News & Stories

Youth librarians engage kids with summer book giveaways

Lake City Collective, a grassroots minority-led neighborhood advocacy group, received a donation of 35 books from The Seattle Public Library earlier this month as part of the Summer of Learning book giveaway. (Photo credit: Lake City Collective)

Every summer, branch librarians would give away free donor-supported books at outreach events with community partners and at summer Library events to ensure Seattle kids have access to books in their home.

But in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, kids and families are not convening in person. The book giveaway was almost lost.

This is a critical part of the annual Summer of Learning program because it helps prevent the “summer slide” of education. Studies show that the bigger that kids’ home libraries are, the better they perform in school, with educational benefits lasting into adulthood – and the impact is greater for kids in lower-income homes.

This year, the Summer of Learning book giveaway looks different. Children’s and teen librarians from branches across The Seattle Public Library system are working to secure books for prioritized neighbors who have faced barriers to accessing books because of the sudden shutdown of schools and libraries.

“We were hearing from our community partners that families wanted and needed books for their children and teens,” says Lauren Mayer, a children’s services librarian at Central Library who is part of this effort. “They really wanted books and they really want non-digital learning supports.”

In past years, the Library committed to giving at least 50 percent of its Summer of Learning books to prioritized kids. This year, the goal is 100 percent.

“This year our book giveaway is more focused,” says Wendy Israel, teen services librarian at the Beacon Hill Branch. “I like this because I know it’s going to support our local community organizations.”

Israel is working with organizations like WA-Bloc, Young Women Empowered, Mount Baker Village, and El Centro de la Raza to distribute books for kids and teens in virtual leadership programs, limited-capacity summer camps, low-income housing, and more.

“It’s really been incredible,” Israel says. “It just feels like a huge blessing to have the funding to do this.”

Richard Counsil, teen services librarian at the Columbia Branch, is working to find organizations with the capacity to distribute books. Some groups have relocated, his contacts have lost employment, or staff capacity to handle the books is reduced.

But he is sending 50 books to YouthCare, an organization that assists and youth and young adults experiencing housing instability. YouthCare plans to use many of the books to start a library at one of its housing programs for people ages 18-21 and another portion will go to its home for youth who identify as LGBTQ+.

Not only do Counsil and his colleagues strive to “lead with race” and​ to seek out youth furthest from academic and social justice, but they also select titles and authors from BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities so youth can find joy in seeing themselves while reading.

“The attempt and the effort librarians put into curating (book) lists that represent authentically who people are – you get really positive responses,” Counsil says.

Holly Williams, the in-kind specialist at YouthCare, says that the books help them engage youth when quarantine orders have limited their activities.

“This donation came at a really great time when youth had been spending a lot of time inside,” she says, adding that teens plan to start a book club at various housing communities.

And she was able to pass along the residents’ requests to the Library to obtain titles relevant to them.

“Having young people read about individuals, places and situations that are similar to theirs helps them to see that they are not alone in the struggles they face,” says one YouthCare employee who works at the 18-21 house. “When people read something that resonates with their own life experience, it is earth-moving. It is especially important when an underrepresented population gets to read that their experience is valid and important.”

Other examples of the 66 (and growing) organizations served by the Summer of Learning book giveaway include the Ballard Food Bank, the Yesler Terrace low-income housing community, Seattle Indian Health Board, Boys and Girls Clubs, and more.

Israel says she is glad to be able to serve Seattle kids, even while she can’t see them.

“These are the kids I would have seen just walk into the Library,” she says. “I’m very happy we can get these books to them.”

Mayer is thankful for the donors and Library staff who make this work possible.

“We’re just so grateful to the Foundation for their support,” she says. “It’s because of that support, and the hard work of our community partner organizations and Library staff that books are getting out to youth and families even in difficult times.”

The annual Summer of Learning and its book giveaways are possible because of donor support to The Seattle Public Library Foundation.

‘Older adults can do anything’: New SPL programs aim to bring connection, empowerment to older adults

Alie and her 10-year-old daughter, Veronica, have taken several of the Silver Kite arts classes offered through The Seattle Public Library as part of its new offerings for adults 50 and older. Though the programs are targeted at older adults, they’re also meant to be enjoyed among different generations. (Photo credit: Alie)

The Seattle Public Library (SPL) has rolled out a slate of programs designed to inform and engage older adults throughout the year, even as COVID-19 pushed events online.

One-fourth of King County residents are projected to be 60 and older by 2040, according to the Age Friendly Seattle Action Plan, making them an important audience to engage in the coming years.

