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Seattle Public Library Offers Free Telephone Service

by on October 2, 2018

Seattle’s Downtown Library is offering a new service for the phone-less, charger-less, or coin-less – free public telephones.

These new, free telephones replace the pay phones previously offered by the library. “As mobile phones have become more prevalent, and pay phones have become more scarce, it had become more difficult to keep the pay phones operational,” said Karen Spiel, Downtown Regional Manager for the Seattle Public Library. “We knew we wanted to continue to provide phones, so using the existing infrastructure to provide free phones was the most simple solution.”1

SPL worked with several department, including IT, Facilities, and City Telephone Services, to install the phones. The library purchased the phones, and the dedicated telephone lines are part of the City’s phone network.2 The phones themselves cost $400 each 3, and the lines cost about $60 per month.4

The phones are set up to make only outgoing local or toll-free calls, with an honor system time limit of ten minutes per call.5 Because of their location within the library, the phones are only available during open hours.6

Spiel considers these telephones a vital service for library patrons. “People need to call about job interviews, call their child’s school, and call for basic services including shelter,” Spiel said. “Those of us who have gotten accustomed to carrying a cell phone everywhere probably don’t notice how often we rely on them.” 7

The phones are getting plenty of use. “Recently during one hour we referred a tourist who didn’t have their phone with them, a patron whose cell phone died and they didn’t have their charging cord, and a patron who needed to call a shelter,” Spiel said.

References and Resources

[i] Karen Spiel, Downtown Regional Manager for the Seattle Public Library, e-mail interview with the author, September 10, 2018.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] “Downtown Seattle Public Library installs free phones.” Real Change. August 29, 2018. https://www.realchangenews.org/2018/08/29/downtown-seattle-public-library-installs-free-phones

[iv] Karen Spiel, Downtown Regional Manager for the Seattle Public Library, e-mail interview with the author, September 13, 2018.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.



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