News & Stories

Did you consider your fines your gift to the Library?

You can continue supporting the Library with a gift to the Foundation.

Many Library fans have happily paid their late fines while simply considering it a donation to the Library. After all, you appreciate the robust collection, the free programs, and the helpful staff. That’s worth the small price you may have paid for your occasional fines and fees.

While the 2019 Library Levy replaces fine revenue, The Seattle Public Library Foundation still offers you the chance to make your Library stronger. Last year, the Foundation supported the purchase of more than 1 in 4 books; made possible 40 popular programs like Homework Help, Adult Education Tutoring, and Story Times; and supported facility upgrades to branches like Lake City and South Park. In total, the Foundation provided more than $5 million in financial and in-kind support to the Library.

If you want to continue showing the Library you care, please consider becoming a Page Turner and joining our monthly giving club. Donations can be made starting at $5 per month. Or make a one-time gift by donating here.

It’s a double bonus! You’ll never have a late fee again AND you’ll be doing your part to strengthen your community’s greatest treasure – a vibrant public library!

KidsTeam: Where the grown-ups learn from the kids

Alex, 9, designs a 3D model of a prosthetic dog leg during a problem-solving exercise at KidsTeam, a participatory design program offered at four SPL branches in partnership with the University of Washington.

One late afternoon in the The Seattle Public Library’s Greenwood Branch, graduate students from the University of Washington asked a group of kids what problems they encountered that day.

The kids discussed a few issues, like difficulty keeping their Harry Potter book open while trying to read it, or the pet dog who lost his leg after a car crash.

The next question: How can these problems be solved with 3D printing?

That question was the premise of the 9-week program this fall called KidsTeam, in which professors and graduate students at the University of Washington iSchool test digital- and design-focused curriculum on children ages 7 to 12 and use their feedback to refine their future Library programs – an approach known as “participatory design.” The iSchool uses that feedback to help improve and expand the program throughout the SPL system.

Kids are not only engaged by the interactive curriculum, but pleased to know that their opinion matters to the adults teaching them. They have buy-in on the whole effort.

“There’s such rare time that an adult wants to sit down and listen to a kid,” said Jason Yip, assistant professor and director of KidsTeam UW.

While largely supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, donors to The Seattle Public Library Foundation cover the equipment used in the program, such as the laptops children use, and the staff to support the effort, led by Juan Rubio, who administers KidsTeam in four Library branches: Columbia, Greenwood, Rainier Beach, and Broadview.

In the past, KidsTeam hosted participatory design classes exploring sumo-wrestling robots, electronic circuitry, and storytelling through video games. In the spring, the KidsTeam will collaborate with kids at the Broadview Branch on “e-textiles,” or how to create wearable items that light up.

But back to the 3D printing.

By the time kids were asked to solve everyday problems with 3D printing technology, they already knew how to use TinkerCAD, a computer program that allows them to design objects that can then be created in a 3D printer. They also used other approaches to design their solutions that day, such as markers, construction paper, pipe cleaners, and Play-Doh.

Talia, 10, used Play-Doh to construct a solution to the real problem in her life: it was her dog, Henry, who lost his leg. So she molded a prosthetic leg and harness to help him. Alex, 9, took on her problem and got to work on TinkerCAD to create a prosthetic leg that could be 3D-printed.

“We’ve learned a lot about how kids react to 3D printing,” Yip said of the course. With Yip’s help, the children explored many related questions throughout the quarter: How do we make the 3D printer more inviting? Can shapes help me make sense of 3D design? How do we transform from 2D to 3D? How do we talk about the objects we made? Each of those sessions was thoroughly documented by Yip and his graduate students to make improvements for future Library programs.

Not only is the kids’ beneficial to the Library, but it will inform how KidsTeam expands across the country. The UW team will take what it learned from the Library and implement their lessons at new iterations of the program at library locations in Spokane, rural areas of Eastern Washington, and even San Diego.

At The Seattle Public Library, the program will eventually be used by teen and children’s librarians and administered by teen volunteers who will work with the children. That model is already underway at the Columbia Branch.

Erin Moehring, a children’s librarian at the Greenwood Branch who assisted with KidsTeam sessions, plans to host the program at her branch.

