowered to 85 degrees in 2018, based on “health and safety concerns for staff and patrons” and an increase in multiday heat waves, SPL spokesperson Laura Gentry said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the system is using a temporary threshold of 80 degrees because employees are required to wear masks, which can increase discomfort in hot temperatures, Gentry said.

The Green Lake and University branches had the most full-day heat closures this summer, canceling service completely for seven days each. The Northeast branch, currently the system’s busiest for borrowing, had the most partial-day heat closures, with 19 days.

“This is part of a big story about how the Pacific Northwest in general is not equipped” for the consistently scorching summer weather Seattle is now experiencing, said Darth Nielsen, SPL’s assistant director of public services. “We see this as a long-term issue … and we have to respond to that.”

SPL plans to add air conditioning at several branches in the coming years and is seeking funds for the other branches, Nielsen said.

Six of the city’s nine branches without air conditioning, including Green Lake and University, were built more than 100 years ago with grants from New York steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who funded libraries across the country.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times

16 thoughts on “Why Seattle libraries had more than 130 closures this summer”

  1. Uh, no. A few points.

    First off, ditching the hazardous to your health masks would help quite a bit.

    Second, even though I keep this Tucson house in the low 80s, I’ll give them a by on 80 degrees – the humidity is consistently much higher there. But they did seem to manage at 85 without the masks, and 90 in an age of less snowflakery?

    Third, librarian is not exactly hammering nails all day long at a construction site. What little strenuous physical work (of the librarians, not the cleaning staff) could certainly be scheduled for the cooler morning hours.

    Fourth, the claim that Seattle is having “more scorching summers” is a plain bit of approved propaganda transmission. Cliff Mass, a professional meteorologist in the area (who is a believer in “global warming,” by the way), has analyzed the summer weather patterns up there – and shown that current summers are little, if any, hotter than the summers in decades past. (I don’t know the sites of the libraries in question, however, so they may be inside more intense urban heat islands than they were previously – but that has nothing to do with the general Seattle weather.)

    • Seattle isn’t that humid, nothing like Florida. And you get plentiful cloudy weather and rain in the summer to keep it cool.

      So, yes, saying 80F is scorching is absurd.

      (Side note: when I was a kid, I always thought that September was the best month weatherwise in the Puget Sound area, so it was unfair that we had be in in school).

      • I felt the same way about September (and October) in the Arizona mountains where I grew up. April and May on the other end. Completely unfair!

        Of course, this being Arizona, I could tell my complaining kids about walking uphill both ways to school – but not about doing it through the snow. Now, college in New Hampshire, I could tell them about…

  2. Poor babies!
    They close at 85-90F?

    Let’s see, a quicky online search:

    “On average, December is with 80.0% the most humid.
    On average, July is with 65.0% the least humid month.
    The average annual percentage of humidity is: 73%. ”

    A similar search for Puerto Rico:

    “Weather in July July is a hot and humid month in Puerto Rico, with an average of 280 hours of bright sunshine. The average temperatures are between 78°F (25.6°C) and 89°F (31.7°C), and the relative humidity is at 78%, the highest monthly average of the year.”

    In PR businesses rely on AC because those are year-round daytime conditions (not a month or two) but houses get by just fine with open, screened windows to let ambient air in or with daytime fans for a few hours. Of course, houses are designed with significant thermal mass.

    The worst heat conditions I’ve endured weren’t in PR or Dallas in July but in DC where we had weeks of 100/100. Long before anybody worried about global warming. Of course, it rained every day as soon as the temperature dropped a bit at 4M. Nothing shut down even in places with A/C. Then again, the entire district shuts down with half an inch of snow. Go figure.

    I spent tbat summer stuck in AC-less, Fan-less warehouses, opening pallets to verify product serial numbers that “for some reason” didn’t match between the container and the paperwork, or both sides of the individual container, or the contents or none of tbe above. Several thousand pallets. (Yes, I got a new job by the following spring.)

    First thought that comes to mind is about the OP: get some cheap fans at HOME DEPOT.

    Second thought: get some architects with thermal management experience.

    Both options will be cheaper and more effective than catapulting bags of gold for something they’ll only need a few weeks a year and a solution that comes with ongoing maintenance costs.

