News & Stories

Santa Claus and catalogs: Special Collections highlight life in Seattle through history

Anyone living in Seattle 30 years ago or earlier will remember Frederick & Nelson, the retail institution whose flagship department store in Seattle once served as one-stop shopping and a cultural hub.

From its tearoom to its beauty salon to its nursery to the annual photos with Santa Claus, Frederick & Nelson was a commercial force in Seattle until its closure in 1992.

Debra Cox, special collections librarian, laid out several Frederick & Nelson staff newsletters from the 1940s in The Seattle Public Library’s possession, pointing to the profiles of employees who were sent off to war during World War II.

The twice monthly internal newsletter, titled “Between Ourselves,” serve as an “absolute snapshot of the culture of Frederick and Nelson,” Cox says.

“It wasn’t just a place to work, it was a lifestyle.”

These publications are only part of a new archive made public this month in The Seattle Public Library’s Special Collections, called the “Frederick & Nelson Collection.”

Patrons can now visit the Seattle Room at the Central Library and explore eight boxes of materials from the Northwest department store chain, including training books, catalogs, photographs, newspaper articles, and buttons. The “Between Ourselves” newsletters alone date back to 1926.

“They’re hard to resist,” Cox says.

The Frederick & Nelson collection is part of the Special Collections staff’s continual effort to gather materials critical to Pacific Northwest history and make them accessible to visitors, both online and at the Central Library. Other collections detail the World’s Fair, building surveys across Washington state, and menus throughout history from popular local restaurants.

The Seattle Public Library Foundation granted $50,000 this year to the Seattle Room and its efforts to acquire and preserve special archival materials.

These unique archives of Seattle history are why Claudia Skelton, member of The Foundation’s Board of Directors, has given her time and financial support to the Library for about two decades now.

The Special Collections are the part of the Library she’s “most addicted to,” she says.

“Having a Special Collections in a public library is particularly unusual and really special,” Skelton adds. “That’s how we learn a lot about the history and how our culture evolved over decades and centuries. You can sit there and gain access to a lot of materials you wouldn’t find in most libraries.”

A visit to the Level 10 of the Central Library will immerse you in historic maps, old high school yearbooks, and photos showing how Seattle has changed through history. As Skelton notes, the staffers there, including Cox, lend their expertise to show visitors exactly what they’re looking for.

“You get more than just the data,” Skelton says. “You get the culture and the history and the story on what was going on.”

Skelton has even helped a close friend in California writing about the Klondike Gold Rush just by stopping at the Seattle Room and locating information for him.

She’s also slowly working on piecing together her family history – her main passion – by consulting the genealogy librarians who work in Special Collections on Level 8 of the Central Library.

Skelton directs her donations to The Foundation to Special Collections so it can maintain its special place in the city and its unique access to the public.

“It’s really critical that we continue to focus on the Seattle history,” she says. “That’s really what I care the most about.”

Visit Level 10 of the Central Library to see the items for yourself.

Ballard boy turns green thumb into green for the Library

Atticus Diaz, 7, grows tomato plants from seed to sell to neighbors as a fundraiser for The Seattle Public Library Foundation. Photo by Kiersten Henderson

Atticus Diaz, 7, has enjoyed the Library his entire life.

His mother, Kiersten Henderson, prepared to give birth to him by checking out baby DVDs from The Seattle Public Library. Today, Atticus visits the Library – usually the Ballard Branch – to check out books with his dad and browse magazines like “National Geographic.”

“I like it because you can share books and you get to take out books and I like reading,” Atticus says.

He’s an avid reader who reads about 45 minutes a night with his father.

Now he’s showing his gratitude for all the joy the Library has brought him by turning over the earnings from his vegetable gardening to The Seattle Public Library Foundation.

Atticus sells tomato plants he’s grown from seed for $3 per plant, or two for $5. He’s been gardening since he was 4 years old and also grows flowers, fruits, and other vegetables at home.

For the past two years, he’s sold tomato plants by manning a stand in his neighborhood and offering them to his father’s co-workers.

What started as an entrepreneurial effort for Atticus turned into a philanthropic one, his mother says.

“People really enjoyed the concept of giving to the Library,” Kiersten says of her son’s customers. “He’s definitely learning about philanthropy and giving and the concept that publicly supported institutions need contributions from people who can make them.”

