News & Stories

Remembering Jonathan Raban (1942-2023)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Seattle Public Library Foundation joins the literary community, locally and internationally, in mourning the loss of Jonathan Raban.

Jonathan was an acclaimed travel writer and novelist, and an iconic Seattleite. He was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction, the Governor’s Award of the State of Washington, and The Stranger Genius Award in literature, among many other honors. In addition, Jonathan was a great supporter of the Library. He served as an essay judge for the Foundation’s Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship for nearly a decade.

“Jonathan deeply valued the role of writing in our community and was a committed champion of young writers applying for the scholarship,” said Foundation CEO Jonna Ward. “When he saw a spark of talent, he would move mountains to help. We are truly grateful for his contributions to our city as a writer and as an ambassador for literacy.”

He is survived by his daughter Julia. His memoir, “Father and Son,” will be published later this year. Read more about Jonathan’s life and career in The Seattle Times.

Homework Help brings students back to branches

Homework Help at the Lake City Branch provides in-person connections and a sense of community for students. (Photo by Anthony Martinez)

The Lake City Branch was full of students of all ages on a rainy Tuesday evening. Homework Help, the donor-supported afterschool program, was back in-person.

Tim, a longtime Homework Help volunteer tutor, said that demand has been high each evening since the program resumed in September. He recently increased his volunteer time from one to two days a week to keep up with the need.

“I can definitely tell there’s been a big gap” in learning during the pandemic, Tim said. “And here, we help you get caught up.”

Tim was working with Auna and Marayam, two high school students attending the program for the first time. They are seeking to increase their math and chemistry skills, and had heard about Homework Help at school. The students enjoy working with the Homework Help tutors.

“They’re inviting and nice,” Auna said, “and I’m getting work done.”

Students are working hard to make up for the gaps that COVID created. A national assessment released in October recorded the steepest decline in math scores in three decades. Reading skills have fallen dramatically as well.

Nancy Garrett, Teen Services Librarian at the Lake City Branch, said about 25 students come to Homework Help every day. It runs two days a week for three hours at a time with 20 regular volunteers. Homework Help returned to six branches this fall: Columbia, Douglass-Truth, High Point, Lake City, NewHolly, and Rainier Beach, with plans to expand the program next year.

Students spend time on whatever assignments they bring, rotating between tutors if needed. While students are in the branch they take advantage of the public spaces, and connect with community partners, like the Hunger Intervention Program, which offers free afterschool meals.

Ayehu, a mother of three who lives in the neighborhood, has seen a noticeable impact on her kids’ work with the return of Homework Help. She brought her family to Lake City for afterschool assistance before the pandemic and tried using virtual tutoring the past two years. “This is so much better, in person,” Ayehu said.

Librarians have observed increased demand for virtual options for older students, while the younger students generally prefer in-person assistance. Since late 2020, Seattle students have joined more than 4,000 live one-on-one sessions on Tutor.com, a donor-supported program. Online tutoring has been popular with high school students, English language learners, and those without regular transportation.

The Library plans to keep Tutor.com in place, including sessions in Spanish and Vietnamese, as it expands Homework Help to more branches. This hybrid format gives more students the ability to choose what kind of tutoring works best for them.

Some students grew up with Homework Help and have used it throughout their educational journey. Hermela, a first-year student at UW Bothell, has been benefitting from the program since second grade. She has missed the in-person connections and sense of community the program creates. She plans to continue using Homework Help for support with her college assignments.

“The tutors here help me understand my work in so many different ways,” Hermela said. “I just love Homework Help.”

Visit spl.org/homework to learn more about Homework Help and how to volunteer. Your gift to the Foundation is an investment in Seattle students. Donate today!

Read more from the Foundation’s Winter 2022 newsletter, The Next Chapter.

New State Legislators Respond to Library Issues Survey

As part of our shared advocacy work, the Foundation and the Friends of the Seattle Public Library invited candidates running in Seattle’s Washington State Legislative Districts to take a short survey about library issues.