    But since we’re talking educational/library systems I can see they default to the “clueless IT manager” solution:


    • “Thermal management” is a handy search term I could have used a while back when I was learning about this. Vitruvius et al were enlightening on this topic, especially on the matter of keeping houses cool before electricity was discovered.

      Using this term, I found handy, attractive building projects that could be adapted for Seattle’s libraries: passive thermal comfort

      Courtyards! Greenery! Natural materials!

      As for fans, there’s a brand whose name made me laugh, but they’re effective: Big A** Fans. They’re based on the idea of “high volume, low speed,” but they changed their name from HVLS to BAF because that’s what their customers are calling their products. Amazon uses those in their warehouses. Surely they’d work for a library, too.

      • Yup.
        Those big overhead fans are a staple in old movies and you find them all over in moderate climes. Ajd yes, they’d be perfect for libraries. Great circulation and they’re quiet.

        They’re also cheap, use little power, and last forever. My mother has one in each bedroom and they’re going on forty years. No sure what brand they are but they also have lights in the middle like the Big A ones.

        For all the talk of saving the environment, few of those folks walk the talk.

        Way back in my senior year my favorite profesor (a cranky contrarian) invited the whole class to a mixer in his house. You coukd hardly see the house from the road becuse of the trees, bushes and greenery surrounding it. The house was all wood on short stilts and the doors and windows were old fashioned wood slatted designs from the nineteenth. He had the overhead fans but he said he rarely needed them. Easy to believe. He called it living *with* nature. I copied a few ideas for the house the bank owns, though not the all wood. I went with a thick concrete slab floor (2″ more than standard, for thermal mass) and slatted thermal-reflective glass windows. No A/C overhead fans needed cause it’s pretty breezy. One of the neighbors had a windmill going 24×7. (The big hurricane took it, though. I’m thinking maybe a vertical windmill…)

        No need to go retro to be comfy and save money on electricity.

      • Thermal management is really old.
        5000 years old. In the form of wind catcher cooling systems. Traditionally passive, modern implementations add a bit of active controls for even better results.


        You don’t even need to get too fancy; maybe just change windows to reduce insolation and allow out outside air to flow through. Modern architects have been using these techniques in the southwest since the 60’s and globally since…well, forever.

        • Tucson Transit built one of those at a bus stop (passive only) – must have been at least 40 years ago; my eldest child wasn’t born yet.

          On a 100+ degree day, you could walk into it, and immediately regret having on shorts and a light shirt. Brrrr…

        • Ooh, a new channel to add to my “educational YouTube line up.” I’m going to need that video since some characters are in a fantasy-counterpart of Persia at the moment. I didn’t come across wind catchers in my research; I need to add that architectural detail.

          Reading Vitruvius and noticing how Roman North Africans and Ye Olde Middle Easterners cooled their houses made me wonder just how it came to be that modern day architects lost so much knowledge. So many practical and attractive options thrown out with the bathwater.

          The slatted windows you speak of remind me of the jalousies my grandmother and uncles had on their houses in the Bahamas. I never realized it was more than just a style.

          This summer I barely used my A/C simply because I took a page from the ancients and deployed a few fans strategically based on where the wind was blowing. But I would love the idea of getting this effect without electricity. If the greenies get their way, it would really come in handy …

          • In the southwest the locals have been building with adobe long before the europeans showed up. Properly designed adobe does most of the work by itself. The same can be said about concrete but not wood and for centuries wood has been the building material in much of the world.


            As for it being lost knowledge… not exactly. It just wasn’t popular. Or useful during the little ice age. (Most of Europe is the same latitudes as Canada.) In europe the problem was more about staying warm.

            Remember ARCOSANTI?
            (It is referenced in Niven&Pournelle’s OATH OF FEALTY.)

            It uses a lot of the same principles although their goals are somewhat different. Ever since tbe 60’s the ecologically minded have been adapting the old techs to modern materials and uses.
            ARCOSANTI brought the concept of Arcology in the form of zero-ecological impact comunities. Since the 60’s the term has evolved to mean a self-contained ecology.

            As for the channel it is pretty eclectic and fun. I first ran into it through a piece of Denisovans. Worth tracking.

  3. Without defending the particular temperatures selected (and I’m entitled to; I live around here now, I grew up around here too many years ago), there are some other library-centric issues that at least make this worthy of thought.

