News & Stories

Program partnership brings art, recovery, and connections to the library

Jayme photographs her painting “Flora + Fauna” in the Central Library gallery. Photo by Robert Wade

Art can serve as an outlet, an inspiration, and a source of strength – as demonstrated by the work in the Winter Visions exhibition from Path with Art, on display in the Level 8 gallery at the Central Library.

Path with Art is a Seattle-based nonprofit that offers free classes, materials, and showcases for people recovering from trauma. The program partners with The Seattle Public Library thanks in part to donor support for the Foundation.

“This partnership is important as it pairs the essential work and network of The Seattle Public Library with the expertise of Path with Art,” said Jenny Ku, public engagement program manager for the library. “The program supports unique opportunities for individuals impacted by trauma to access artistic expression, develop new skills, form new connections, build community, and find belonging.”

The Winter Visions exhibition features work from several recent Path with Art classes, from abstract drawing to ceramics to photography. Patricia participated in the Lines on a Spine: Poems by the Book class, which was held at the Central Library.

“It’s a welcoming community. It’s respectful,” Patricia said of the library as a host space. “Safety with trauma is very important.”

Patricia connected with Path with Art during the pandemic. She has since become an avid photographer, using a camera provided by the program.

The Lines on a Spine class was a chance to exercise a different artistic muscle. Patricia and her fellow students toured the Central Library’s famous book spiral, drawing inspiration from different titles to create poems. Patricia’s work featured in the exhibition, “Gone,” reflects on her mother.

“When you utilize art, you think about other things,” she said of the value of the program for someone recovering from traumatic experiences. “It shifts the mind scape, so you can focus on other trajectories.”

Lindsey, another artist featured in the exhibit, shared similar sentiments. She got involved in Path with Art through a recovery organization that also helps with substance abuse. She’s now deeply involved in the organization and has started teaching classes herself.

“I didn’t realize I was so good at it,” she said. Her piece in the gallery displays Path with Art’s name with hand-drawn and stencil art, and was created as a Christmas present for the program staff to show her appreciation. “I really feel like a star some days.”

Lindsey also noted how special it felt to have her work featured in the Central Library. She has lived nearby for many years and visited often, but never knew about the gallery space or the chance to showcase local artists like herself.

In addition to the current exhibit, the Central Library also hosted the Voices of Belonging showcase for Path with Art’s performance classes last summer.

“It’s important for Path with Art to partner with the library because our participants artists can be connected to other accessible programs and services, and The Seattle Public Library provides Path with Art with public spaces for our community to create meaningful and engaging experiences,” said Wynne Pei, Path with Art arts manager. “We’re excited to join with the library in serving the public with many civic and artistic opportunities while expanding Path with Art’s ability to connect more broadly.”

You can visit the Winter Visions exhibition on Level 8 of the Central Library through March 17. Read more and see examples from the exhibit on SPL’s Shelf Talk Blog.

The Foundation to search for next leader as longtime CEO Jonna Ward announces departure

Jonna Ward

The Board of Directors for The Seattle Public Library Foundation will search for a new leader.

Foundation CEO Jonna Ward, who joined the organization in 2001 and became its executive director in 2008, will depart her role this summer. She said the timing is ideal for a transition at the helm of the library’s nonprofit partner.

“The Foundation’s team, board, finances, and leadership position in our sector are incredibly strong, thanks to our amazing library supporters,” Ward said. “I am grateful beyond words for what we’ve been able to do for our library over the past 22 years.”

Under Ward’s leadership, SPLF grew to become the largest public library foundation in the nation, based on assets. The Foundation has significantly increased private funding for The Seattle Public Library’s programming, collections, and capital improvements, providing more than $87 million in total support since 2008. Ward oversaw a shift to a trust-based philanthropy model of grantmaking, allowing for greater flexibility and innovation in how library programs respond to patron needs. She also helped lead successful ballot measure campaigns for the 2012 and 2019 Seattle library levies, which invested more than $340 million in the library with overwhelming voter approval.

