Skip to content History – The Seattle Public Library Foundation


The Seattle Public Library Foundation was the inspiration of Virginia Burnside, a retiring member of the Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees who was frequently frustrated by the lack of city funds to support the Library. In 1980, Burnside gathered a group of her friends, established a nonprofit organization, and began raising money to supplement, not supplant public funding for the library.

Over the years, the Foundation grew in size and stature. A small pool of early donors grew to number more than 20,000 during the Foundation’s capital campaign to help build the new Central Library and renovate all branch libraries.

Since its founding, the Foundation has helped the library begin new programs and services. In the early 1980s, its first project was to establish an annual free public lecture by a noted author. Over the years Foundation funds have allowed the library to purchase new bookmobiles, host afterschool programs in branch libraries, organize cultural events for immigrants and refugees, and work with Seattle Public Schools to develop innovative projects like the Global Reading Challenge.

Today the Foundation continues to serve as the “innovation engine” for the library, helping keep pace with Seattle’s incredible appetite for books, online resources, classes, programs, and services. Governed by a volunteer board of directors, the Foundation raises money from individuals, foundations, and businesses to support the library and oversees endowment funds which have been established to provide ongoing financial stability.

The Foundation has raised more than $250 million for the library since 1980 to support:

  • Building new and revitalized libraries in every neighborhood
  • Programming for children, teens, and adults
  • Books and resources, including support for special collections
  • Services for those with special needs, such as the disabled, immigrants, and refugees
  • Technology resources for library patrons