News & Stories

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

Your gift to the Foundation helps preserve Seattle history and elevate community voices through library collections, exhibits, and programs. Give today! 

Protecting the right to read: Books Unbanned expands access to knowledge

Some of the most frequently banned books and most popular titles among Books Unbanned cardholders, on display in the teen section at the Central Library. (Photo by Will Livesley-O’Neill)

“A group of parents are trying to remove certain ‘problematic’ books from my high school’s English curriculum,” wrote one 17-year-old from Michigan. “I want to be able to read these books and others, but I can’t always afford to buy them.”

Equitable access to knowledge is an essential value of our library — and our democracy. The growing and increasing coordinated national movement to censor what children and young adults read presents an unprecedented threat to free access to information and ideas.

The American Library Association reported a record number of demands to censor library materials in 2022. More than 2,500 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase from the previous year. The vast majority of challenged books were written by or about members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color (POC). “Florida is banning so many books right now, and access to books by queer and POC authors is so important, especially to young people,” wrote a 23-year-old in that state.

These comments — and hundreds of others like them — come from responses to The Seattle Public Library’s Books Unbanned initiative, launched at the end of April with private funding from the Foundation. SPL joined Brooklyn Public Library, which started Books Unbanned in 2022, to offer young people ages 13 to 26 across the nation a digital card that provides free access to the library’s e-book and e-audiobook collections.

Books Unbanned protects intellectual freedom at a time when it is being attacked and eroded. And the enthusiastic responses show how necessary the program is. In the first three months after SPL joined, more than 3,600 young people signed up for an e-card, from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. New cardholders checked out more than 13,000 titles more than 22,000 times.

The books represent the diverse range of interests among young readers. One of the most popular banned books checked out by new cardholders is Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But other popular choices include the fantasy novel “Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros or this year’s Seattle Reads selection, “The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka.

The ability to read what you want and explore the world through books is a fundamental value of libraries, said SPL Chief Librarian Tom Fay. “Access to the library is about much more than censorship — it’s how you learn about new concepts,” Fay said. “If certain topics are banned, knowledge about those concepts is threatened. And the lack of knowledge is what creates ignorance, fear, and hate.”

Seattle was able to take this bold step to defend knowledge due to strong support from our community. Books Unbanned is funded by Foundation donors, with hundreds of people giving through the Equity & Access Fund to ensure the library can keep up with increased demand for e-books while protecting public resources.

Donors understand the urgency of the Books Unbanned project. “Freedom and democracy start with freedom of thought,” wrote one supporter. “Knowledge is power.”

More public libraries around the country are considering joining the Books Unbanned movement. And more young people continue to sign up to access our library’s extensive collection — and become inspired by what they find there — thanks to our community’s support.

“Libraries are banding together,” Fay said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to make sure young people stay involved. We know that this is such a critical time in their lives — if you get interested in politics and civics at age 16 or 18, you’re much more likely to remain engaged in your society and democracy.”

Or, as a 17-year-old signing up for Books Unbanned from North Carolina put it, “This card gives me permission to use my free time to learn and think rather than scrolling through my phone. I want to actively engage with the world and new ideas.”

The Foundation’s Equity & Access Fund supports programs that reduce barriers caused by systemic racism, poverty, language access, and other factors — including censorship. In addition to Books Unbanned, the fund helps the library increase participation from traditionally underserved communities, expand access to services and materials, and promote learning.

Your gift to the Equity & Access Fund allows the Foundation to invest in improving equity across our community 
and beyond. Programs include support for immigrant and refugee communities, outreach to people experiencing homelessness, and promoting diversity and representation in reading — for SPL patrons and for young people nationwide. Give today!

Strengthening our connections: The library connects people with resources, services, and each other

Our 2022 Annual Report on Donor Impact illustrates a few of the ways the library serves as a hub for connecting people – with resources, with services, and with each other.

The connections forged by donor-supported programs are essential for everyone’s sense of belonging, ability to fully participate in society, and civic engagement that sustains a healthy democracy:

Fostering citizenship
Seattle’s population of foreign-born residents continues to grow. Yet studies show that those with limited English proficiency often struggle to find jobs and integrate into society.

Classes through the library help bridge this gap. Working with Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), the library held nearly 7,000 hours of citizenship classes in 2022. Students prepare for their naturalization interviews in English, with support in Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese. At least half of last year’s students have become naturalized citizens.