In order to meet these needs, SPL partnered with Silver Kite Community Arts to offer frequent virtual arts classes for Library patrons. These participatory sessions include painting, dance, journaling, and poetry – with several classes intended for people experiencing dementia and their care partners.

One Friday morning in July, people tuned in on the Zoom video conferencing platform to learn to draw still life with a pencil, practicing different kinds of shading and ways to depict light patterns.

Alie was one of those participants. While the programs are designed for people 50 and older, they also invite intergenerational engagement. That’s the case with Alie – technically in the target demographic – and her 10-year-old daughter, Veronica.

“When COVID happened, I needed something for my daughter and I to do together,” the substitute teacher says.

They’ve taken acrylic and watercolor painting classes together, journaling, and puppet-making – “I’ve taken them all,” she says. The classes have brought the former art student and interior designer in Alie to life.

“It was so nice to know I had this secret ability and I could help my daughter with it.”

Lesley, a high school band teacher, enjoyed the drawing class because it taught her techniques she can practice in future projects. The COVID era has inspired her creatively and learning new artistic skills have proved therapeutic.

“I think the arts are the most important thing we can do in normal times, but in these times, it gives us a way we can cope with all these emotions,” Lesley says. “What a great service this is to us in any time, but especially when we’re stuck away from each other and can’t do these things in person.”

She’s since cleaned out her garage to use it as her art studio.

Upcoming SPL events also partner with community organizations to help understand important subjects such as Medicare coverage and end-of-life planning. Another program will inform participants about PEARLS, a program that started in Seattle and King County about in-home counseling services offered to lower-income elders experiencing depression. PEARLS counselors also work closely with veterans and veteran spouses.

Yet another program, in partnership with the Washington Poison Center, will be a COVID-specific three-part series educating people on the safety of cleaners and sanitizers, medication management, and considerations on using cannabis for older adults.

The programs have proved popular. A recent Medicare Made Clear informational workshop attracted 97 participants, says Nancy Slote, program manager for older adults programming at The Seattle Public Library.

She hopes that the Library’s offerings will help older adults feel socially connected and well-informed on finances and health.

“As ageist attitudes change, there’s more of a sense of older adults can do anything,” Slote says. “It’s a change in how older adults approach life and create new opportunities.”

To check out the upcoming events, visit and sign up for classes yourself!

The older adult program at SPL is supported by a pilot grant from The Seattle Public Library Foundation.

South Park Branch blossoms with revamped space

The new study room mural at the South Park Branch was painted by local teens, led by teaching artist Angelinaa Villalobos. (Photo courtesy The Seattle Public Library)

The South Park Branch underwent a makeover last year.

Built in 2006, it was already starting to show its age, given the proliferation of smart phones and laptops since that time. There were only four power outlets for people to connect their devices, limiting patrons’ time to work and play before their batteries ran dry.

Furniture was also often in the way or hard to move for the cultural events the South Park Branch is known for, like Día de los Niños (Children’s Day) and Spanish Story Time.

But with donor support, that all changed. A Reimagined Spaces grant to the South Park Branch allowed the Library to replace much of the furniture, add colorful new murals, and install new outlets all over the building.

“It’s been working out really, really well,” says Lupine Miller, assistant branch manager at South Park. “It has made our work a lot easier in many ways.”

The welcome desk pops with bright colors.

Furniture and shelves are now movable to make way for public programs. The teen space is no longer invaded by people needing to use its electrical outlet. A tree motif on the walls makes the space feel bigger and brighter. The computer area includes enough outlets for everyone.

Now, the Library can better accommodate crowds at its events, making room for everyone to participate and find a comfortable seat.

“It’s definitely much more in tune with the needs of the community right now,” says Beatriz Pascual-Wallace, the children’s librarian known as “Miss Bea.” “The re-imagining has been a positive thing.”

Perhaps most spectacular is the collaboratively painted mural in the study room, created by teen patrons led by local artist Angelina Villalobos. It’s a tree inspired by the Duwamish River, which runs through the South Park neighborhood.

That project has inspired story walks in which elementary students took walking field trips discussing art and community, ending at the South Park Branch with a look at the mural.

“They really worked together to create this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful work of art,” Miller says of the collaborative effort. “It adds so much to the Library.”

This story appeared in our 2019 Report to Donors. Read the full report here, complete with stories of donor impact and financial information.

Global Reading Challenge brings a global perspective

Ruman, back row center, was one member of The Bookmasters, one of this year’s winning teams of the 2020 Global Reading Challenge.

In the past year, 11-year-old Ruman experienced the magic of reading about girls much like herself.