Below are the responses from the newly elected members of the State House of Representatives for the 46th, 37th, and 36th Districts (find out what district you live in here).

And join our advocacy efforts by signing up for the Public Library Action Network here. You’ll receive updates on policy decisions and funding opportunities that impact The Seattle Public Library at the local, state, and federal levels, and learn about how you can take action to help keep the Library strong.

46th Legislative District: Darya Farivar

Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Lake City

Which of the following Library programs or services do you most value? (select up to five)

  • B
  • Cultural programming (i.e. author lectures, Seattle Reads, Seattle Writes, Short Story Dispenser)
  • Immigrant/refugee resources (i.e. English for Speakers of Other Languages, citizenship classes, Somali Books)
  • Job skills (i.e. technology skills classes, Your Next Job, writing assistance, resume support)
  • Library Equal Access Program (accessible programs, services, and assistive resources)
  • Older adult programs (i.e. book groups, Next Chapter retirement planning, Technology for Beginners)
  • Seattle history (i.e. archives, genealogy, Special Collections)
  • Small business assistance (i.e. business research tools, nonprofit support, legal assistance/access)
  • Youth programs (i.e. Story Time, Summer of Learning, Global Reading Challenge, Homework Help, virtual tutoring)
  • Other (please specify)

If you believe Washington State should play a role in funding local public libraries, what types of projects should the State consider funding? (select all that apply)

  • Capital/safety building improvements (external, i.e. seismic retrofitting)
  • Climate mitigation improvements (i.e. air conditioning, air filtration)
  • Collections (e-books, digital materials, physical materials)
  • Expansion of new or existing library branches
  • Programming (i.e. youth, older adults, immigrants, small businesses)
  • Educational supports (i.e. partnerships with public schools, literacy instruction)
  • I do not believe the State should play a role in funding local public libraries
  • Other (please specify)

Are there any policy issues related to libraries that concern you?

Our libraries are a cornerstone of our neighborhoods and communities. As Washington has continued to experience hotter, drier summers, I would like to see us invest in preparing our libraries to withstand extreme weather conditions. By retrofitting those without air conditioning, for example, we can continue to provide critical services for our communities throughout the summer months and offer a cooling location for those seeking shelter during the heat. Along with ensuring that our libraries are able to stay open year-round, I’m also interested in ensuring everyone has access to them. Many branches do not currently have accessible restrooms or entrances, and it is important for us to ensure that they have the resources they need to be inclusive and welcoming spaces for all. By supporting our libraries, we support building strong and thriving communities. I am committed to being an unwavering ally in this work.

37th Legislative District: Chipalo Street

Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Douglass-Truth

Which of the following Library programs or services do you most value? (select up to five)

  • B
  • Cultural programming (i.e. author lectures, Seattle Reads, Seattle Writes, Short Story Dispenser)
  • Immigrant/refugee resources (i.e. English for Speakers of Other Languages, citizenship classes, Somali Books)
  • Job skills (i.e. technology skills classes, Your Next Job, writing assistance, resume support)
  • Library Equal Access Program (accessible programs, services, and assistive resources)
  • Older adult programs (i.e. book groups, Next Chapter retirement planning, Technology for Beginners)
  • Seattle history (i.e. archives, genealogy, Special Collections)
  • Small business assistance (i.e. business research tools, nonprofit support, legal assistance/access)
  • Youth programs (i.e. Story Time, Summer of Learning, Global Reading Challenge, Homework Help, virtual tutoring)
  • Other (please specify)

If you believe Washington State should play a role in funding local public libraries, what types of projects should the State consider funding? (select all that apply)

  • Capital/safety building improvements (external, i.e. seismic retrofitting)
  • Climate mitigation improvements (i.e. air conditioning, air filtration)
  • Collections (e-books, digital materials, physical materials)
  • Expansion of new or existing library branches
  • Programming (i.e. youth, older adults, immigrants, small businesses)
  • Educational supports (i.e. partnerships with public schools, literacy instruction)
  • I do not believe the State should play a role in funding local public libraries
  • Other (please specify)