“Jonna is a skilled and passionate leader, and she’s been an invaluable partner to our library,” said Tom Fay, chief librarian and executive director of The Seattle Public Library. “As her work demonstrates, libraries achieve much more when they work hand-in-hand with their foundations. So many of the programs, books, and spaces that SPL patrons enjoy would not be possible without the support of the Foundation during Jonna’s tenure.”

With a strong base in Seattle, Ward and SPLF have served as a model for public library fundraisers and advocates across North America. Ward’s leadership efforts include Library Giving Day, which began as an SPLF pilot in 2019 and has become a critical fundraising tool for more than 500 libraries in the U.S. and Canada. The Library Support Network, an SPLF-led project to share efforts around fundraising and advocacy, has grown to include more than 400 participants from 193 library systems. 

“This transition presents a great opportunity for the Foundation to chart our course for the future,” said Board President Sarah Stanley. “Under Jonna’s leadership, our position locally and nationally is stronger than ever, and we are poised to make our libraries more accessible, more equitable, and more resilient.”

The SPLF Board has begun the search process for a new CEO. A job announcement and description for the position will be posted in the coming weeks.

What our library means to us: Rainier Beach

2024 marks the 20th anniversary of several Seattle libraries built, expanded, or renovated thanks to the Libraries For All campaign that so many Foundation donors supported – including the world-famous Central Library.

The Rainier Beach Branch reopened on January 17, 2004, after a Libraries For All expansion added room for books and materials, more natural light and comfortable spaces, and better technology and infrastructure. To celebrate 20 years in the branch and Seattle’s ongoing support for libraries for all, we visited Rainier Beach to talk to patrons and staff about what this library means to the community.

“It means an awful lot,” said Maureen, a regular patron who lives nearby. She knows the branch staff well and has asked them for everything from assistance using a computer to personal comfort during a difficult emotional time. “The courtesy, the public relations – really just the respect. You never know when a person might just need to say hi to somebody.”

Gwen and her daughter Marigold live in the neighborhood but only started visiting the branch recently. They now come in about once a week. “It has the largest kids’ section, so we love to pop by after school,” said Gwen. Marigold loves to comb through the books to find the most appealing covers. That afternoon, she picked out one from her favorite early reader series, “Magic Animal Friends.”

Another regular patron, Linh, asked the branch staff for translation assistance. They placed a call to another librarian, at the Beacon Hill Branch, who spoke Vietnamese. “The collection of Vietnamese books, and that every time I want to order a movie, the staff helps,” Linh said through the translator about what he values most about the branch. “And the water fountains!”

As a longtime Rainier Beach resident and member of the nearby community center’s advisory council, Justina has observed the library’s evolution over the years. “This branch was such an invaluable resource, and still is,” she said. She noted its wide variety of uses by fellow patrons, especially by young people using the public computers after school or attending Story Time programs. Justina herself has benefitted from more reliable Internet service and free meeting room space, which she has used to register voters. “It’s not just nice to have in the neighborhood. It’s an essential space in the community,” she said.

Branch manager Michael McCullough knows this library better than perhaps anyone – he started on staff at Rainier Beach in 1988. He said there are some different patron needs than other branches. Rainier Beach is highly used for printing and for checking out audio and visual materials more than physical books, for example. The 24/7 pickup locker outside, installed with Foundation support during the pandemic, is most often used late at night or early in the morning. McCullough said this is because many patrons have demanding work or childcare schedules.

“We have patrons who come here not just for traditional library services,” he said. “We often have people in critical situations, or who need to fax or scan paperwork to their job, timesheets, or unemployment benefits so they can get paid. We’re often the only place they can come.”

Read more about the history of the Rainier Beach Branch.

Photos by Anthony Martinez

Library and foundation connections build momentum against book bans

Started by Brooklyn Public Library in 2022, Books Unbanned offers teens and young adults across the country free access to digital books and audiobooks. The program counters the increasing attempts to censor what young people read — and is powered by a growing network of foundations and donors.