“I’ve just been so excited to see what we can learn from the kids and engage with all the technology,” she says.

KidsTeam hosted a capstone party for the kids and their caregivers earlier this month during the ninth and final week of the 3D printing program. Yip reviewed what they learned in a slideshow while kids enjoyed chips, candy, and sparkling water.

Michelle Martin, mother of 9-year-old participant Alexis, said this was her daughter’s second time participating in KidsTeam.

“She never wanted to leave at the end,” she said.

Of the participatory design model, she added: “(The kids) enjoy being asked their opinions. It’s neat that they’re such an important part of this research.”

Ilya Goldberg, dad to the intrepid prosthetic leg designer Alex, said, “It was good because we like to get him to do new things. He definitely seems to enjoy the variety.”

Sisi, 11, treasured the heart she designed and had 3D printed, with her name etched onto it.

“I like working with the kids and I like that we got to learn about 3D printing,” she said.

Sisi also understood how 3D printing technology fits into modern society.

“Now it seems like we have a new solution, like if someone has a bone that couldn’t be replaced, you can use 3D printing,” she said. “It’s a new way to solve a problem.”

Books By Mail brings joy to patrons’ doorsteps

Roberta Wells receives Books By Mail.

A few years ago, Ballard resident Roberta Wells injured herself twice, prompting extended nursing home stays and affecting her mobility.

“My whole life was altered,” she says. Once a fixture at the Ballard Branch of the Library, Roberta turned to another service to keep her Library books coming: Books By Mail.

The Seattle Public Library – as part of its Foundation-supported Mobile Services that include the Bookmobile and home book delivery – serves about 75 people through Books By Mail, which allows patrons unable to leave their homes to check out up to 15 items per month with an easy system that’s free to users.

They can even check out Wi-Fi Hotspots to gain internet access. Roberta maxes out her monthlyallotment with books, CDs, and movies on DVD, she says: “I push them to their limits.”

She enjoys checking out historical romances, Christian books, and Ken Burns documentaries.

“It works really well for me,” she says of the service.

Tyler Bosma, who processes the Books By Mail materials, says its popularity has soared since the Library increased patrons’ monthly limit of items a few years ago from five to 15. They circulate about 250 items – or 90 packages – every month.

Any Seattle resident who is unable to travel to the Library due to disability or illness for six months or longer can call or email the Library to discuss  whether this service would meet their needs.

Books By Mail serves 75 people and sends 90 packages to patrons each month.

“It’s so easy to add them to our service,” he adds.

Patrons receive a green pouch full of Library treasures and, when it’s time to return items, they simply flip the attached address label and let the Postal Service take the bag back to the Library.

Roberta says her neighbors at her senior apartment complex know when she’s received her green bag: “They usually see me smiling.” And several of her neighbors use Books By Mail, too.

Are you or a loved one unable to visit the Library and want to sign up for Books By Mail? Contact the Library at 206-386-4636 or email

Bosma says patrons can request specific items, or explain what they’re interested in and allow librarians to pick for them. One patron, for example, requests four large-print mysteries per month and allows librarians to select the titles.

Roberta, a former fifth-grade and Sunday school teacher, says she’s grateful to continue reading with the help of the Library; books are her “drugs of choice,” she says.

Books By Mail keeps her from venturing out into dangerous terrain during the winter and minimizes her risk for more injury.

“I really want to spread the news because I am delighted with this,” she says.

Learn more at

This story appeared in our Winter 2019 newsletter, The Next Chapter. Check out the full issue here.

The Next Chapter | Winter 2019 by Lynsi on Scribd

IRA 101: Giving through your retirement savings fund

Janeine and Bob Green, supporters of The Seattle Public Library Foundation.

Do you have an IRA account for your retirement savings? You can use it to give to your favorite charitable institutions, such as The Seattle Public Library Foundation.


An IRA is a tax-deferred investment account for which you only pay income tax upon withdrawal. It’s commonly used for people who don’t have retirement accounts through their employer or who wish to consolidate retirement accounts from previous jobs.

The IRA differs from a Roth IRA because the Roth IRA requires the holder to pay taxes on contributions, and then earnings are tax-free under certain conditions.