There’s Mia, the lead character of “Front Desk,” who helps her Chinese immigrant parents at the reception desk of the hotel they manage – much like Ruman, whose parents immigrated from East Africa and who sometimes helps her family’s South Seattle business.

There’s also Kiki of “Kiki and Jacques,” who wears a hijab like Ruman does, and comes from Somalia, like Ruman’s mom. It was the first time she saw a girl wearing a hijab on the cover of a book.

These books were selections from the 2019-20 Global Reading Challenge, an annual program for fourth- and fifth-graders that calls for teams of competitors to read 10 books and engage in a city wide trivia tournament. Ruman, a fifth-grader at Graham Hill Elementary, joined the contest with her team of seven called “The Bookmasters.”

JK Burwell, Ruman’s school librarian at Graham Hill, serves on the Library’s committee that selects the books each year. And that magic Ruman enjoyed is very much intentional, she says.

The selection of books each year is intended to represent a variety of reading levels, characters, and authors, in an effort to make them accessible to as many children as possible and expose them to an array of perspectives.

And then there’s the teambuilding involved as students work together to study the books and quiz each other on their content.

“It isn’t about strong reading,” Burwell says. “It’s how you work as a team, trusting your teammates, defending your answer.”

Donors supported the purchase of 8,000 Global Reading Challenge books distributed to every public elementary school in Seattle, which not only gives Challenge participants access to books, but builds the collections of school libraries, many of which have limited resources for new books.

The Bookmasters won both the Graham Hill contest and a city semifinal in the Global Reading Challenge’s 25th year. The COVID-19 pandemic put an early stop to the tournament, but The Bookmasters were crowned co-champions with seven other teams who advanced far into the contest.

And it’s turned a girl who didn’t much like reading into a bookworm who hopes to become a senator when she grows up.

“Reading is a part of life,” Ruman says. “You need to learn how to read to learn how to do important things in your life.”

This story appeared in our 2019 Report to Donors. Read the full report here, complete with stories of donor impact and financial information.

Far apart, close in heart with Read to Me

Seattle Public Library children’s librarians help King County jail inmates connect with their children while incarcerated by giving them the tools to video record themselves reading a book with a program called Read to Me.

The Seattle Public Library continues to expand the idea of what it means to be a patron.

With Read To Me, librarians brought another part of Seattle’s population into the fold – the inmates of the King County Correctional Facility, just blocks away from Central Library.

To many kids in the city, these inmates are Mom or Dad.

“We know the importance of that bond between parents and children,” says Deborah Sandler, a children’s librarian at Central Library and co-lead on the program.

With Read To Me, librarians connect parent and child by helping parents film themselves reading a children’s book of their choice and sending that video to their kids, along with a copy of the book to follow along.

Lauren Mayer, children’s librarian

It’s an effort to help strengthen the family bond and mitigate the trauma of the children missing a caregiver, librarians say.

This ongoing program began last year, after library staff heard feedback  about the need for services among inmates in a community listening group.

After jail staff help identify participants, parents engage in three sessions with children’s librarians, covering everything from book selection to practice reading aloud to filming.

Parents take the lead, often helping each other rehearse and even drawing pictures and notes in the books that will go to their kids.

Deborah Sandler, children’s librarian

“We really want to build it around their personal experience,” says Lauren Mayer, a children’s  librarian at Central and co-lead of the program.

The parents film one story for each child age 7 or younger. They also choose  a chapter book to send to their older kids. What results through the course of the process is a bonding experience among the inmates and a positive outlet for them to interact with their children.

One caregiver reported that two kids “loved watching mommy on the TV and asked to watch it over and over again.”

Mayer and Sandler say it’s critical to treat inmates as members of the community and include them in the Library’s efforts to extend equitable services to everyone in Seattle.

“They want to do what’s best for their kids despite all the barriers that they or their kids are facing right now,” Mayer says.

Read To Me is made possible by donors’ support for our Community Engagement programs.

This story appeared in our 2019 Report to Donors. Read the full report here, complete with stories of donor impact and financial information.

Summer of Learning launches with a new approach

In this season of social distancing, The Seattle Public Library’s Summer of Learning program underwent a radical shift in order to keep kids engaged this year.

Anecdotally, kids have struggled to remain engaged in remote schooling this spring because the curriculum did not evolve with the format of virtual learning and students were removed from the classroom and their peers – two things that really helped them focus, says Josie Watanabe, managing librarian for the Library’s Youth and Family Services.

The Library wants to continue its mission to combat summer learning loss – so they enacted a “complete shift” in delivering programs to Seattle’s kids, Watanabe added.

“We want to explore what active virtual learning looks like,” she says. “We didn’t want it to be the same virtual learning that kids do in school.”