He’s also learning how to count money and develop relationships with people, she adds.

This year, Atticus sold 30 tomato plants. He intends to donate all his proceeds to the Foundation.

In memoriam: Macon ‘Mimi’ Howard

Mimi, as pictured in a 1987 group photo of The Seattle Public Library’s Board of Trustees.

We regret to share news of a loss in our Library Foundation family.

On Aug. 7, we lost pioneering Library leader Macon “Mimi” Howard at age 83. Mimi served as a trustee of The Seattle Public Library from 1982 to 1992, then as a member of The Seattle Public Library Foundation’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2013, including a stint as the Finance Committee chairwoman.

We remember her as a friendly happy-spirited person who was a dedicated servant to the Library and had a mind for finances.

Mimi was an early donor upon the formation of the Foundation and is the namesake of the Mimi Howard Reading Area at the Madrona-Sally Goldmark Branch, dedicated in 2008.

Born in Pittsburgh, Mimi lived in Seattle for the last 40 years. She worked as a librarian for 10 years and co-founded The Information Group in Seattle, which provided a wide range of Library services to the city. She then became a stock broker, becoming one of the first women stockbrokers at Dean Witter.

Mimi counted the construction of the Central Library among her capstone achievements as a board member of the Foundation.

Current Seattle Public Library Trustee and Foundation Emeritus Board member Ron Chew remembers Mimi as “someone who was warm and witty, with a funny sense of humor who lent her passion for the cause to the campaign.”

She is survived by three children – Charles W. Cummings, Jr., Lee Blanchard Cummings, and Evelyn Howard Cummings – and eight grandchildren.

Grassroots activists use Library resources to advance mission

FIGHT volunteers Savannah Son, Brandon Wong, Many Uch, Eric You, and JM Wong support both incarcerated and freed Asian-Pacific Islanders with education and immigration cases. | Photo credit: Katrina Shelby, exclusive to SPLF

This story originally appeared in the Foundation’s 2018 Report to Donors. Find the full publication here.

Brandon Wong and Many Uch are volunteers who run an advocacy group for currently and formerly incarcerated Asian-Pacific Islanders across the state.

But when they partnered with the Library, they connected with resources that could advance their cause – and the volunteers would lead the way.

The collaboration was part of the Library’s COPE program – the Committee for Outreach, Programming, and Engagement. It’s a new Foundation-supported effort to help social justice advocacy groups by listening to their needs and responding to their ideas on how the Library can help them advance their causes.

At Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together – known as FIGHT – they help form educational curriculum for the incarcerated, assist released people with deportation cases, and bring counseling services to those on the inside.

“At first we thought it was just all about books,” Brandon, FIGHT co-founder, said of the collaboration. Brandon himself was incarcerated for 10 years before starting FIGHT with Many.

The Library did help FIGHT with books and materials to supply to prisoners, but it offered printing services and event space, also.

“It helped open our eyes to what resources – not just books – the Library had that we could try to use or share with each other,” Brandon said. “At the same time, the folks at the Library could
learn the work that we do.”

Last year, FIGHT hosted three events with the Library’s help: a discussion on youth incarceration, a panel addressing the unique needs of former Asian-Pacific Islander prisoners, and an event supporting the family members of incarcerated people.

Many spent more than five years in prison and immigration detention. He said Asian-Pacific Islanders are susceptible to deportation after prison release and are often forced to perform hard labor and under-the-table work to support themselves.

JM Wong, an advocacy volunteer at FIGHT, said the Library’s help solidified its role as a social service provider committed to equity.

“I’m really impressed that folks in the Library are taking such a proactive role in the community and seeing itself as a hub where folks from all different backgrounds can come to access resources,” she said. “That’s one really powerful way in which we can get our work out there.”

Virtual reality uses modern technology to bring Seattle’s past to life

University of Washington students Stephen Cooper and Cara Pangelinan served as interns at The Seattle Public Library, where they helped create an interactive virtual reality exhibit that connected patrons with the Library’s Special Collections. Photo credit: Katrina Shelby, exclusive to SPLF

This story originally appeared in the Foundation’s 2018 Report to Donors. Find the full publication here.

Last year, The Seattle Public Library expanded its Digital Media Learning programs to include a virtual reality program that promotes the Library’s collections in creative ways and educates people on local history in the process.

Cara Pangelinan, a junior at University of Washington, applied to work on the virtual reality project “kind of on a whim.”