Are there any policy issues related to libraries that concern you?
[No response]

36th Legislative District: Julia Reed

Nearest Seattle Public Library Branch: Queen Anne

Which of the following Library programs or services do you most value? (select up to five)

  • B
  • Cultural programming (i.e. author lectures, Seattle Reads, Seattle Writes, Short Story Dispenser)
  • Immigrant/refugee resources (i.e. English for Speakers of Other Languages, citizenship classes, Somali Books)
  • Job skills (i.e. technology skills classes, Your Next Job, writing assistance, resume support)
  • Library Equal Access Program (accessible programs, services, and assistive resources)
  • Older adult programs (i.e. book groups, Next Chapter retirement planning, Technology for Beginners)
  • Seattle history (i.e. archives, genealogy, Special Collections)
  • Small business assistance (i.e. business research tools, nonprofit support, legal assistance/access)
  • Youth programs (i.e. Story Time, Summer of Learning, Global Reading Challenge, Homework Help, virtual tutoring)
  • Other (please specify)

If you believe Washington State should play a role in funding local public libraries, what types of projects should the State consider funding? (select all that apply)

  • Capital/safety building improvements (external, i.e. seismic retrofitting)
  • Climate mitigation improvements (i.e. air conditioning, air filtration)
  • Collections (e-books, digital materials, physical materials)
  • Expansion of new or existing library branches
  • Programming (i.e. youth, older adults, immigrants, small businesses)
  • Educational supports (i.e. partnerships with public schools, literacy instruction)
  • I do not believe the State should play a role in funding local public libraries
  • Other (please specify)

Are there any policy issues related to libraries that concern you?

Libraries are essential to our communities and our state. My earliest memories are of the children’s section at the Northeast Library. I worked in an independent children’s bookstore in Seattle as my first job in high school, which served many librarians. My refuge from bullying as a child was my school library. I will fight always to protect and expand our libraries.

Donor support provides new Read-Along format for children’s books

Reading aloud is key for early literacy. Studies show that seeing and hearing words simultaneously improves vocabulary and reading rates. This is especially important for children with disabilities, English-language learners, and others with barriers to reading.

“Read-Alongs” are MP3-enabled picture books that read aloud at the push of a button. And thanks to donor support, hundreds are now available at Library branches to help more kids listen as they read (pictured at left at the Central Library).

The new Read-Along books have built-in equipment that doesn’t require CDs, computers, or even internet access. Readers press play inside the book to start an audio recording as they go through the text. Some are also equipped with “learning mode,” an option to hear questions about the book when they’re done reading to build comprehension skills.

It’s a great example of how donor support drives innovative new ways to add diverse titles, engage young readers, and expand literacy. The Foundation was grateful to provide flexible grant funding to the Library during the pandemic to pilot this new format.

And the Library hopes to build on its Read-Along success in 2023. A proposed expansion would add 400 more books in English as well as 300 bilingual Spanish and 300 bilingual Chinese Read-Alongs, the two highest-used world languages for children’s materials.

We need your continued support to increase the Read-Along collection and provide more young readers, particularly those facing barriers to literacy, with a new way to read aloud. Check out the Read-Along titles currently available in the Library catalog, and help us add 1,000 more next year with a donation today!

South End Stories helps young readers find their inner superhero

Donte Felder (left) and Dr. Donald Felder (right) helped students pick out comic books for a Superhero Summer event in July. (Photo by Will Livesley-O’Neill)

South End Stories, an anti-racist arts education program founded by Donte Felder and his team, including his father, Dr. Donald Felder, celebrates the importance of storytelling and playful learning. This is especially important for public school students who don’t engage as well with traditional classroom instruction.

This year, they partnered with the Library to plan the donor-supported Summer of Learning, choosing a theme that reflects their mission: Superhero Summer.