The Seattle Public Library joined Brooklyn earlier this year to expand the reach of the program, to immediate success: more than 6,000 young people, from all U.S. states and territories, signed up for an SPL e-card in the first six months. That adds to the more than 7,000 cardholders served by Brooklyn.

This fall, the movement spread to Boston, Los Angeles County, and San Diego, where libraries joined with private foundation support, and with encouragement and coordination from Brooklyn and Seattle.

“We are taking a true and tangible stance to uphold democracy and our First Amendment rights,” said Paula Sakey, Executive Director of the Boston Public Library Fund, about why her library and foundation joined the Books Unbanned movement.

“Book bans are a form of censorship that has no place in our country,” said Patrick Stewart, CEO of Library Foundation SD. “Libraries must reflect the diversity of our communities.”

Like in Seattle, the new Books Unbanned programs are entirely funded by private donors, not public dollars. Strong support from our community through the Foundation ensures that our library has the resources it needs to provide digital books to young readers facing censorship or lack of access, and the same model is proving useful elsewhere.

“It is incredibly inspiring to see libraries in other parts of the country join Books Unbanned,” said Brooklyn Public Library Chief Librarian Nick Higgins. “Our goal from the beginning was to find ways to work alongside other libraries and organizations to push back on censorship wherever it is found, and to leverage a broad range of resources and expertise from a strong network of allies to protect and expand the freedom to read.”

The demand for more access to libraries is clear. Boston saw more than 1,000 card sign-ups in its first month of Books Unbanned. Sakey said that she would urge other libraries and foundations to join the movement.

“We are stronger together, and the more of us who take a stand against censorship and book bans, we can hopefully lessen these threats and drown out the negativity and anger with opportunity and learning,” she said.

In December, our friends at Library Foundation SD hosted the directors of the five library systems participating in Books Unbanned for a panel discussion, moderated by Eric Stroshane of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. Watch the full virtual event here.

Giving to the Foundation’s Equity & Access Fund allows us to invest in programs that reduce barriers caused by censorship, systemic racism, poverty, and other factors. Your gift provides our library with the resources it needs to keep up with the demand for e-books from young people nationwide without impacting local patrons. It also helps supports programs reaching traditionally underserved communities here in Seattle.

“The perfect place to come together and learn more about business”

Aspiring small business owners learned about services including
SCORE Business Mentoring at an open house at the Central Library. (Photo by Anthony Martinez)

The library brings people together in many different ways. For many successful or budding entrepreneurs in Seattle, the donor-supported Library to Business program (L2B) provides essential connections to funding, information, and partnerships.

One afternoon in October, members of the local small business community filled a room at the Central Library for an L2B business resource open house, part of a series of connection opportunities that shifted online during the pandemic. The gathering was the first open house back together in person since 2020.

“The library is a community-friendly place,” said M. Angela Castañeda, director of the Beacon Business Alliance, who produces the series along with L2B’s supervising librarian Jay Lyman. “And we’re always checking, how can we make sure we’re really working in community?”

Prior to the pandemic, the Business Resource Open House program had been entirely in-person and popped up at different library locations quarterly. As COVID-19 disrupted many small businesses, Beacon Business Alliance and L2B adapted the program online.

The open house series has created a community of organizations that provide small business support. The events provide a chance for community members to learn about possible sources of investment, affordable contractor options, how to access market trends and demographic data, and much more.

Library to Business offers dozens of events, classes, and workshops per year, in addition to one-on-one appointments that Lyman and other librarians offer for closer consultation on business development topics. Patrons can also schedule direct appointments with experts in business law thanks to a collaboration with Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, one of many L2B community partners.

Ivette Aguilera, with El Centro de la Raza, partners with L2B to help Spanish-speaking clients find information to create business plans—all for free. “A lot of our businesses don’t have resources or access to capital without the library,” she said.

After taking an online course through El Centro’s program, Jessica Cervera learned about L2B and connected with Lyman. She attended the open house to support the launch of her food cart business, serving desserts from her native Yucatán region of Mexico.