She had no experience with virtual reality, but as a double-major in English and human-centered design engineering, she knew it fit in to her academic focus of designing products for intuitive public use.

Stephen Cooper is a senior computer engineering major. He said that because of his internship working on the Library’s virtual reality exhibits, he developed skills that would propel his career.

Both UW students earned the internship through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation grant, which aims to recruit more people of color into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. They developed a virtual reality exhibit hosted by the Central Library about the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Users acted as volunteer firefighters to learn about the massive blaze and why it prompted Seattle to rebuild the city in its wake.

The Library’s goal through its virtual reality program is to connect users with The Seattle Room and Special Collections, bringing their historic archives to life in an interactive way. It will continue to unveil new exhibits, with one featuring the historic Duwamish River set to debut in the Fall.

“I learned a lot from the experience that I don’t think I could have in a traditional classroom setting,” Cara says.

Nearly 800 visitors tried out the exhibit for themselves in February.

“It was really important for us to convey the history of the entire event, really bring the user to the knowledge of what happened and why it was such a big deal,” Stephen says, “and why we had to change the city to make sure it never happens again.”

Stephen credits the project with helping him land a prestigious summer internship at HBO, working on the TV network’s streaming services at its Seattle office.

“Virtual reality has given me a skillset I can use in the future,” he says. “It really helped broaden my horizons and helped me leverage my own endeavors.”

Raising A Reader fosters parent-child bond through books

Apple Washington reads to her preschool and daycare students at the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library. Photo credit: Katrina Shelby, exclusive to SPLF

This story originally appeared in the Foundation’s 2018 Report to Donors. Find the full publication here.

Apple Washington, director of South Seattle’s A 4 Apple Day Care, says the literacy program she offers to the 12 kids in her care started with her young son.

When he went to preschool, he came home with a little red bag of books from The Seattle Public Library

“We were expected to read with the children every day,” Apple says. “My son really got drawn into it.”

He also proposed that his mother incorporate the program into her day care’s curriculum – so she did.

The program is Raising A Reader, an early literacy program that sends children home with a rotating selection of books and encourages parents to read them with their children. It serves children 18 months to 6 years old through organizations such as daycares, preschools, and non-profit organizations that provide early learning services. Apple has offered Raising A Reader at A 4 Apple – a certified Seattle Preschool Program provider – since 2016.

Supporting early literacy programs remains apprimary focus of the Foundation.

Apple lets her kids take home two different books a week, all offered by the Library.

She coordinates the book selection with the curriculum she offers.

“The kids get excited,” she says. “They run up to their parents and want to share the books with them.”

For their part, the parents love the program, Apple says. Not only does it prepare the children for kindergarten, but it engages them in their own learning and development. Parents notice their children using more words and asking more questions during their experience with Raising A Reader.

It also holds parents responsible for reading to their children, she adds.

“What makes me happy is when our former parents give us shout-outs on Facebook and say, ‘Thank you for holding me accountable for reading with my child,’” Apple says.

Raising A Reader also brings the program manager into A 4 Apple twice a month for story time, as well as an end-of-the-year celebration. The programming is free to Apple and her students, and helps kids go into kindergarten ready to read.

“Birth to 5 years is a crucial time in their development years,” she says. “They’re storing so much in their memory and it’s key they don’t miss a major part.”

‘I am because you are’: Winner of Stim Bullitt Scholarship celebrates community

When reflecting on what civic courage means to her, it came naturally for Ruth Tedla to think of the Botswanan philosophy of Botho: “I am because you are.”

Born in Ethiopia and raised in Botswana before moving to Shoreline two years ago, Ruth incorporated this spirit of interconnectivity and community into her winning essay for the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship contest, earning $5,000 toward her tuition at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she will begin as a freshman this fall.

And the figures who embodied that spirit to her: the “Gang of Four,” a group of diverse leaders – Bob Santos, Roberto Maestas, Bernie Whitebear, and Larry Gossett – who individually advocated for marginalized people of color in Seattle during the second half of the twentieth century and united their efforts for maximum effect.

The Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship prompts local students to research and write about Washingtonians standing up for their beliefs against popular wisdom, awarding three prizes each year to honor the memory of the late Library supporter and activist Stimson Bullitt.

A panel of distinguished historians and authors selected Ruth’s essay as the winner.