Through months of planning, South End Stories and Library staff worked with local artists to create four heroes with superpowers relatable for young readers: helping their community, active listening, learning and sharing new perspectives, and using art to express emotions and solve problems.

Children could check out reading recommendations from each hero, pick up illustrated Superhero Summer action guides, and find book trackers and activity game boards at their local Library branch. And attendees of a pilot kickoff book fair at one summer school site received 10 free books to start or add to their home libraries, with a focus on authors of color and high interest books that are culturally relevant to the students.

“The kids were super excited,” said Amy Twito, Informal Learning Program Manager at the Library and the staff lead for Summer of Learning. “One student exclaimed, ‘Wow! This is the best day ever!’ as he picked out his 10 books.”

That sense of enthusiasm is why South End Stories centers superhero themes in much of its curriculum. Donte, a longtime educator at Orca K-8 School, remembers walking to the Columbia Branch as a child to pick out piles of novels and comic books. “These big superhero ideas—‘with great power comes great responsibility’—really helped define me as a man and as a teacher,” he said.

Dr. Felder saw the impact of empowering narratives in his career with Seattle Public Schools and Casey Family Programs, where he focused on improving education for children involved in corrections and the foster care system.

“Arts integrated with great teaching produces better outcomes,” he observed. “Superheroes help uplift what children think of themselves. When they enter a classroom, they start with a belief that I belong and not why am I here.”

South End Stories has consistently found that connecting lessons to pop cultural phenomena like superheroes captures the attention of students who don’t usually have an affinity for reading, Donte said. This outcome advances the Seattle Public Schools goal to improve literacy among Black elementary school students and fits well with the Library’s goals for equity based programming.

“South End Stories has been a wonderful planning partner for the Summer of Learning program due to their focus on racial equity and social emotional learning, and their commitment to arts education,” said Twito.

And the Felders hope that the collaboration continues to grow, bringing more art—and the students it inspires—into classrooms and Library branches. As Dr. Felder said, “We have a great opportunity to spearhead not just a Summer of Learning, but learning all year, in partnership with the Library.”

Thanks to donor support, in 2021 Summer of Learning distributed more than 14,000 books to more than 10,000 students.

Read more from the Foundation’s Fall 2022 newsletter, The Next Chapter.

Meet the Chief Librarian: Tom Fay leads the Library into the future

Tom Fay spoke at a Foundation event in June. (Photo by Elizabeth Carpenter)

The Seattle Public Library is in a period of transition—both in how it operates in the aftermath of COVID-19, and under the leadership of a new Executive Director and Chief Librarian, Tom Fay.

Tom was unanimously selected by the SPL Board of Trustees in March, after serving as Interim Chief Librarian since April 2021. He previously served as Director of Library Programs since 2015.

We asked Tom a few questions about his perspective on library work and his vision for what’s next:

How did you first get involved with libraries?
Growing up in a small rural community in Nevada, my local library was a constant in my life and I loved to read. About the time I turned 16, the town librarian asked me if I wanted to work in the library in the late afternoon and evening as a page.

I was working construction jobs and we were generally done by 2 p.m. due to the heat in the summers. So, I was pretty excited about a job with air conditioning. I spent more than 32 years in Nevada libraries, and retired from Las Vegas-Clark County Library as the Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Director.

What were your main objectives at the beginning of your tenure, and how have they progressed?
I first focused on moving the Library from constant pandemic-era crisis management to more normalized operations and pacing. This includes getting as many services and programs back up and running for our patrons as possible.

I have also focused on meeting and talking to many people as I introduce  myself to the community. I’ve dedicated the last three months to planning for our future work, including hiring a foresight consultant to work with the Library on identifying plausible and preferred futures for which we can plan and move towards.

What do you want Seattle residents to understand about the Library and how it’s evolving?
Libraries are one of the most adaptive institutions due to the diversity and engagement of library patrons. The Library is always evolving with the needs of our patrons and our community because we listen and we adapt.