The year the IRA holder turns 70 ½ years old, the IRS then requires that person to withdraw a certain percentage each year, known as the required minimum distribution (RMD). That RMD is a percentage of the account that varies year to year based on life expectancy.

Roth IRAs don’t impose required minimum distributions.


An IRA also allows one to issue what’s known as a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). This, too, can only happen starting the calendar year the IRA holder turns 70 ½ years old.

The QCD can make up a portion or the entirety of one’s required minimum distribution. Just tell your financial institution where to give your money and how much – you never take possession of it or pay taxes on any part of it, and the contribution is 100 percent tax deductible.

An additional bonus: You don’t have to itemize your giving through an IRA because the portion you give to charity is not taxable income to you. And, unlike with a donor-advised fund, no fees are levied.

Just make sure the charities to which you give are 501(c)(3) – The Seattle Public Library Foundation fits that bill! And specify with your financial institution whether you want your name attached to your gift.


Janeine and Bob Green, donors to The Seattle Public Library Foundation, began giving qualified charitable distributions to the Foundation last year and recently made their second contribution through their IRA.

“It’s really easy,” Janeine Green said, adding that she only had to give the charity’s name and address to make her contribution happen. Everything she needed to know she found on Charity Navigator.

Janeine and Bob frequent the Green Lake Branch to find large-print books and regular books alike, and also make heavy use out of ebooks for the book club at their condominium.

“We love our Green Lake Library,” Janeine says.

She also appreciated The Seattle Public Library’s wide array of programs, and librarians’ ability to connect patrons with resources such as housing aid and employment help.

“It just has a lot to offer,” Janeine adds.

She loves the Foundation’s personal touch in corresponding with donors and she finds the IRA contribution especially convenient because she doesn’t have to itemize it or report the withdrawal as income.

“When you do your income tax, there’s no special form you fill out,” she says.

“To me, it’s the most effective use of the money.”

This article is informational only and not intended to provide financial advice. Contact your financial institution for advice and its own requirements on qualified charitable distributions.

This story appeared in our Winter 2019 newsletter, The Next Chapter. Check out the full issue here.

The Next Chapter | Winter 2019 by Lynsi on Scribd

We passed the Levy! Now what?

Children and caregivers enjoy Kaleidoscope Play and Learn, an early learning program that will expand to new locations after the passage of the Library Levy renewal.

The Library Levy renewal passed with 76 percent voter approval in August, with the promise of extended operating hours, seismic retrofits on Carnegie buildings, and the elimination of late fines, among several other benefits.

So what happens next?

The Seattle Public Library is working on the details involved to implement the new levy, but here are the basics that we know now – check for more information at in mid-December.


One of the first changes patrons will see will occur Jan. 5, 2020, when the Library’s 26 branch locations will open an hour earlier every Sunday at noon.

After that, the Library will roll out a different combination of new hours at each branch, depending on their needs. All branch locations will add an hour Monday through Thursday, and Friday hours will come to Delridge, Green Lake, NewHolly, and Wallingford. Those changes are likely to come later in 2020.

High Point, International District/Chinatown, and South Park will also open earlier and close later. The result will be 10,000 new branch hours per year across 27 locations.


Of The Seattle Public Library’s 27 locations, seven are masonry buildings built before current seismic standards that are not structurally reinforced to minimize damage in the event of an earthquake.

Before the levy renewal, no budget existed to outfit these branches with seismic protections – but the levy provided a vehicle for securing the money to do so.

The levy renewal package includes seismic work for three of the Library’s most vulnerable buildings: Green Lake, University, and Columbia. These Carnegie-era branches, each more than 100 years old, bear landmark status and the Library hopes to maintain them for generations to come.

The work will include largely invisible changes such as reinforcements to the ceiling and walls, but will also feature some aesthetic improvements. The Library aims to make the branches more accessible for people with disabilities.

Construction will begin first at Green Lake and is expected to begin in the spring of 2021. While the branch is closed, the Library hopes to provide an alternate location for library services in the neighborhood. The University Branch will be updated next, followed by Columbia.


Patrons can expect new borrowing rules early in 2020.

A few other adjustments will also be made to improve service and help ensure materials are available for everyone – after all, the Library is more interested in materials being returned than in collecting fines.

Library staff have conducted extensive research, consulting with patrons and other libraries that have nixed fines, and expect to continuously improve and refine the system.