“I always love to learn,” Cervera said. “This has so much useful information and people to meet.” Cervera spent time talking to Mike Seo of Shared Capital Cooperative, which finances community businesses focused on social impact.

Seo had attended a previous L2B workshop and came away excited about the connections it could form. “Before that I never thought about libraries as economic development centers,” he said. “But it can be the perfect place to come together and learn more about business.”

Jose Ortuzar of the White Center Community Development Association said that the connections between businesses and support organizations were especially needed during the pandemic and recovery. “The landscape of business support can feel fragmented,” Ortuzar said. “Having events with community creates points of collaboration and shares resources.”

A unique hybrid event before the open house provided another form of resource-sharing. Panelists in Seattle and in Hennepin County, Minnesota, discussed common challenges and lessons from their small business experience.

Avery Barnes was one of the panelists. She opened TASWIRA, an African art gallery and store in Pioneer Square, in 2019. Barnes shared how the information she learned in the L2B program helped shape her business.

“That’s incredible for me as a business owner, to connect with other people through my story,” she said.

Barnes noted the diversity of attendees at the panel and open house. She felt that spoke to the impact of the program on people who have the ideas and passion to launch a business, but lack traditional avenues of access without something like L2B.

“For my communities—business owners of color, young women owners—we often need resources to scale our businesses from,” she said.

L2B is geared to help everyone who walks in the door, and library staff make an extra effort to build trust and connections with people furthest from economic justice, said Lyman. “And there is a secondary goal that I call the ‘not so secret’ agenda,” Lyman added. “By bringing together the various partners to collaborate on the event, we all get to know each other’s programs better, and that strengthens our economic ecosystem of support. We make better referrals, and we sometimes discover gaps in service where partners find ways to work together to build programs to better meet community needs.”

Your gift to the Foundation supports increased connections to economic opportunity, education, and enrichment programs for communities across Seattle. From workforce development and career readiness programs for students, to job and life skills trainings for recent immigrants and refugees, the library connects people with the resources they need to thrive. Give today!

Behind the scenes with the Bookmobile and how books get to you

Mobile Services staff with the electric Bookmobile. Photo from The Seattle Public Library

On a recent rainy day, members of the SPL and Foundation Boards toured an unassuming building in Georgetown that is essential to our library. What they saw, and the people they met, amazed them.

The group was touring The Seattle Public Library’s Maintenance and Operations Center (MOC), which opened last year, and is home to several key functions including the Bookmobile fleet and a brand-new automated materials handling system.

“I always learn from an in-person visit with library staff,” said Foundation Board member Ellen Look. “What an incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable group! They truly care about the patrons they serve.”

The tour included a look at the Mobile Services unit, partially supported by Foundation donors. Their Bookmobiles, including a newly purchased electric truck, bring around 60,000 books per year to preschools, older adult residences, tiny house villages, and the homes of people with disabilities.

This circulation, the equivalent of a small library branch, helps ensure access to information for those who might not be able to visit the library easily. The unit places a heavy focus on equity, reaching the people and places where a visit will have the most impact.

“Our focus with this service is on having a positive first experience with the library, and a positive first experience with books,” said Robin Rousu, assistant managing librarian with Mobile Services, about the outreach to young students. One of the Bookmobiles, known as the “walk-on” as it houses a small library which children can go inside, exclusively visits preschools and childcare centers.

Rousu’s team makes the same stops each month, checking out books for children to keep in their classrooms until the next visit. They work with teachers to tailor the collection to the curriculum themes, spoken languages, and structured learning of each classroom.

The goal, Rousu said, is to help students learn about the library and make them comfortable and excited about books as they learn to read. This past year, they served more than 1,100 preschoolers primarily in lower-income communities.

The electric truck provides “lobby service,” or delivery of books on carts, to senior centers, retirement and nursing homes, and assisted living or family home facilities. The residents served are often avid readers who are no longer able to visit their library in person.