Citizenship improves employment opportunities, and enables voting and democratic participation. Learning about citizenship also forms essential connections for students.

“The classes provide a wonderful international community. We find it can reduce the isolation that some of them experience,” said Mckenna Lang, ACRS lead instructor. “It is powerful to hold the world in our classroom.”

Pictured above: A former citizenship class student at their naturalization ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Mckenna Lang)

Welcoming all neighbors
The library is a fundamental resource for people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. Library staff go beyond their branches to collaborate with providers, welcome new patrons, and make resources more accessible.

Last year library staff resumed in-person visits to people living in temporary homes at several tiny house villages. These visits have provided books and tools like Wi-Fi hotspots that residents need. They also form relationships between neighbors and library staff.

Staff from the Rainier Beach Branch visited the nearby Southend Village. Residents signed up for library cards, picked from a multilingual selection of books, and learned about programs. Parents were especially interested in ways the branch could support their children, such as the Homework Help program.

Growing together through reading
The library fuels interactions between cross-sections of our society. Programs provide unique chances for people from different backgrounds to get to know and learn from one another.

Team Read connects elementary students reading below grade level with teen reading coaches. The longtime library partner program sees immediate impacts on literacy. In the 2021-22 school year, the average reader in the program improved by almost a full grade level.

For most of the high school student coaches, Team Read represents their first paid formal job experience. Coaches report increased confidence, leadership skills, and communication after working with younger students.

Students derive clear benefits from connecting with mentors and mentees through the library. Younger readers have someone to look up to – and often go on to become coaches themselves. Coaches gain new abilities as they prepare for adulthood.

Empowering business leaders
Small businesses and nonprofits are critical to thriving communities. But legal and administrative issues can stand in their way, particularly for leaders with language barriers.

That’s why the library offers free consultations with volunteer attorneys. Patrons with legal questions connect one-on-one with legal experts recruited by the University of Washington Entrepreneurial Law Clinic. Topics include corporate law, real estate, and intellectual property. Almost 200 people received assistance.

Last year, the library began offering consults in Spanish as well. A pilot program with the Latino Community Fund provided interpretation and outreach to community members seeking assistance.

“The consultations provide a free, confidential and welcoming space,” said Jay Lyman, Library to Business program manager. “The nature of these sessions means they get the information they need, at the level and moment when they need it. Established partnerships help build awareness and trust for community members that might not otherwise participate.”

Your gift to the Foundation helps preserve the library as one of the last places where our society connects, free of charge and open to all. Give today to protect and enhance our essential role.

Expanding our knowledge: Free access to trusted information for everyone, from everywhere

Our 2022 Annual Report on Donor Impact examines how the library is providing free access to trusted information – for everyone, and from everywhere.

When knowledge is more available and equitable, whether at a branch or through innovative outreach and technology, more people are able to gain the skills, insights, and experiences that help them thrive.


Modernizing the collection
The library must always keep up as reading habits and patron needs change. Donor support helps add more than 75,000 books to the library’s collection every year. But the format, focus, and features of the books continue to evolve.

In 2022, Collection Services reallocated some funding from print books to digital audiobooks. This reflected feedback from teens and adults about preferred ways of accessing materials. The pandemic-era trend toward increased borrowing of e-books has continued as well.

The library established collections in new languages, including Dari, Pashto, and Ukrainian. An emphasis on equity led to more acquisitions of titles for traditionally underserved audiences. An ongoing audit process identifies which voices are not adequately represented.

And new technology provides new opportunities to use and access the collection. The library introduced Read-Along books, MP3-enabled picture books that read aloud to children. Pickup lockers are now available at five branches, enabling checkouts 24 hours a day.

Foundation donor Linda Cheung uses the pickup locker at the Rainier Beach Branch every few weeks. “What a great service!” she said. “I don’t have to worry about library hours, and it’s much easier to borrow from all the other branches.”

Pictured above: Pickup lockers at Beacon Hill and four other branches allow access to library materials at any time of day. (Photo by Will Livesley-O’Neill)

Understanding memory loss
Library resources are increasingly available throughout the community. That includes places like The Memory Hub on First Hill, where families dealing with dementia have a centralized place for information.

