News & Stories

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.

Announcing the 2022 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship winners

The Seattle Public Library Foundation is pleased to announce the three winners of the 2022 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship.

First-place winner Sidra Wernli and runners-up Marysia Koltonowska and Olivia Turner each won tuition support from the Foundation by writing essays on courageous Washingtonians who improved their communities by fighting for their ideals.

In its ninth year, the essay contest honors the legacy of the late Library supporter, community leader, and activist Stimson Bullitt, who believed that civic leadership could make a lasting positive impact on society. The contest challenges local high school and college students to write an essay about an individual or group from our state who demonstrated the courage to advance an important community issue at great personal, political, or professional risk.

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

We are grateful for the time and efforts of the local authors who judged the finalists: Kristen Millares Young, Jon Krakauer, and Jonathan Raban.

Congratulations to our winners!

Sidra Wernli
$5,000 scholarship
School: Garfield High
Entering Lewis & Clark College
Library Branch: Douglass-Truth
Read the essay: “Rosalinda Guillen: The Fight for Food Justice

 

 

Marysia Koltonowska
$2,500 scholarship
School: University of Washington
Library Branch: Northeast
Read the essay: “Florestine ‘Flo’ Ware (1912-1981): A Community-Minded Change-Maker

 

 

Olivia Turner
$2,500 scholarship
School: Chief Sealth International High
Entering University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Library Branch: Delridge
Read the essay: “The Environmental Activism of Hazel Wolf

 

 

Learn more about the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship.

Virtual tutoring provides model for hybrid student services

Virtual tutoring has been an essential resource for Seattle students over the past two years. Key Library programs like Homework Help have been unavailable in person during the pandemic. But donor support has helped the Library offer more than 4,000 live tutoring sessions on the Tutor.com platform since 2020.

The virtual program has been a major success. Ninety-five percent of participating students report that they would not be able to finish their homework without it.

Tutor.com has improved the tutoring experience for students in many ways. It provides access for those who may not have transportation to or from the Library. It expands time for students outside of in-person hours. And it delivers additional services in Spanish and Vietnamese.

But we also know that many students miss the quiet study space, one-on-one instruction, and sense of community that Homework Help provided. Over the next year, the Library will work to restore in-person Homework Help programs while keeping Tutor.com services in place. The Foundation is excited to support both versions of free tutoring to benefit all types of learners.

Eighty percent of Homework Help participants have parents who speak a language other than English at home. Students shared that their parents can’t always help them with their homework, and that they often need more time to understand their assignments. Fifty-five percent of Homework Help students report receiving better grades after attending the program.

Tutor.com has made this kind of support more accessible for high school students. Only 10 percent of pre-pandemic Homework Help users were in high school, while Tutor.com has more than doubled the high schooler participation rate.

Recent feedback from teenage participants makes it clear that both Homework Help and Tutor.com address student needs. One 10th grader using Tutor.com shared, “This is actually really helpful! And I’m glad it’s in a chat format since a lot of kids my age are much more comfortable asking for help through text or chats. I asked a question from a physics packet I’m working on and got clear and helpful answers.”

A high schooler who used to attend Homework Help at the Lake City Branch said he misses the friends he made in the program. He also misses having a distraction-free place to work. He shares a room at home with his younger brother, where he said it’s “loud as hell” and hard to concentrate on homework.

The best way to support student success is to restore in-person programs alongside virtual offerings. Tutor.com expands hours and access, boosts participation with high school students, and provides services in more languages. Homework Help fosters connections, supports social emotional learning, and provides community (and snacks!).

The Foundation wishes to thank the many supporters who make student success programs possible, including the Loeb Family Charitable Foundation and Eulalie and Carlo Scandiuzzi. We also thank the volunteers who support in-person Homework Help. We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Find out more about Homework Help at SPL.org.

Thank you for making our spring campaigns successful!

The Foundation is so thankful for our community of supporters, who stepped up BIG this spring for Library Giving Day and GiveBIG!

Thanks to the generosity of Library lovers, these campaigns raised more than $333,000! We also met our matching challenge goals.

Together, we’re helping the Library offer equity-focused programs and an expanded collection of books and materials. You ensure that everyone – people of all ages and backgrounds – has access to knowledge and learning.

If you missed Library Giving Day or GiveBIG, don’t worry – you can still make a gift that will strengthen the Library and support upcoming programs, like the beloved Summer of Learning.

A huge thank you to everyone who invested in our community and ensured that all people who want to learn and grow can access quality Library resources and programs.

Thousands of Seattle students engaged in Global Reading Challenge

Pompeii Pineapples. Stuffie Activists. Axolotl, Gods of Reading. What do they have in common? They’re all champion literary teams from across the city in this year’s Global Reading Challenge!

The Foundation is a proud longtime sponsor of the Challenge, a partnership between The Seattle Public Library and Seattle Public Schools to promote recreational reading for fourth and fifth graders. It provides more than 9,000 books and audiobooks through dozens of schools and community partner sites, and this year involved more than 2,900 students. Schools form teams, with all kinds of creative names and costumes, to read eight books chosen by librarians, then enter trivia contests at their schools.

The winning teams move on to the semi-finals, and from there to the all-city finals, which took place virtually on Tuesday. Librarians asked detailed questions (like the ingredients needed for a recipe from “Hockey Night in Kenya“) and the eight finalist teams demonstrated their knowledge in a high-speed quiz. Congratulations to all the teams for an amazing performance, and to the Pompeii Pineapples from TOPS K-8 for coming out on top!

The program incentivizes reading for students at a critical age, when many kids – particularly boys, English language learners, or those reading below their grade level – may struggle with or lose interest in reading. Librarians selected this year’s books and graphic novels to engage reluctant readers and elevate stories that reflect diverse communities and identities. Programming such as author talks and outreach to community partners helped create even more excitement and engagement around the competition.

Participation in the program has grown steadily since it began in 1996, and over the past two years libraries, teachers, and families have worked hard to ensure equitable access during remote or hybrid learning environments. Investments in digital materials and technology have been critical for students to connect with their classrooms, join book groups, attend author events, and otherwise stay involved in this shared reading journey – investments that are possible with generous donor support from partners such as the Northwest Literacy Foundation, Ballard Rotary, and individual donors who contribute to the Foundation.

This week’s finals – full of excited young readers, dedicated educators, and more than 100 parents and supporters cheering along virtually – showcased why the Global Reading Challenge remains a highlight for kids and families across the city.