The Library’s research shows that most materials are returned on time or early, and that most patrons care deeply about returning their materials so others can access them. Surveys indicate fines are not a primary motivation for patrons to return their materials. And the experience of other libraries that have eliminated fines has been overwhelmingly positive.

Based on this research, the Library doesn’t expect to see a difference in return rates. It does anticipate increased use and engagement as formerly disenfranchised patrons face lower barriers to using the Library.


Donors like you have already supported the staffing of an adult social worker and part-time case worker to help adults in need who come through the Library’s doors. The Foundation’s willingness to pilot this effort led to the city of Seattle funding these positions from its general budget. Due to the success of these positions, the levy renewal will now allow the Library to add a social worker and part-time case worker dedicated to youth.

Library officials hope to add those new positions next summer. These new staffers are expected to offer both drop-in hours and scheduled appointments, and visit several branches located in communities with the most need.

The Library will also roll out technological improvements starting next year, including upgraded WiFi and hardware. The levy renewal allows the Library to keep up with advancements and maintain service and connectivity for patrons.

Furthermore, the Library’s popular early learning program, Kaleidoscope Play and Learn, will expand to new locations. The program, which incorporates toys, music, and art to help young children’s learning development, currently is offered in five branches, but could add up to six more locations. We’ll update you as developments occur.

For more information, visit the Library’s website at

We thank our fantastic Library supporters who voted to approve the levy renewal, and especially to those who volunteered their time to aid the campaign. Because of you, the Library will continue to serve as the community cornerstone that thousands depend on.

This story appeared in our Winter 2019 newsletter, The Next Chapter. Check out the full issue here.

The Next Chapter | Winter 2019 by Lynsi on Scribd

Double your impact with year-end giving opportunities!

We know you value The Seattle Public Library and understand the difference it makes in communities across the city.

This fall, you can help keep the Library strong into 2020 and beyond.

Keep an eye on your mailbox and email for opportunities throughout the fall to double your impact with several matching offers. Right now, a $30,000 matching opportunity is in place thanks to a generous anonymous donor who cares about the Library’s future as much as you do.

Donate any time right here.

Your support puts books on Library shelves, brings 3D printing technology to kids, provides career readiness for adults and teens, and teaches recent immigrants English and how to apply for citizenship.

Thank you for your continued generosity, now and always.

Learning Buddies: the ‘magic potion’ that helps kids and teens grow together

Mariyame, a 16-year-old Franklin High School student, reads to Mahta, a 10-year-old student at St. Edward School, during a Learning Buddies session at the Columbia Branch.

Elementary students look up to older kids in awe. So what happens when the Library creates a program for teens and young students to learn together? We found out when we met high school student Christina and 9-year-old Madeline.

Christina was reading “Strega Nona and the Twins” to Madeline at the Columbia Branch. Strega Nona was ready to soothe the rowdy twins in the story with a “magic potion.”

“What do you think she made?” Christina asked.

“I think she’s going to make spaghetti,” Madeline said.

It was a good guess – but the “magic potion” was warm milk and honey.

The point wasn’t to get Madeline to correctly guess the outcome of the story – it’s that Christina engaged her in a story as they read it together, nurturing and early love of reading. And that’s the whole point of Learning Buddies, a Library program for high school students and elementary-age learners who work together to learn not just reading and math, but social and emotional connection.

Learning Buddies, supported in part by donors to the Foundation, is offered at six branches and engages high school students as volunteers to give one-on-one tutoring to children in kindergarten through fifth grade. It’s a dual benefit to all involved: while “Little Buddies” work on their reading and math, the teen Learning Buddies learn how to tutor kids and gain work and leadership experience.

Ngan, a 15-year-old Franklin High School student and a Learning Buddy, says the program fits neatly into her goals of becoming a teacher.

“This program is good because I can be with kids and have some experience for my future,” she said.

The downstairs classroom used for Learning Buddies at Columbia last week was abuzz with nine teens and 13 “Little Buddies.” Parents come and drop off their children, who are paired with a teen mentor for some reading, followed by snacks and math-oriented games.