The foresight planning process we began this summer will ask our staff, our community, and our stakeholders to think of what libraries can and should be 10 years from now. Are we looking at more contactless, self-service kiosks? Will librarians harness the power of artificial intelligence to serve our patrons’ information needs? Will libraries hold a space in the Metaverse and if so, how do we make sure there is equitable access to virtual reality technology and spaces? So many possibilities…

Are there any Library programs and services that you feel especially exemplify this evolution?
During the pandemic, you saw some evolution of the Library as a hybrid institution, providing program delivery both in-person and virtually. We have begun adding 24-hour lockers at branches so that patrons can access their materials at any time convenient for them. Our student tutoring solutions have expanded from providing in-person Homework Help at some branches to also providing Tutor.com, an online platform that provides real tutors online to help students in three languages.

As the Library’s physical spaces reopen fully, what challenges and opportunities lie ahead?
It has been 25 years since the 1998 Libraries for All campaign that built up the system we enjoy today, with our world-renowned Central Library and 26 neighborhood libraries. We maintain our buildings well, but they were built for services and programs from nearly three decades ago.

We have seven historic Carnegie-era locations that are over a century in age. It is once again time to invest in our physical spaces to make them welcoming, inclusive, and relevant for those today and for future generations.

The challenge for such large-scale improvements comes down to funding. We must be more creative than ever in finding and leveraging funding sources that combine public and private investments into our physical spaces to ensure relevance and enjoyment for another generation of Seattle readers and learners.

What do public libraries mean to our society?
Libraries are the most democratic institution in our city and our society. We are one of the pillars of an informed electorate, and today, with the amount of misinformation present in our country, our work is more necessary than ever. We must continue to amplify new voices and new thought, and we must protect the freedom to read, think, develop, and pursue happiness. There will be challenges on all fronts to library collections and services, because accurate information and the development of knowledge strike fear in authoritarians and tyrants.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
I really liked our Seattle Reads choice last year – “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett. I found it an intriguing story and incredibly well-written. I think everyone will enjoy the 2022 Seattle Reads selection, “The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea, as well.

English Conversation Circles forge international community through discussion

Wallace at the Magnolia Branch. He learned about the English Conversation Circle program after visiting the Library when he arrived in Seattle.
(Photo by Will Livesley-O’Neill)

As demand for social connections surged among immigrant and refugee communities during the pandemic, the Library turned to a trusted partner organization, Literacy Source.

The donor-supported English Conversation Circle program helps non-native English speakers increase language skills and develop cultural competencies. It aims to build abilities that can help participants accomplish their goals, whether in job searches or other aspects of American life.

“There’s definitely a big appetite for conversation,” said Carissa Hastings, an instructor at Literacy Source, “especially in communities that were already isolated and have only become more isolated.”

The Conversation Circle format gathers small groups of people to discuss a topic, ranging from travel and food to more serious issues like racial discrimination or cultural identity. Hastings said that the comfortable environment created by the students, staff, and volunteer instructors keeps people engaged. “The students are asking for these deeper topics because they feel safe,” she said. “It’s amazing to see them continually coming back, and sharing more, and sharing deeper.”

The program has proven more popular than ever. Despite taking place virtually, attendance increased every quarter last year, reaching an average of 21 people per session. One evening slot drew twice as many virtual participants compared to the same in-person program before the pandemic.

The flexibility of hosting on Zoom allowed more students to access the program, Hastings said. Traditional participation barriers like transportation and childcare are eliminated. And people from all over the world can participate. Students invite family members from Colombia, Somalia, South Korea, and beyond. “They don’t mind the time difference, they jump on anyway,” Hastings said.

More than 200 people participated in Conversation Circles last year, representing 40 countries and at least 28 languages. “My favorite part was the opportunity to discuss different topics with people from all over the planet,” said Wallace, a former Conversation Circle student from Brazil. “Those people provided me with a desire to visit, explore, and learn more about every single culture I’ve had contact with.”