“The library has been making an effort to reach community where they are,” said Emily Billow, the library’s Older Adults Program manager. She heard that visitors to The Memory Hub wanted to read more about experiences with memory loss.

Families faced with dementia often have to track down services and guidance from many places. They wanted books for when they were already  on site, to take a class, drop off a loved one, or volunteer.

Funding for older adult programming helped provide a wide variety of books. Materials now range from children’s books to guides for caregivers, in English and Spanish. The Memory Hub now has the largest collection of books about dementia in the state of Washington.

Increasing digital literacy
Access to technology is only one step to accessing information. Some residents at Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) sites received new laptops through a grant. But they wanted instruction on how to use digital tools to increase their knowledge and skills.

The library was a natural partner. Through the Foundation-supported Job and Life Skills program, the library provided instructors and lesson plans on basic computer and internet use for SHA residents. Since the majority of students were immigrants and refugees, all instructors spoke second languages including Oromo, Somali, and Tigrinya.

“It was clear that this program had a strong impact on their confidence in being able to use their new device, even something as simple as knowing how to move an icon on their desktop,” said Jennifer Yeung, public instruction and workforce development lead at the library.

As a result of this program, SHA now offers digital literacy skills classes for more residents modeled after the library.

Your gift to the Foundation increases resources at the library, online, and through hundreds of local partner organizations. Give today to continue expanding access to the books and programs our neighbors need.

Sharing our stories: How the library drives storytelling in our community

Our 2022 Annual Report on Donor Impact details the ways that the library drives storytelling in our community – through reading, programming, and elevating voices.

These stories improve literacy, enrich lives, and represent diverse perspectives. More people have more opportunities to learn, and to express their own stories and hear from others, thanks to these donor-supported library projects:


Centering Indigenous stories
Storytelling and dancing are central components of Native culture and education. But they aren’t always thought of as essential for early literacy. For the second year in a row, the library helped host a public event to spotlight Indigenous stories and traditions for children. Co-designed with Daybreak Star Preschool, the event encouraged families to share personal, family, and cultural stories with confidence and power.

Experiencing stories and dances from Native artists and elders was new for some, and a chance for others to see their culture on a public platform. More than 70 people attended, uniting neighbors from the preschool and the Magnolia area. “This was a great way for healing with our community,” said one attendee. “It’s critical to have this space.”

Pictured above: Storyteller Sondra Segundo (Haida and Katzie First Nations) and the Raven Clan Singers and Dancers (Haida Roots) performed at Daybreak Star. (Photo courtesy of Mai Takahashi)

Helping an industry diversify
Writers and entrepreneurs of color are not equitably represented in the publishing industry. The Business of Books, a new series of workshops at the library, aimed to address that disparity.

The series inspires budding BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) authors and publishers. Sessions at the Beacon Hill, Columbia, and Douglass-Truth branches highlighted how to find financing for a book or start a publishing business. Local book industry leaders held deep-dive roundtables with participants. More than 50 attendees came away with new insights into spreading the stories from their communities.

“It was powerful to see folks together sharing their knowledge to help other people,” said Stesha Brandon, the library’s Literature & Humanities program manager. “It truly felt like a family in the room.”

Engaging all readers
Since 1998, the Seattle Reads program has brought our city together around the same story. In 2022, readers shared the experience across languages as well.

More than 9,000 read or joined events around “The House of Broken Angels” / “La casa de los ángeles rotos” by Luis Alberto Urrea. The author appeared at public events in English at the Central Library and Lake City Branch, and in Spanish at Centilia Cultural Center. Books were widely available in both languages at the library.

Local Latinx arts group La Sala helped select the book. Other partners, such as Seattle Escribe and El Centro de la Raza, found fun ways to engage the community through youth programs and book groups.

The story brought together a cross-section of readers, who could see themselves represented or be exposed to new ideas. And it proved popular in many forms: “The House of Broken Angels” was the library’s most checked-out digital novel of the year.

Building teen readers
Librarians promote storytelling in many ways, beyond recommending books to patrons. When community members identify ways the library can help them access stories, librarians jump into action.

Teen Services librarians recently responded to community requests to start youth book clubs. ROOTS Young Adult Shelter let staff at the University Branch know that some of the books their guests wanted were often checked out. East African Community Services reached out to staff at the Beacon Hill Branch about a book club for middle and high school students.