The Shorewood High School graduate consulted her U.S. history teacher, Sarah McFarlane, about whom to feature in her essay. When Ruth learned about the Gang of Four, they resonated with her, because “four different men from four different backgrounds … shared a bond that transcended their differences,” she says.

“Individually, the men took on different battles in their community, but came together and realized their pain is shared,” Ruth continues. “They were more than just an alliance, they were brothers. Their passion for activism grew into a lifelong friendship.”

The faith she learned in Ethiopia and the community-minded ethos that nurtured her in Botswana has fostered in Ruth a pride in her heritage and a passion for social justice.

She plans to study international affairs at George Washington University before going to law school.

Ruth has already attended workshops and earned fellowships emphasizing the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., and attended summer conferences led by ACLU.

She also enjoys photography and movies.

Congratulations, Ruth!

Find her winning essay here, as well as the runner-up essays by Kristin Hong and Alex Huynh. Winning essays are catalogued in The Seattle Public Library’s Special Collections.

Stay tuned for details about the 2020 contest. Meanwhile, learn more here.

Seattle a ‘City of Literature’ – So what does that mean?

Nic Low, an indigenous Maori writer from Christchurch, New Zealand, performs at the Seattle LitCraw in 2017 as part of Seattle’s City of Literature efforts. Photo credit: Paul Constant

Seattle has always been a “city of literature” – it’s the most-educated big city in the United States and the second-most literate, and also home to writers from Richard Hugo to Octavia Butler to Ijeoma Oluo. Indigenous people of the Salish Sea have carried a storytelling tradition over thousands of years.

In October 2017, UNESCO designated Seattle an official “City of Literature,” inducting the town into its Creative Cities Network and adding it to a community of 28 Cities of Literature across the globe – and only one other U.S. city, Iowa City, Iowa.

The designation is a distinguished honor, and The Seattle Public Library and Foundation act as primary partners to advance the City of Literature program’s aims. The Creative Cities Network shares the Library’s mission toward equity and expanded humanities programming. The Seattle Public Library Foundation acts as a funding partner to help support these initiatives.

So what’s changed since then? Those involved in the volunteer nonprofit managing Seattle’s City of Literature say they’re still in the early stages of leveraging the network to promote Seattle’s literary services and businesses, but they’re already performing work to make the city’s literary community more equitable.

Let’s step back: UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) launched its Creative Cities Network in 2004 in an effort to foster “international cooperation between cities committed to investing in creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development, social inclusion and enhanced influence of culture in the world.” The organization offers designations for seven areas: Craft and Folk Arts, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts, and Music.

Rebecca Brinbury

“They identified that creative communities tend to be catalysts around a lot of those sustainable development goals naturally,” says Rebecca Brinbury, co-founder of the Seattle City of Literature nonprofit founded in 2013 and development manager at the Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program.

UNESCO aims to rally the cities in its Creative Cities Network to achieve a set of community goals aimed at making cities more livable, addressing issues such as poverty, inequality, and hunger.

In Seattle, the City of Literature nonprofit aims to address the mostly white and white-led literary infrastructure and has already offered free trainings for those in the literary community to teach them about how racial bias is reflected in book selections offered to buyers at the retail level.

Seattle’s training model has also spread to Portland and other regional trade shows. Seattle City of Literature aims to make the city’s literary system more equitable, from writers to publishers.

Stesha Brandon

“We’re working to leverage culture as a way of initiating change in our city,” says Stesha Brandon, literature and humanities program manager at the Library, and program manager at the City of Literature nonprofit.

Brandon’s work at the Library helps facilitate the partnership between the Library and City of Literature.

Joining the global cities of literature allows Seattle to tap into other cities’ resources, as well as share what works here, Brinbury says. Seattle has worked with Melbourne, Australia, to facilitate professional exchanges, including one for literary programmers and an upcoming international exchange of booksellers for trainings. Two other cities – Quebec City, Canada, and Barcelona, Spain, hope to create their own versions of Seattle Reads, SPL’s annual “one book, one city” program.

Seattle has also participated in indigenous writer exchanges with Christchurch, New Zealand (a Sister City of Seattle).

The Seattle Public Library serves as a partner to Seattle City of Literature, and The Seattle Public Library Foundation facilitates some of the grant funding from the City of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture.