The experience was so meaningful for Wallace that he chose to volunteer soon after he developed English fluency. “I decided to volunteer because of my fear of communicating,” he said. “The program team has guided me through roads that I haven’t explored before, and because of them, I decided to do the same for others.”

Volunteers like Wallace help run breakout rooms so students can get to know each other. Former students also help develop the programs and create activities and lessons that are engaging to foreign-born students. Wallace created several murder mystery games for his classes.

“On my day as a facilitator, I could see how the program really touches souls. No matter where you are from and your age, we are always open to learning through experiences,” Wallace said. “I will remember that until my heart stops beating.”

In 2021, 149 donors gave to the Foundation’s Equity & Access Fund, raising more than $400,000 specifically to expand equitable programming. Add your name by contributing here.

Foundation applauds appointment of Yazmin Mehdi as Library Trustee

The Seattle Public Library Foundation congratulates Yazmin Mehdi on her appointment to The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees.

“We are thrilled to have another committed Library champion as a Trustee,” said Foundation CEO Jonna Ward. “Yazmin has a long history with the Library, including working with us at the Foundation. Throughout her career, and as a supporter, she has demonstrated her passion for equitable access to services and technology, particularly for immigrants and refugees. We could not be more excited to continue working with her to expand Library access for everyone in our city.”

Below is the full press release from the Library on Ms. Mehdi’s appointment:

YAZMIN MEHDI APPOINTED TO THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Yazmin Mehdi has joined The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees. She was appointed by Mayor Bruce Harrell, and her appointment was approved by the City Council today.

“I’m so pleased Yazmin will lend her perspective, talents, and leadership to one of our city’s most valued assets – The Seattle Public Library,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “As we strive for innovative and equitable access to learning opportunities and resources, I know she will be an excellent addition.”

“We could not be more thrilled that Yazmin will join the Library Board,” said Chief Librarian Tom Fay. “She has impressive leadership and strategic experience not only in nonprofits and city government, but also with the Library itself. We are thankful to Mayor Harrell for this expeditious appointment.”

Mehdi has 18 years of experience in public policy and public service, most recently as Interim District Director for Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. Previously, she worked at the City of Seattle as a senior fiscal and policy analyst within the City Budget Office and later as a special assistant to the Mayor for Arts and Culture. She worked at The Seattle Public Library in the early 2000s as special assistant to the Chief Librarian, and at The Seattle Public Library Foundation as director of Community Programs and Events.

In her volunteer work, Mehdi has served on the boards of Town Hall, the Seattle Board of Parks & Recreation Commissioners, University Prep and many other organizations.

Mehdi earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies from Harvard University and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan.

The five-member Library Board of Trustees is the governing body of The Seattle Public Library, which includes the world-renowned Central Library and 26 branches. The board controls Library finances and property, sets Library policy and employs the Chief Librarian. Board members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Board members are volunteers and serve five-year terms.

Mehdi replaces Kristi England, who served on the Library Board for 10 years.

Guest Curators bring new perspectives to Library programming

Navoti (bottom right) partnered with Writers in the Schools for his
first discussion on childhood. (Photo courtesy of SPL YouTube channel)

“People are still telling stories around the campfire,” said D.A. Navoti. “It’s just on Zoom now.”

At a time when stories — and the connections they create — were urgently needed, the Library launched a new donor-supported Guest Curator program. Navoti, a multidisciplinary writer and storyteller, and Olaiya Land, a pleasure and empowerment coach, were the inaugural curators. They each developed a series of five virtual discussions with writers and community members throughout 2021, centering voices from historically excluded communities.

The program was designed to introduce new and diverse perspectives on Library programming, said Stesha Brandon, literature and humanities program manager for the Library’s Community Engagement Services.

“These curators are folks who have been doing amazing work around town for years, and the program gives the Library an opportunity to feature their voices and celebrate the topics they are interested in,” Brandon said.