Foundation resources allowed the library to provide several titles for both partner organizations. Now young people have permanent access to the books they want to read and discuss.

And sharing stories with each other has had other benefits. Some youth got to experience playing the role of librarian for their community. “This has given several of our guests a sense of purpose as their book choices make it into the hands of their peers,” ROOTS reported. 

Your gift to the Foundation provides thousands of books and endless experiences for Seattle students, older adults, and residents of all ages. Give today to help spread storytelling for all.

Announcing the 2023 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship Winners

The Seattle Public Library Foundation is pleased to announce the three winners of the 2023 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship.

First-place winner Sonia Kamineni and runners-up Cecelia Pyfer and Anne Welman each won tuition support from the Foundation by writing essays on courageous Washingtonians who improved their communities by fighting for their ideals.

In its 10th 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 authors who judged the finalists: Stacy D. Flood, Jon Krakauer, and Kristen Millares Young.

Congratulations to our winners!

Sonia Kamineni
$5,000 scholarship
School: Ingraham High
Library Branch: Greenwood
Read the essay: “Ramona Bennett



Cecelia Pyfer
$2,500 scholarship
School: West Seattle High
Library Branch: Southwest
Read the essay: “Earl George: The Battle for Labor and Civil Rights



Anne Welman
$2,500 scholarship
School: Ballard High
Library Branch: Greenwood
Read the essay: “Women Against Thirteen: Upholding Local Queer Rights



Learn more about the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship.

Seattle Reads celebrates 25 years of connecting people through storytelling

A poster for the first “one city, one book” program in 1998, currently on display at the Seattle Reads exhibit at the Central Library.

Stories bring us together. For the past 25 years, The Seattle Public Library has played a leading role in connecting people with the Seattle Reads program.

Started in 1998 under the concept “if all of Seattle read the same book,” the donor-supported program now unites more than 9,000 people annually. Seattle’s “one city, one book” concept has now spread to more than 400 other libraries around the world.

This week, Seattle Reads celebrates its 25th anniversary by welcoming back author Julie Otsuka. Otsuka’s novel “When the Emperor Was Divine” was the Seattle Reads selection in 2005, and she returns this year to discuss “The Swimmers” on May 19 and 20, at library and community locations around the city.

“When we were searching for the right book for Seattle Reads’ 25th anniversary, Julie Otsuka’s ‘The Swimmers’ stood out as a multilayered, lyrical, and deeply moving novel that readers from different generations and backgrounds will relate to and be excited to discuss,” said Stesha Brandon, Literature & Humanities program manager at the library.

Community engagement is a central part of Seattle Reads – not just reading together, but sharing the experience through discussions with the author and other readers. Forms of engagement have varied based on the book. This year, “The Swimmers” provides unvarnished insights around the topic of memory loss.

Last week, the library hosted a book discussion at The Memory Hub, a dementia-focused programs and events venue where the library helps provide resources for families. Community partners Densho, Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Programs, and UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center took part in this year’s programming.

Otsuka will appear at two senior centers during her time in Seattle, offering a chance for people to connect directly with the author. She will be at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center on May 19, before her public discussion that same evening at the Central Library. On May 20, Otsuka will speak at the Greenwood Senior Center, following an appearance at the Lake City Branch (see the full program calendar here).

The engagement events are fitting way to demonstrate the power of storytelling throughout ourd community, and why Seattle Reads is beloved in our city and emulated around the world. The Foundation is proud to have supported Seattle Reads since its inception. Our gratitude extends to The Wallace Foundation, The Gary & Connie Kunis Foundation, The Seattle Times, and Anchor Books – the bookselling partner for this year’s events.

Learn more about the past 25 years of Seattle Reads on or in the exhibit on Level 8 at the Central Library, on display until June 26.

