Seattle Public Library

Photo by: Bobak Ha’Eri, CC

Seattle Public Library, commonly referred to as SPL, is a public library that lies in Seattle, Washington. The library was established by city authority in 1890. There are 26 branches in system; most of these branches are named after neighborhoods where they are located.


The SPL system is comprised of the Central Library and 26 other branches together with the mobile library system. Some of the branches include: Beacon Hill, Ballard, Broadview, Capitol Hill, Delridge, Columbia, Green Lake, High point, Greenwood, Lake city, Chinatown, Magnolia, Magnolia, Northgate, Queen Anne, South Park, Rainer Beach, Wallingford, Montlake, Fremont, North East located in View Ridge and West Seattle.


Since 2011, the central location of this library holds over 930,000 books. The collection of books includes an oral history collection, federal document depository, state document depository, an aviation history collection, some historical documents of Seattle and genealogy records. Between all 26 branches there are about 1 million cataloged physical media including CDs, books, DVDs. All locations have un-cataloged collections of different books that can be borrowed without a library card.


The first attempt to build a library happened in a meeting that took place on July 30th, 1868. The meeting was between 50 residents. However, it took decades for something to happen. Ladies Library Association started to focus more on making a public library in 1888. They decided to raise some funds and were promised land to use for the project. However, their efforts were discontinued after the Seattle Fire of 1889. In 1890, the city charter officially established a public library as one of the branches of city government. The library was founded by using a 10% share of the city fines, licenses and penalties.

The very first library was opened on April 8th,1891. The library was opened as one reading room on 3rd floor of the Occidental Block, later known as the Seattle Hotel. During the first decade, the library was shifted from one place to another; in 1894, it moved across 2nd Avenue to Collins Block and then later to Rialto. In 1898, this library moved to the former Yesler mansion. On January 1st, 1901, Yesler mansion burned down – destroying most of the library collection. Some library records were salvaged including 2,000 volumes of the kid’s collection.

The new Carnegie library was built close to the former university campus; this library occupied the whole block between 4th avenue and 5th avenue and between Spring street and Madison street. The land was bought at a price of $100,000. In 1903, a design of the building was selected and ground was broken in 1905. The library was then dedicated on December 19th, 1906.

During 1915, the library began collecting different books in English and other languages. By 1916, over 67,000 people had borrowed books from this library. As of 2006, the Seattle Public Library had 699 staff members and circulated 3,151,840 books plus an additional 1,613,979 for children’s books, 570,316 talking book and Braille materials plus over 3,895,444 CDs, videotapes and DVDs. The system provides 1,134 public computers.

In 2012, Seattle voters decided to pass a seven- year levy that would restore services. This levy made it possible for all branches to open on Sundays. This also added to maintenance and the repair money and provided new money to buy physical materials, computer equipment and other electronics.


Most of the facilities in Seattle Public Library are great architectural works. These structures reflect aesthetics of several different periods. The SPL opened in 2004 was designed by Joshua Prince and Rem Koolhaas. In 2007, this building was voted number 108 on the American Institute of Architects list of America’s 150 favorite structures in United States. This building was awarded a 2005 national AIA Honor- Award for Architecture. Six of the current libraries are on National Register of the Historic Places. Several other buildings have also been designated as great landmarks by Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board. The New Ballard Branch was one of 1st buildings in Seattle to include green architecture. This library is also equipped with solar panels to decrease electricity demands.

Seattle Famous Landmarks

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