Kids picked out books from a table packed with a variety of titles, with covers and content featuring diverse characters and perspectives. Later, Henok, another teen Learning Buddy, taught three Little Buddies about prime numbers with a board game. Meanwhile, Learning Buddy Lalla helped another Little Buddy with addition and subtraction on his fingers as they played a different game.

Richard Counsil, teen librarian and facilitator of the Columbia Branch’s Learning Buddies, tries to make sure one-on-one pairings are made at each session, but that night, some teens took on two or three kids.

Richard himself recruits Learning Buddies and Little Buddies from organizations in the Columbia City area, such as Horn of Africa Services, working to ensure the teens reflect the cultures and communities they serve and the Little Buddies see successful teen role models. Many of the kids speak languages other than English at home.

“(Richard) really exemplifies what it means to partner with the community,” said Ayan Adem, public service programs manager at The Seattle Public Library, and the manager of the systemwide Learning Buddies program.

He mentors and trains the teens over months and sometimes years, and builds relationships with the young kids’ families.

One parent who appreciates that effort is Netsanet, who brings her two children, 10-year-old Mahta, and 5-year-old Kalieb, to Learning Buddies every week.

“Richard is wonderful,” Netsanet said, adding that he checks on every child and knows them by name. “Our children get supported every time.”

She especially loves the interplay between the young children and teens and what they learn from each other.

Her children benefit from the teens, she said, “They learn a lot from them, they share their knowledge, they teach them to be a leader.”

Netsanet’s kids look forward to Learning Buddies every week. Then they come home, telling their mother what they read that day.

She especially appreciates the extra education they’re getting, as English is their third language at home, after Amharic and Tigrinya.

“I want them to be a reader and writer,” she said. “If they like reading, they can do other things well, also.”

Mahta, Netsanet’s daughter who attends St. Edward School, said she’s been attending Learning Buddies for three years.

“They help me with reading and hard words so I can learn more than I ever knew before,” she said.

After the Little Buddies leave, the teens clean up and sit down for a final half-hour session of reflection and training.

Teens volunteer for Learning Buddies during the school year and gain service learning hours. The Library offers the program at the Beacon Hill, Columbia, Douglass-Truth, Greenwood, NewHolly, and West Seattle branches.

During the summer, the Library pays teens a stipend to keep the program going at two locations: Columbia and Beacon Hill. The paid summer gig incentivizes participation from kids who might otherwise need to work elsewhere to help support themselves and their families during the summer months.

Last year, 113 teens served 174 little buddies across the city, attracting 1,522 visits from the younger students throughout the year.

Learn more at

‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ shows off Seattle’s weird side at Central Library

The Level 10 ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ in the Central Library shows off the odd Seattle ephemera in The Seattle Public Library’s Special Collections.

You may not be able to fully appreciate the depth of The Seattle Public Library’s Special Collections until you see it for yourself.

That’s partly the inspiration behind the Cabinet of Curiosities now presented to the public on Level 10 of the Central Library, next to the Seattle Room.

The Library possesses thousands of rare and unique items that “never get to see the light of day,” Special Collections Librarian Debra Cox says.

Now featured in the Cabinet of Curiosities, they include a 1920 wanted poster for a man accused of killing a King County sheriff’s deputy, cartoons featuring real-life Seattle folk hero, “The Umbrella Man,” World’s Fair memorabilia, and an 1894 Republican campaign songbook.

Your donations to The Seattle Public Library Foundation support the curation and preservation of Special Collections every year.

Cox, who assembled the display, just asked her colleagues for “some weird stuff you’ve seen.”

The concept stems from “Cabinets of Wonder,” or “Wunderkammer,” which date back to sixteenth-century Europe and contained a rare and often macabre mix of items – like faked dragon blood or antique surgical instruments – intended to provoke awe.

“Traditionally they were just a collection of stuff for people to look at,” Cox says, that “left it to your imagination or forced you to research it, yourself.”

In the Library’s case, the collection includes a book of dance steps, an old bell, a Seattle Pilots parking sign, and a small old book simply titled, “Asparagus” – “It’s a literary triumph, I’m sure,” Cox jokes.

“I especially like the things where you don’t know what the heck they do or what they are,” she added.

The Cabinet of Curiosities has already provoked laughter and wonder among patrons, she says.