Curators had complete control over their series and were compensated for their work. Land appreciated the leeway to tackle challenging issues like sexuality and race. After the past several years, she observed, such conversations are sorely needed.

“People are ready to talk about more real topics, and explore them and find meaning,” Land said. Her series was about radical self-acceptance as a form of activism, building on a theme she noticed in her own life and societally during the pandemic. Every part of her series focused on welcoming women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, those with neurodivergence or different body types, and others often excluded from traditional programming.

Both Land and Navoti wanted everyone involved to be able to bring their own lived experiences to the virtual campfire. Navoti sought a theme to unite people across generations and cultures. His subject, the trials of growing up, was both weighty and light-hearted. “Humility or embarrassment is a great mix for bringing people together,” he noted.

More than 300 people viewed the Guest Curator events live. Navoti and Land both heard positive feedback from the writers, activists, and attendees who appreciated the chances to share vulnerable feelings, have unfiltered conversations, and join spaces that felt intentional, welcoming, and safe.

Many attendees joined from communities that don’t usually access the Library, and hundreds more people have viewed the event videos on YouTube. Land has also used the audio from her series in her Lionesse podcast.

The experience will help future Guest Curators and other Library programs reach overlooked audiences, Navoti said. “There are opportunities for stories to live outside the walls of the Library and go into the communities themselves.”

The full Guest Curator series are available to watch here.

World Language Story Time keeps the Library a key part of children’s lives

Tania Hino at the Greenwood Branch, where she led in-person Spanish Story Time programs. (Photo by Will Livesley-O’Neill)

“The Library is my happy place,” said Tania Hino, sitting in the Greenwood Branch. She was enjoying the return to full open hours and, soon, the chance for programs like her Spanish Story Time to return in-person.

For the past 16 years, Hino has been an instructor for the donor-supported World Language Story Time, a core part of the Library’s equity-based youth programming. For the past two years, she’s had to make creative adjustments to continue providing a program that so many families have come to rely on for community connection.

“It’s well-loved,” Hino said of her Story Time. Many of the same families have attended for years and built close relationships with Hino. After the COVID-19 shutdown, “my patrons were asking, can we do it outside? At a park? Can we figure out some way to do it?” Hino remembered.

The Library quickly provided instructions and support so Hino and other storytellers could restart programs virtually, through live Zoom calls and recorded videos posted to YouTube. “Families missed being able to convene in person,” said CiKeithia Pugh, early learning program manager for the Library’s Youth and Family Learning Services. “It was nice to see familiar faces online — storytellers were missed.”

Making sure the Library remains a key part of children’s lives is deeply personal for Hino. She came from Mexico to Texas with her family as a child, where she fell in love with reading thanks to free access to books and summer programs. When they moved to Seattle they experienced housing insecurity, and would spend whole days reading at the Central Library before finding a shelter. “I’m a product of the Library being open, having programs, and being welcoming,” Hino said. “And now I’m giving back because of that experience.”

It was important to Hino to find ways to make kids feel involved in a virtual Story Time. “I’m very interactive,” Hino said. “I like to involve everybody and make them feel welcome, and I think that was the hardest part.”

Running this program virtually for two years provided some important lessons, according to Pugh. In 2021, early learning content on the Library’s youth YouTube channel was viewed more than 5,000 times. “Families desire multiple ways to access early learning programming,” Pugh said. “And they learn information from events from trusted community people and other organizations they are connected to.”

Hino hopes the future of World Language Story Time includes more programs and books in more languages and formats. “Immigrant communities need to feel belonging,” she said. “When people are feeling connected, they give back, too. I’m a perfect example of that.”

Donor support for World Language Story Time helped the Library provide more than 8,000 books, 6,000 animal and alphabet cards, and 16,000 Early Learning at Home booklets in nine languages in 2021.

Read more from the Foundation’s 2021 Annual Report on Donor Impact.