The Summer of Learning – a century-old Seattle pastime supported by donors to the Foundation – is aimed at keeping kids learning in fun and interactive ways in an effort to prepare them for the next school year.

The Library retained the teaching artists it hired for Summer of Learning, but these artists retooled their lessons to become more engaging via video. A series of activities will be posted to the Library’s YouTube page for kids.

These will include lessons on how to perform magic tricks, demonstrations on dance moves, and a scientist explaining what happens when people wash their hands.

Some activities will also fit with this year’s theme, “Every Day is Earth Day,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

They’ll teach families how to observe nature on their own with lessons on birdwatching with the local Audubon Society, and pointers on taking a family nature walk in one’s own neighborhood.

The High Point Branch in West Seattle has employed six paid teen interns to be trained on how to teach nature walks and the Library will offer science kits to families so they can study bugs, as an adaptation of last year’s Bug Safari program.

The idea is to invite kids to be active learners instead of just watch a lecture or entertaining video, Watanabe says.

But the Library also aims to reach kids regardless of their access to the internet. Staff are working with Seattle Public Schools to include printed reading logs and teen challenge cards at school meal distribution sites. They are also providing books through culturally responsive community agencies who are also providing meals.

Learn more about the programs and join in on the fun at

‘I want to help any way I can’: Stim Bullitt scholarship winner embarks on life of service

Success was not handed to 17-year-old Deborah Tesfay and her family.

After immigrating to the Seattle from Eritrea when she was 9 years old, Deborah stayed in a homeless shelter with her mother and two siblings, separated from her father because men weren’t allowed.

“We had to start from the bottom,” Deborah says. “Starting from the bottom was a very hard time for my family.”

But they persevered. They made a life for themselves in Seattle.

Inspired by a public figure who also overcame adversity to achieve success, Deborah won $5,000 scholarship from The Seattle Public Library Foundation’s Stim Bullitt Civic Courage essay contest with her essay on Washington’s Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib. Having graduated this month from Nathan Hale High School, she plans to attend the University of Washington in the fall.

The Stim Bullitt scholarship challenges local high school and college students to write about a Washington state resident who displayed courage and made a difference in fighting for issues they cared about. The Foundation splits $10,000 between a winning essayist and two runners-up.

Her winning subject, Habib, is a blind Iranian-American Ivy League alumnus who was a rising star on the state’s political stage, but announced this year that he plans to leave office at the end of his term to join the Society of Jesuits.

In her essay, Deborah focused not on his plans, but his lifelong history of tenaciously fighting for others.

“He really caught my eye because my passion is to help people – especially minorities in my community who need the support they need to succeed,” Deborah says. “He inspired me to push for that passion and keep striving to get to that place.”

As Deborah points out, Habib survived cancer three times – he lost his eyesight at age 8 due to cancer – and went to school at Columbia University, Oxford, and Yale University. As a state lawmaker and lieutenant governor, he advocated for public school funding, civil rights, and paid sick leave for workers.

“He never gave up and he kept on striving,” Deborah says.

Influenced by her own beginnings in America and the strength displayed by Habib, Deborah hopes to help youth in her community.

She plans to earn a degree in social work and explore that field for a few years before going to law school to become a juvenile attorney. She hopes to help reduce incarceration of Black teenagers.

“I want to help any way I can through my career,” she says.

Deborah’s neighborhood Seattle Public Library location is the Lake City Branch, where she grew close with Librarian Nancy Garrett and completed her homework after school.

“The Library was just like a home for me,” Deborah says. “I think it gave me a lot of opportunity.”

Congratulations, Deborah!

To learn more about Deborah and Cyrus Habib, read her winning essay here. Also check out the runner-up essays by Evelyn Chen and Della Floyd. Their essays will be catalogued in The Seattle Public Library’s Special Collections.

Learn more here about the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship. The 2021 contest will open in January.

Past Stim Bullitt scholarship recipient now a Fulbright scholar, English teacher

Photo by Shadrak Musafiri

For the past seven years, the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship has helped young Seattle-area students pay for college. Early winners of the scholarship are now graduating and entering the professional world, continuing their young lives of achievement.

The Seattle Public Library Foundation checked in with a 2015 scholarship recipient this month, Noah Foster-Koth. A graduate of Roosevelt High School, Noah earned runner-up recognition and tuition support for his essay on Nettie Asberry, who founded the first NAACP chapter west of the Rocky Mountains in 1913 in Tacoma.

Today, Noah is sheltering in place with his family in Seattle, his Fulbright Scholarship to study in Colombia delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic – “taking each day as it comes,” he says.