“We see people who are predominantly very excited to see us,” said librarian Carrie Fox.

Patrons of this Bookmobile can place holds which staff then bring on the next monthly visit, and often make personal requests for titles or genres for librarians to provide. The truck also provides tablets and Wi-Fi hotspots to some facilities, which are often needed for older adults without regular access to the internet. The rising use of e-books and streaming media, as opposed to physical books and DVDs, also makes the tablets and hotspots critical to using the library, Fox said.

Another small van is dedicated to home service, providing deliveries directly, and the Books by Mail program, via prepaid postal envelopes to patrons at private homes. Combined, the lobby and home services reached 185 facilities and residences in the past year, including monthly return visits.

MOC also runs the automated materials handling system, the massive machinery that sorts books, CDs, DVDs, and more. Trucks begin rolling in and out of Georgetown at 3 am each day to circulate all new materials, returns, and holds through all 27 library locations across the city.

With just a few staff members, four vehicles, and a lot of passion, the team in Georgetown makes sure our library system works beyond the walls of the branches and provides books to every corner of Seattle.

For the past decade, a bequest from a generous donor has helped increase Bookmobile services across Seattle. As of this year, that donation has been fully spent. The Foundation is committed to continuing our support for this important program in 2024 and beyond, and we appreciate all gifts to help! If you are interested in learning how you can make a transformational bequest for programs, please contact Kara McDonald at kara [at] supportspl [dot] org.

City Council candidates pledge support for the library

As part of our advocacy work, the Foundation and Friends of The Seattle Public Library sent a survey to all 14 candidates running in the 2023 general election in Seattle’s seven City Council districts. Eleven candidates responded, demonstrating strong support for the library.

Overall, candidates affirmed that the City should fund upgrades to library facilities in the next five years, with all 11 responding that it was “very important.” All also agreed that the City must increase funding for library capital and safety improvements, and for climate resilience updates at branches. Most candidates said they would support funding increases for the library’s collections, programming, and staffing.

Asked which programs and services the library should prioritize, the top choices among the candidates were:

  • Books and collections (i.e. Peak Picks, physical materials, e-books and audiobooks)
  • Immigrant/refugee resources (i.e. citizenship classes, English Conversation Circle, skills training)
  • Youth programs (i.e. Global Reading Challenge, Homework Help/virtual tutoring, Story Time)

Candidates were also asked to share their thoughts about the library and the issues it faces. You can read the responses by district below (and find your district here). Ballots for the general election are due by Tuesday, November 7.

In a critical election that will see at least four new City Councilmembers, the survey results indicate that funding for library buildings, collections, programs, and services should be a high priority for the next Council.

Jump to:
District 1   |  District 2   |  District 3   | District 4   | District 5   | District 6   | District 7

District 1

Candidate: Maren Costa
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: West Seattle

What issues related to libraries concern you?

Libraries provide an important resource for our communities: books, of course, but so much more: information, small business support, internet access, community-specific programming, and youth activities, to name a few. We need to ensure we have adequate staffing, ensure safety for staff and customers, and retain and provide access to “banned” books. Additionally, we should ensure that libraries can act as climate resiliency hubs with backup power, air filtration, and heat pump air conditioning, so that everyone has a safe place to go in extreme weather events.

Candidate: Rob Saka
Did not respond to survey

District 2

Candidate: Councilmember Tammy Morales
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Columbia

What issues related to libraries concern you?

The city union’s fight for deserved living wages and protections. They’re one of the last places people can go for free. Climate resiliency amid climate change. Accessibility/disability rights. Language justice. Equity. Integrating social workers to help the homeless folks who access libraries to rest, grab water, go to the bathroom, and exist without charge.

Candidate: Tanya Woo
Did not respond to survey

District 3

Candidate: Joy Hollingsworth
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Montlake, Madrona, Capitol Hill, and Douglass-Truth

What issues related to libraries concern you?

