At a Seattle Public Library briefing yesterday, library leaders, including library director Marcellus Turner, told city council members that library users, especially those who use branch libraries, were suffering because of ongoing cuts to library hours and the library's collections budget. The council is debating whether to put a property-tax levy to fund library operations on the August ballot.

Fifteen branches are now closed on Fridays and Sundays, and many libraries don't open until 1 pm on some weekdays. The loss of 190 service hours a week, library officials said, is the equivalent of completely shutting down four branch libraries.

"When we began to reduce our hours, you also saw a reduction in the public's ability to access their library," library CFO Marilynne Gardner said.

Meanwhile, the budgets for collections (new books and other materials), technology, and maintenance have not kept up with demand.

"When you reduce the funding over time, it's hard to catch up with those years that you were not really able to invest in library collections," Gardner said.

The council's library committee plans to decide by early April whether to put a library levy on the ballot.