    For one, there’s the problem with what higher temperatures does with older (pre-2004 or so) books. Spine-glue-outgassing is just obvious. And conversely, the higher ambient temperatures aren’t good for the new digital equipment, either, especially when being run almost continuously throughout the day by untrained users.

    A secondary problem is that the branches are too small and largely unfit for purpose. Unfortunately, the main library is not now (and hasn’t been since the 1970s) directly accessible to 80% of the city’s population via less than one hour of public transit with one or fewer transfers. (Even many of the branches are 45 minutes of transit away within their catchment areas… and have virtually no parking. We don’t have great public transit out here.) The branches are primarily useful as order-and-pickup-a-few-days-later points — and their “reference collections,” to use the technical term, suck.

    There’s something darker in here, too. Seattle has a homeless problem, frequently concentrated right around many of the older public library buildings (the Green Lake branch, about 1km from here, is notorious — and its immediate surroundings are demographically dominated by, well, multigenerational trustfundy jerks; if you yell “Hey, Karen,” half the women will look). Some of the… less compassionate… landowners† have been known to call the cops when things really do get hot, after doing their darndest to ensure that there are no public restrooms and no public access to water in the area. But that’s not considered a fit subject for conversation in the Times, so that paper finds other ways to talk around the problems of the Underclass. (This is entirely consistent with the history of the paper — let’s not get into its record in the 1960s and 1970s on the specifics of civil rights issues.)

    In short, there’s a lot more going on here than it looks like to those who don’t know the area.

    † This is a city with an unexpectedly high proportion of historical land-deed problems. The entire neighborhood I live in, for example, was originally deeded with a “no-Chinese” underlying covenant — this in a metropolitan area that has more Chinese-ancestry residents than does San Francisco.

    • Maybe tbe paper should be focusing on those more urgent issues?

      The old ABC News video I saw three years ago said pretty much tbe same thing:


      Nothing seems to have changed much other than Amazon and otbers looking to avoid head taxes by moving employees out of tbe city itself. (And some political theater.) That report really shocked me since I generally thought of “cascadians” as noticeably more rational than Berkeley-ites.

      Have tbey checked the water supply recently? 😉

    • Besides temperature, humidity is hell on bindings, too. Not so much for equipment, though – extreme dryness can be deadly there.

      I would have no problem with them calling for climate control in the libraries – and doing something else to keep the non-users of the library out of the worst heat and/or cold – but this OP doesn’t address either of those issues, really. It’s just another propaganda piece by the Climate Cult.

      • No climate-change denialism here, please.

        Especially not given the past week of wildfire smoke problems here — something that literally did not happen decades ago when I was growing up. Back then, until one got a couple of hundred miles away, the forests and groundcover were too wet for even major-human-event fires to spread to the point that the smoke was more than a visible blot a couple thousand meters up.

        Especially not given the significantly increased temperatures around here. The all-time-high temperature in the 1970s was 36C, and the annual highest temperature was 30-32C. The highest temperature recorded in the last five years was 42C, and the lowest annual high was 36C — equal to the all-time high from when I was growing up. And it’s worse in the rest of the state, which isn’t built around great big hydrodynamic heat sinks (Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish). (And if the use of metric-system temperatures doesn’t give a hint that I’m a scientist trained in observing and analyzing data before considering ideological fitness and personal interests, I’ll say so explicitly.)

          • Most of the *serious* challenges I’ve seen are about the methodology used for “predictions” that sniff of politics more than science because of data cherry picking.

            Back on the day job we did/do a lot of cutting edge system simulation and anybody with that level of experience is bound to be skeptical of the absolute certainty of tbe doom and gloom peddlers. Pick the right data and the same code can tell you twenty different things and the leaks floati g around don’t inspire the warm and fuzzies.

            My own expectation is tbe whole debate will be meaningless over the next two decades as the nuke revival, fusion, and otber geopolitical messes on tbe way reduce carbon emissions to insignificance and the anti-tech crowd moves on to other doom scenarios to peddle. I still remember whenthe Club of Rome simulations expected we would be parched and starving in tbe dark by now or headed back to the caves because of the collapse of the ozone layer.

            Me, I worry about the next Carrington event. No simulation needed to know one is coming…someday…


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