I love the libraries.  They should be fully funded with resources, funding and whatever needs to be done. I grew up at the Douglass-Truth library and have fond memories about using the resources, meeting and events. I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure your voices are amplified and resourced.

Candidate: Alex Hudson
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Technically I live equidistant between the Central and Capitol Hill branches. I have Capitol Hill set as my default holds pick-up location, because it’s a flatter ride on my bike! 🙂

What issues related to libraries concern you?

Libraries are frontline public infrastructure, and bear the weight of our housing, mental health, poverty, and addiction crises. They provide vital access to information, resources, and opportunities for folks left behind the digital divide. It is worrying to see libraries under attack and under-resourced despite the clearly growing needs. Upstream solutions take time, and supporting libraries now is key. I also worry about how prepared our libraries are to meet the growing needs of our climate crisis – as cooling and clean air centers, and know we have work to do, and investments to make, to make them adapted and resilient.

District 4

Candidate: Ron Davis
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: University

What issues related to libraries concern you?

Our libraries are a critical resource that is too often overlooked in our political discourse and financial planning. While the Library Levy is a great source of capital, the fact that we now rely on it so heavily just to keep libraries operating is unwise. By pushing more and more of the revenue onto a regressive tax source, we not only add unnecessary cost burdens on those who least need them, but we also risk eroding the strong political consensus we need to pass ambitious levies. So, while I do, in fact, support ambitious levies (for projects I’ll articulate in a moment), the library’s basic annual operating budget should receive much more of its funding from the general fund (and the general fund should be sourced more progressively). And that operating budget should be larger–as libraries touch most of our population, and therefore present an opportunity to serve the evolving and often acute needs of our communities. We should be embedding strong connections to social services, job training, educational resources for children and job seekers, pathways into jobs through partnerships with trade unions, nonprofits, and corporations, and social opportunities for community members, especially seniors–in our libraries. We’ve also just got to keep up with cost escalation, particularly with the shift to audiobooks and the consolidation of publishers and the increased pricing power that has given them. And now that people are, more than ever, retreating into their neighborhoods, we need more micro-lending and return spots around the city. All of this costs money. I’ve identified (see “Seattle Needs Money,” The Stranger) how we could constitutionally cover our projected funding gap in the coming years and make significant investments while only sourcing the additional revenue for doing so via progressive means. On the capital spending side, more appropriately funded by the Levy–it’s long past time to ensure that every major public building is up to a high standard for safety, air quality, and climate and earthquake preparedness. This will be expensive, but given that libraries have their own Levy, that political support for these tends to be strong, that people don’t pay attention to subtle pricing differences, that my plan offloads operational costs onto the general fund (which will be more progressive) and that people are responsive to levies that accomplish a lot–we should make ambitious investments in our buildings. Every building should be reliably cool in the summer and warm in the winter, with extremely high standards set for internal air quality and fully reliant on renewable resources. This will allow them to be reliably available as the de-facto places of refuge they already are, especially in the cases of an emergency–and will ensure that they do not contribute unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. It will also make them more pleasant places to be, attracting more patrons and thereby delivering more value for the community.

Candidate: Maritza Rivera
Did not respond to survey

District 5

Candidate: Cathy Moore
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Lake City

What issues related to libraries concern you?

Cost of e-books, staff shortages, public safety, need for social service librarians, nationwide book bans

Candidate: ChrisTiana ObeySumner
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Greenwood

What issues related to libraries concern you?

The general trend we’ve seen across the nation of far-right groups accosting patrons of public libraries and banning books. I want to keep our libraries as a progressive, friendly place for education and acceptance.

District 6

Candidate: Councilmember Dan Strauss
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Ballard

What issues related to libraries concern you?

My D6 District Office is at the Service Center attached to the Ballard Branch library. It is amazing to see how many people use the library as their third space – from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds and everyone in between. Librarians and support staff do incredible work.

Candidate: Pete Hanning
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Fremont

What issues related to libraries concern you?

I’d love to see our libraries help with a broader discussion about civics and what it means to participate in community.