But he’s already embarked on a successful academic life, turning from student to teacher since graduating from Lewis and Clark College in 2019.

Noah graduated summa cum laude with honors, with degrees in English and Hispanic Studies and then moved to Ecuador. There, he taught English to high school students and adults, specializing in writing and essay composition for students seeking to study in the United States.

He also performed translation work for a wildlife refuge.

Taking inspiration in part from Nettie Asberry, Noah continues to look for ways to help others, with a particular interest in supporting immigrants arriving in the United States. The 2017 protests against immigrant detention in Sea-Tac prompted him to perform volunteer translation work for El Centro de la Raza’s legal clinic.

He’s also kept in touch with Tina Bullitt, Stim Bullitt’s widow who established the scholarship to honor her late husband’s memory.

“She’s very sweet and very complimentary of the things I’ve been up to,” Noah says.

They both share a passion for conservation and she’s even helped connect him to a screenwriter she knows to offer advice on Noah’s screenwriting passion.

“It’s always so nice when previous generations say, ‘We really believe in the future,’” he adds. “She’s providing a lot of support to me and other Bullitt (scholarship) recipients. She’s always expressed confidence in me and is always willing to hear what I’m up to.”

Noah won’t embark on his Fulbright studies until at least January. But when the time comes, he will teach English and work on a separate side project to be determined – perhaps teaching screenwriting, he says, but those plans have yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, he will start work next month as a COVID-19 contact tracer for King County.

He credits his 2015 scholarship in Stim Bullitt’s memory as foundational to his subsequent success in writing.

“Stim Bullitt was the first scholarship I ever won,” Noah says. “It certainly bolstered my self-confidence as a writer and contributed to having English as one of my majors.”

Read Noah’s essay here, now catalogued in The Seattle Public Library’s Special Collections.

Learn more about the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship.

The Foundation congratulates the 2020 winners of the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship

The Seattle Public Library Foundation is thrilled to announce the three winners of the 2020 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship.

Deborah Tesfay, Evelyn Chen, and Della Floyd have each earned tuition support from this scholarship fund with their essays about local civic leaders.

Now supporting students for 7 years, the scholarship honors the legacy of the late Library supporter, community leader, and activist Stimson Bullitt, who believed that courageous civic leadership could transform lives for generations. The contest challenges local high school and college students to write an essay about an individual or group from Washington state who demonstrated civic courage on an important community issue at great personal, political, or professional risk.

Each year, $10,000 is divided among three outstanding students and their essays are permanently cataloged in The Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Room.

We extend special thanks to our local authors who judged the finalists: Kristen Millares Young, Jon Krakauer, and Jonathan Raban

This year’s three winning essays illustrated the accomplishments of Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, Duwamish Tribal Chairwoman Cecile Hansen, and Asian American advocate Phil Hayasaka.

Congratulations to our winners!

Deborah Tesfay
Nathan Hale High School
Entering University of Washington
$5,000 scholarship
“Cyrus Habib”





Evelyn Chen
Newport High School
Entering Harvard University
$2,500 scholarship
“Unity Transcends Barriers: Phil Hayasaka and the Unification of Asian Americans”





Della Floyd
Chief Sealth High School
Entering University of Washington
$2,500 scholarship
“Fighting for the Original Seattleites”

SPL named Library of the Year 2020

We are proud to announce that The Seattle Public Library (SPL) was named the Library Journal/Gale 2020 Library of the Year! This is the most prestigious award in the library industry and SPL competed with several excellent library systems across North American to earn this honor.

What pushed SPL to the forefront, according to Library Journal, is its commitment to equity and evolving with the community’s ever-changing needs.

“SPL has turned its attention outward, actively listening to community needs and transforming its work to make equity a top priority,” Library Journal says.

This work includes the Library’s internal team working to improve the Library’s inclusivity, its efforts to center the needs of local social justice groups in Library services, and its reforms to prioritize underserved communities in each of its programs, from the Bookmobile to Summer of Learning.

The Foundation has followed the Library’s lead in helping to create a more equitable community, emphasize racial and social justice in the programs we support. Together, we have worked to implement a cultural change in our institutions to better reflect our community and we proudly support SPL’s forward-thinking approach.

We owe gratitude to our donor family who has joined our effort to make The Seattle Public Library the best it can be for each of our neighbors. It is our collective values that have propelled the Library to become the world-class institution it is, providing information and opportunity to all who seek it. We take this recognition not as validation for a job well done, but as a push to keep improving.

Thank you to each of our supporters. You help make the Library a force for knowledge and empowerment, and for that we can all be proud.

Read the article