Seattle Reads books by year:

2023: “The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka
2022: “The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea
2021: “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett
2020: “There There” by Tommy Orange
2019: “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui
2018: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
2017: “The Turner House” by Angela Flournoy
2016: “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler
2015: “The Painter” by Peter Heller
2014: “For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey” by Richard Blanco
2013: “Stories for Boys” by Gregory Martin
2012: “The Submission” by Amy Waldman
2011: “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave
2010: “Secret Son” by Laila Lalami
2009: “My Jim” by Nancy Rawles
2008: “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” by Dinaw Mengestu
2007: “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri
2006: “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi
2005: “When the Emperor Was Divine” by Julie Otsuka
2004: Seattle Reads Isabel Allende (series featured seven titles from Allende’s body of work)
2003: “A Gesture Life” by Chang-rae Lee
2002: “Wild Life” by Molly Gloss
2001: “Fooling With Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft” by Bill Moyers
1999: “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines
1998: “The Sweet Hereafter” by Russell Banks

Foundation supports freedom to read with “Books Unbanned” e-card for young people

The Seattle Public Library is taking a stand against censorship with a new program to promote the freedom to read for young people – thanks in large part to strong support from our community.

SPL has announced a partnership with Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned initiative to offer teens and young adults across the nation free access to the books in its digital collection. The Foundation will fund the Books Unbanned e-card through our Equity & Access Fund.

“Equitable access to knowledge – for everyone – is an essential value of our library and our democracy,” said Foundation CEO Jonna Ward. “By funding the Books Unbanned card, we can help young people impacted by book bans or limits to access. The unprecedented threats to the right to read require an urgent response.”

“Support from our community has helped build our world-class library system in Seattle,” said Foundation Board President Justo G. González. “We’re proud to offer another way for supporters to expand access to the resources of our library and remove barriers to knowledge.”

With support from Foundation donors, Seattle is in a position to help young people impacted by book bans immediately and promote intellectual freedom, a core value of our library, nationwide. Private funding for the program ensures public resources remain protected for local patrons. Click here to contribute to the Equity & Access Fund.

Read more at or see the full statement from The Seattle Public Library below:

The Seattle Public Library is joining Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned initiative to fight censorship and book banning by offering teens and young adults across the nation free access to the books in its digital collection.

Youth ages 13 to 26 who live in the United States can now sign up for a free card from The Seattle Public Library that allows them full access to the Library’s collection of e-books and e-audiobooks. The simple application takes only minutes to complete and is available at

“In the face of a growing national movement to censor what children and young adults read, we are proud to stand with Brooklyn Public Library in protecting intellectual freedom and the right to read,” said The Seattle Public Library’s Chief Librarian Tom Fay. “This movement and trend must be countered by doing what public libraries are supposed to do – providing free and unrestricted access to information, ideas and diverse viewpoints.”

“For the last year, Brooklyn Public Library has provided access to books from all points of view to thousands of young people across the county. With an alarming number of book bans, we are pleased to welcome The Seattle Public Library to the Books Unbanned program so that together, with all of our might, we can fight for the enduring democratic principle of unfettered equal access to books and ideas from all perspectives,” said Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO, Brooklyn Public Library.

Books Unbanned helps counter the series of increasingly coordinated and effective efforts to remove books from public and school libraries across the nation. In March 2023, The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom reported that 2022 saw a record number of demands to censor library books and resources. More than 2,500 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase since in 2021.

Of the reported book challenges, “58% targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries,” the American Library Association’s press release said, and “the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color.”

The Seattle Public Library’s announcement coincides with the American Library Association’s National Library Week, April 23 to April 29, during which the American Library Association has highlighted the 13 most challenged books in the U.S., among other initiatives.

“We hope that teens and young adults go to to sign up for a card and use it to explore and check out books about any topic they wish,” said Andrew Harbison, The Seattle Public Library’s Director of Library Programs and Services. “Every individual has the right to decide what materials they choose to read and to explore new viewpoints. And parents and caregivers have the right to guide their children to materials that best serve the needs of their families.”

Harbison also emphasized that the Books Unbanned card is for teens and young adults who live outside the Seattle area and are not eligible for a full-access card at The Seattle Public Library. Seattle residents can – and should – apply for a full-access Library card: Information and applications in multiple languages are available at


The Seattle Public Library’s Books Unbanned card will be good for one year and is designed to complement resources that exist for teens in their local communities. Youth who sign up can check out a maximum of 10 titles at a time and place a maximum of five holds.

The Books Unbanned card provides access to all titles in the Library’s OverDrive collection of more than 900,000 e-books and e-audiobooks. The Library has also created several lists highlighting books for young adults that have been frequently challenged, available on its Books Unbanned page, along with links to other materials for teens and young adults.

Cardholders can place holds and check out e-books and e-audiobooks on the Library’s online catalogue or through the very popular Libby app.