District 7

Candidate: Bob Kettle
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Queen Anne

What issues related to libraries concern you?

Our libraries have become even more community gathering places. We need to re-look at our libraries to see what else we can do particularly in the area of education programs.

Candidate: Councilmember Andrew Lewis
Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Queen Anne

What issues related to libraries concern you?

I love The Seattle Public Library and have worked with them through my committee to advance their priorities. I will continue to do so!

Big news for Banned Books Week: More libraries and foundations join Books Unbanned

Seattle welcomes Boston, LA County, and San Diego to the Books Unbanned movement!

In honor of Banned Books Week (October 1-7), The Boston Public Library, LA County Library, and San Diego Public Library have announced free digital cards for young people, joining Brooklyn Public Library and The Seattle Public Library in standing up for the freedom to read.

SPL launched Books Unbanned in April, offering teens and young adults nationwide access to the books in its digital collections. The SPL Books Unbanned e-card is privately supported through donations to the The Seattle Public Library Foundation – a model that provides expanded resources for digital materials without using public dollars. The Boston Public Library Fund, LA County Library Foundation, and Library Foundation SD are also supporting their libraries’ Books Unbanned programs.

“Library supporters play a critical role in the fight against censorship, and funding Books Unbanned demonstrates our commitment to the values of our libraries and our democracy,” said Foundation CEO Jonna Ward. “By standing together, libraries and foundations are building powerful momentum to counter the unprecedented threats against equitable access to knowledge.”

“In my nearly 40-year career in libraries, I have never seen so many concentrated and well-coordinated efforts to suppress ideas and limit the intellectual freedom of American citizens, especially for young people,” SPL Chief Librarian Tom Fay remarked in LA County Library’s announcement. “It’s been our hope that other libraries in the U.S. will join this urgently needed effort to defend the freedom to read and expand access to ideas and voices.”

The American Library Association tracked a record number of demands to censor library books in 2022, and a 20 percent increase so far in 2023. But the enthusiastic responses to Books Unbanned from young people across the country show how meaningful it is for libraries to take a stand. Support for Books Unbanned – from coast to coast – makes a real difference in the lives of young readers.

Support Books Unbanned with a gift to the Foundation’s Equity & Access Fund.

Read the full announcement from The Boston Public Library.

Read the full announcement from LA County Library.

Read the full announcement from Library Foundation SD.

Creative Chats in Community program connects older adults through art

A community member works on an art project at Neighborhood House High Point. Photo by Emily Billow

Much like libraries, art brings people together. But for many older adults, mobility issues can present a challenge to engaging with art, supportive services – or each other.

The Seattle Public Library’s Creative Chats in Community program, supported in part by Foundation donors, aims to provide an accessible, welcoming space to gather, work on art projects, and receive important social and health information. Since March, the monthly program at Neighborhood House’s High Point location has helped strengthen connections for community members.

“It’s really exciting to see people engaging again with one another, particularly older adults and people across generations,” said Rachel Rene Araucto, a teaching artist with SilverKite Community Arts. Along with Seniors Creating Art, SilverKite facilitates art activities for program attendees who can also choose to interact with a rotating list of service providers.

This month, participants had the option to work on beaded bracelets while blood pressure checks, glucose monitoring, and other health screenings took place. Materials on health and wellness information were available in multiple languages, and interpreters for speakers of Somali, Oromo, and Vietnamese were in attendance.

The program was developed through community listening that identified better connections to services – and a compelling reason to attend – as a priority, said Emily Billow, Older Adults Program Manager for the library.

“Elders in High Point are geographically isolated from most senior services and there aren’t many culturally appropriate senior services nearby,” Billow said. “We know that there is a need for services like signing folks up for programs, helping assist elders with their devices, and providing health screenings and vaccines. This program ties those services and opportunities with a creative engagement like art in a drop-in setting in their preferred language.”