Literature is an indelible part of this city, Brandon says, from the rain that nourishes creativity to its robust independent bookstore community to the network of 27 libraries and the diverse array of writers who call Seattle home.

“The writers and the support of the community makes this city special,” Brandon says.

Through the City of Literature designation, Brinbury hopes to give the Seattle literary community a leg up in accessing resources and audiences. If someone wants to open a bookstore, for example she hopes they can come to one place – the City of Literature group – for all the help they need.

“I see us as a sort of booster organization for the books communities in Seattle,” Brinbury says. “We want to make it easier for all the cultural organizations and independent organizations to do their work.”

For more information, visit the Seattle City of Literature website.

Meet the winners of the 2019 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship

A panel of distinguished authors have selected the three winners of the 2019 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship.

Ruth Tedla, Kristin Hong and Alex Huynh have each earned tuition support from this scholarship fund with their essays about local civic leaders.

Now wrapping up its sixth year, the scholarship honors the legacy of the late Library supporter, community leader, and activist Stimson Bullitt, who believed that courageous civic leadership could transform lives for generations. The scholarship contest challenges local high school and college students to write an essay about an individual or group of individuals from Washington state who demonstrated civic courage on an issue of importance to the community 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 extend special thanks to our local authors who judged the essays: Jon Krakauer, Jonathan Raban, and Paula Becker.

This year’s three winning essays illustrated the accomplishments of the Gang of Four, a group of activists who fought for social justice and education for racial minorities in Seattle; Rep. Pramila Jayapal, an immigration activist who launched a nonprofit immigrant rights organization and was elected to represent Seattle in Congress; and Akiko Kurose, a Japanese-American teacher who used the lessons of her own internment during World War II to promote peace and education.

Congratulations to our winners!

Ruth Tedla
Shorewood High School
Entering George Washington University
$5,000 scholarship
“The Gang of Four”





Kristin Hong
Hazen High School
Entering University of Washington
$2,500 scholarship
“We are OneAmerica: Pramila Jayapal and the Protection of Immigrant Rights”




Alex Huynh
Garfield High School
Entering University of Washington
$2,500 scholarship
“The Island Amidst the Storm: The Story of Akiko Kurose”

‘Palaces for the People’ frames libraries as vital civic hubs

Penguin Random House

Foundation donor and Legacy Society member Janet Daggatt writes book reviews that are often published in The Readers Exchange. Recently, she read and weighed in on a recent favorite of The Seattle Public Library Foundation’s CEO, Jonna Ward: ‘Palaces for the People’ by Eric Klinenburg.

233 pages, Crown Publishing, 2018.

In July 1995, Chicago suffered a devastating heatwave, killing 739 people. In short order, questions arose and a team was formed to investigate the disaster and to see how future disasters might be avoided.

Janet Daggatt / Photo by Michael B. Maine

Women fared better than men. People living alone, particularly the elderly, fared badly. Latinos fared best of all, and that seemed because, even though they lived largely in crowded tenements without air conditioning, dying alone was seemingly impossible and that single feature proved most important. Three neighborhoods were particularly interesting in this study. These three with the lowest death rate were poor, violent, and primarily Latino. It’s hard to believe, but these same neighborhoods fared better than the affluent ones!

So, how? As ‘Palaces for the People’ points out, these three neighborhoods had a strong societal infrastructure: playgrounds, restaurants and bars, stores, and most importantly, a library. These were all places for neighbors to meet, socialize, and bond, but the library stood out as the only place attracting all age groups, and it is free.

This study expanded to other large cities around the world that had survived a disaster with an eye for similar patterns. In each case, the results were the same: Residents living in cities with a strong social infrastructure, including a library, fared the best. If infrastructure is this important, with libraries the cornerstone, it stands to reason that libraries should be maintained and continue to offer their free services that include not just loaning books – the original service – but the special section for infants and children, computers, help for those learning a second language, plus their ongoing programs and lectures. It’s an institution that offers plenty of time for learning, and recreation while developing friendships. If Palaces for the People has credibility, the need for maintaining libraries is obvious.

Between 1883 and 1929, Andrew Carnegie endowed 2,811 libraries. All would gradually need financial help to continue to provide the free and expanding services. This book is not a large one, but it certainly provides an inviolate case for widespread need for libraries.

If you review books and would like to submit a review for eNews consideration, please send it to We look forward to reading your thoughts!