It’s Central’s first such display to show off the ephemera of the Special Collections, and Cox hopes it will expand or take on themes in the future, like one dedicated to bizarre postcards.

“Everything has a story,” Cox says.

Event spotlight: Book launch celebrates Seattle’s open spaces

When Seattle’s population exploded at the turn of the 20th century, in the wake of the Klondike Gold Rush, subdivisions were platted, and streets were built at a furious clip.

As the resident count swelled from 43,000 in 1890 to 237,000 in 1910, city leaders realized that they needed to build a parks system in the city, or Seattle wouldn’t have one at all.

So they turned to The Olmsted Brothers, America’s most prestigious landscape architecture firm from Brookline, Mass. who also had a hand in developing other cities’ park systems, as well as national parks.

The resulting work, which occurred on and off from 1903 to 1936, would forever shape Seattle’s landscape.

Environmental historian and author Jennifer Ott detailed this profound transformation in her latest book, “Olmsted in Seattle: Creating a Park System for a Modern City,” which launches next month with an event at the Central Library.

Today, 82 Seattle parks are directly connected with the Olmsteds, whether they were completely designed by the brothers or benefited from the advice they gave to Seattle city planners.

“If you live in Seattle, you are touched by the Olmsted parks plan today,” Ott told The Seattle Public Library Foundation. “We have this incredibly diverse and effective park system because of the work that was done 100 years ago.”

These parks include Alki Beach, Cal Anderson, Volunteer, Discovery, Golden Gardens, and Gas Works parks, as well as several scenic parkways. The last Olmsted park developed was the Washington Park Arboretum.

Ott says the development of Seattle’s extensive and iconic parks system took immense galvanization of political will – something she didn’t fully appreciate until researching for this book.

And it’s something not to be taken for granted today.

Author Jennifer Ott

“The things we love about these parks need to be invested in,” Ott says, adding they need constant maintenance. “There are so many challenges because they can be loved to death.”

When pressed to name her favorite Olmsted park, Ott instead names a chain of parks linked by scenic parkways: South Seattle’s Jefferson Park, Cheasty Boulevard, Mount Baker Boulevard and Park, and Lake Washington Boulevard Park.

It “captures Olmsted’s vision,” she says, creating accessible scenic corridors that allow people to experience views of the city, Puget Sound, Olympic Mountains, the forested hillside, the bungalow neighborhood, and access to the lake – all in one string of landscapes that one can find “only in Seattle.”

“Olmsted made it possible so that someone like me could have views,” Ott says. “I wouldn’t get to experience those amazing things about Seattle had they not been reserved.”

The launch event for “Olmsted in Seattle” takes place 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Central Library. Proceeds from books sales benefit Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks. Place a hold on the book before it hits Library shelves here.

‘Virtual user’ expands reading horizons

Madison Park resident Carolyn Fairbanks enjoys The Seattle Public Library’s catalog with e-books and downloadable e-audiobooks. Photo credit: Brian Lawrence

Carolyn Fairbanks of Madison Park opened her Library account six years ago upon moving to Seattle with a stop at the Central Library.

“I’ve since never set foot in one,” she says.

Yet she’s an avid Library patron, evangelizing its collection among her fellow bridge players.

Fairbanks calls herself a “virtual user,” relying on the Libby app to read several e-books and e-audiobooks at a time on her Kindle reader.

Last year, the Foundation supported the purchase of 6,500 e-books and e-audiobooks to maintain a robust electronic collection.

Fairbanks loves enjoying books in different formats, from reading on her Kindle in the evening to listening to audiobooks while she goes to the gym, drives, and performs household chores.

“That gives me the opportunity to vary what I read,” she says. “Now I just read everything.”

She says the Libby app is so intuitive that she’s a self-taught user, managing her holds and loans from her smart phone.

Fairbanks enjoys thrillers and romantic comedies, yet has also enjoyed recent nonfiction releases by Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates. Other recent titles she’s read include “Magic Hour” by Kristin Hannah, “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman, and Barbara Kingsolver’s “Unsheltered.”

Her use of e-books and e-audiobooks has bumped up her annual reading rate to 40 to 50 books per year, she says, making it a favorite pastime.

“It’s the most wonderful preparation for life you can have. It’s entertainment, it’s education, it connects you to the world.”