The library worked with community partners to bring the program together. Seattle Housing Authority community builders and residents work on feedback. The City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods helps identify community members to work as interpreters. Neighborhood House provides a convenient and trusted location, which Billow said was essential.

“It’s important to meet folks where they are already gathering,” she said. “Older adults have barriers to accessing services. We knew elders were already gathering at this location and are comfortable in this location.”

Creative Chats in Community is still in its pilot phase and continues to evolve based on community input. Billow said that there are many opportunities to expand its impact, including with more hours or dates and with increased connections to services such as exercise classes or food providers.

For now, having a monthly activity to draw people together is a benefit for the community, said Sahra Samatar, a Somali interpreter attending the program and working on her own beaded art. “The people are the best part,” she said. “And the fun!”

The next Creative Chats in Community program will take place on Tuesday, October 10 from 1 to 2 pm at Neighborhood House High Point, 6400 Sylvan Way SW. Learn more here.

Exhibit highlights the central role of Black activism in the library’s history

“Sharecropper,” a print by Elizabeth Catlett, was originally donated to the library in 1967.

Poetry rang out through the stacks of the Central Library one night in July. Community members filled the gallery space on Level 8 for the soft opening of the new exhibit, “Black Activism in Print: Visual Art from the African American Collection.”

One by one, members of the African American Writers’ Alliance (AAWA) strode to the podium to share original poems based on the prints displayed in the gallery. Like the prints, the poetry honored a legacy of Black culture deeply rooted in Seattle — and at the library in particular.

The Douglass-Truth Branch, situated in the historic Central District, is home to one of the West Coast’s largest collections of African American literature and history: more than 10,000 items and growing. The collection — and the name and existence of the branch itself — is due mainly to the work of Black activists in the 1960s.

Taylor Brooks, African American Collection and Community Engagement Librarian at the Douglass-Truth Branch, sought a way to elevate this significant history. The African American Collection was established in 1964 at what was then called the Yesler Branch, thanks to a donation from the local chapter (Delta Upsilon Omega) of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority (AKA). The donation also included prints by prominent Black artists Charles White and Elizabeth Catlett.

Brooks was struck by the double meaning of “print,” applying both to books and the dynamic visual art medium. She found the printmaking of White and Catlett incredibly thought-provoking and pertinent to conversations related to art and accessibility.

“Looking at these prints, I see the tenacity of the women who built this collection,” Brooks said.

The Yesler Branch faced possible closure in the 1960s. AKA members and community leaders, including Roberta Byrd Barr, Dr. Millie Russell, and Ruth Marie Brown, fought to keep the library open and turn it into a center for Black achievements, history, and culture.

This advocacy created the collection, saved the branch, and later led to its renaming in honor of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Brooks wanted the exhibit to spotlight Barr, Russell, Brown, and their central role in library history. She began working with AKA historian Crystal Tolbert Bell, visual artist and Black Arts Legacy honoree Esther Ervin, and others to bring the exhibit to life.

In addition to the prints by White and Catlett, the gallery features original documents from the struggle to save the branch and artifacts such as original teacups used by AKA members in the annual “library tea” event at Douglass-Truth. An episode of “Face to Face,” the weekly Seattle television show Barr moderated from 1965 to 1972, plays on a loop in a corner.

The pieces certainly resonated with visiting community members. Several AAWA writers shared poems inspired by Catlett’s striking print “Sharecropper.” Dr. Georgia McDade, a charter member of AAWA, spoke to what it meant to have a platform for these works. “I never thought I would see the African American Collection on display not just at our library but at the Central Library,” she said. “I’m in heaven.”

For decades, AKA members funded and supported the African American Collection at Douglass-Truth. Thanks to donor support, the sorority still sponsors and helps grow the collection. The TEW Foundation, based in Seattle, is funding the current exhibit and its travel to other branches in the future.

“Black Activism in Print” runs at the Central Library Level 8Gallery until September 15. After that, the items will be on display as part of the African American Collection at the Douglass-Truth Branch and at more library branches in 2024. To learn more, visit spl.org/Exhibits.

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