By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Not only is the International District/Chinatown Library Branch (IDC) a gathering space for community members to borrow educational materials and read, it is a special communal area to absorb rich Asian arts and culture.
Free and open to all members of the public, the IDC is the city’s third smallest branch with 3,930 square feet of program space and open every day of the week for a total of 46 hours.
Esperanza Stewart, supervising librarian for the IDC, has worked in public libraries since 2003 in a variety of roles. She and her team are dedicated to serving the community and providing customer service to the library patrons.
Opened on June 11, 2005, the IDC was the 16th project completed under the “Libraries for All” building program. The branch is located inside International District Village Square II. The library’s space is leased from the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority. The complex also includes 57 units of affordable family housing, the ID/Chinatown Community Center, and retail space. The space was designed by Miller Hayashi Architects and built by Cope Construction.
According to Seattle Public Library (SPL) Communications Director Andra Addison, this location has been visited nearly 53,000 times from Jan. 1 through Oct. 31, 2018. During that time period, more than 46,000 books and materials have been circulated— DVDs being the most circulated material at this branch. As a result, the branch plans to expand the DVD sections for adults and youth.
Stewart said the library is a very popular gathering space for the community. It is the neighborhood resource for computers, copy machines, reading materials, movies and television shows, and for a place to socialize.
“Every day, we have people who come to read the newspapers and magazines, use the two study rooms, and read in the children’s area,” Stewart said.
The children’s area was recently stocked with new toys that help children learn the alphabet, creativity, colors, numbers, animals, shapes, and more.
Stewart mentioned that the staff see a wide range of patrons of all ages from the community daily. The branch staff can provide library assistance in a variety of languages, including Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Taishanese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and English.
The benefit of a library card is that patrons have access to the entire print and digital collection, and are not limited to material that is in the branch. SPL is a shared use system, so patrons are able to place books on hold from another branch and have them sent to the IDC to pick up.
This allows patrons to have access to most of the SPL collection. Staff are available in-person and via online chat to help patrons navigate the website to find materials and learn more about resources.
The IDC carries books and DVDs in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. They also carry a few DVDs in Tagalog, Hindi, Indonesian, and Marathi.
However, the DVD collection is a floating collection that changes based on what patrons put on hold. Floating collections help customize the collection based on patron usage.
Kanopy is an online resource that is free for all SPL library card holders. The collection varies and offers films and television shows to stream in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Another free resource with a library membership is Access Video, which offers Asian language videos in Chinese and Japanese. Overdrive SPL accounts can access videos in Chinese and Japanese and books in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Hindi, and Thai.
The IDC also carries print magazines in Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, as well as newspapers in Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese. While they don’t have any printed newspapers in Japanese, they do carry The North American Post, which is geared toward the Japanese community.
In addition, SPL hosts popular early literacy programs, including a Mandarin Chinese Story Time that takes place on Saturdays at IDC.
In a statement, early literacy program manager of SPL, CiKeithia Pugh, explained that the program is for communities that speak languages other than English. The goal is to demonstrate to parents and caregivers how to share books with young children and build early literacy skills to support reading success later.
Currently, SPL offers story time in Mandarin, Spanish, Somali, and English. These are funded by The SPL Foundation. Funding for this program aims to close the gap in programming that disproportionately impacts people of color, specifically the refugee and immigrant communities. Recruitment and training of community storytellers honors the rich resources available in Seattle. Programs are delivered in a culturally respectful manner that truly honors the home languages of the library’s diverse patrons.
The IDC’s Mandarin Chinese Story Time is conducted by a contracted SPL employee on most Saturdays. The sessions include reading of books, songs, and play time. Stewart noted that the program is well attended by the community and by those in the greater Seattle area who want to increase their children’s Mandarin Chinese literacy skills.
In 2018, over 600 sessions were delivered, for all of the Seattle Public Libraries.
Addison said the SPL’s budget has been stable in recent years, thanks to a library levy that Seattle voters approved in 2012. This restored many services that were cut during the prolonged economic recession.
The levy funds 24 percent of the library system’s budget (the rest comes from the city’s general fund) and supports essential library services, including open hours, more books and materials including electronic resources, up-to-date technology such as computers, and building maintenance at all 27 locations. Also, the levy has funded additional hours for the IDC branch. The branch was previously closed Fridays and Sundays before the levy. It is now open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
SPL is always looking for new ways to meet the community’s changing needs and interests.
“We launched the new Peaks Picks program. Patrons can go to the Peaks Picks display in the branch and find many current popular titles available to check out on the spot — no wait! This was a service patrons have been asking for — getting popular books faster,” Addison said.
SPL works with many organizations to offer programs and services for the public. For example, they also work with Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) to provide citizenship classes at some branches.
And SPL recently joined the Museum Pass program, which provides free passes to 15 cultural institutions in the city, including the Woodland Park Zoo, the Seattle Aquarium, the Wing Luke Museum, and more.
SPL expects to continue to build a strong digital collection, which is one of the largest of any public library in the nation. They have a growing number of patrons who enjoy the ease of borrowing ebooks and downloading digital media, including movies and music. Addison added that SPL is also planning for the 100th anniversary of its popular Summer of Learning Program for children in 2019.
“One of the IDC’s biggest challenges is space,” Stewart said. “As the library becomes more well-known in the community, our challenge is that the building is sometimes at capacity for chairs and people in terms of comfort level. But being a well-used community resource is something we take pride in at the library. IDC does not have a meeting room so programming in the branch is a struggle.”
IDC does have two study rooms that are frequently booked, but there are nearby branches including the Central Library, accessible via the light rail if patrons wanted more space.
Long hanging lamps illuminate a ceiling canopy made of ribbons of wood. A highlight of the building is “Wellspring,” a series of artwork by Chinese American artist Rene Yung, who collected teacups from neighborhood residents as her medium.
“My public artwork is a conceptual and poetic response to each site and its community,” Yung said. “I am especially excited about cross-generation work as a bridge between past and future in the reality of the present.”
The art budget for the branch was $18,749.
According to a description about the project, “Wellspring” draws from the idea of essential nourishment represented by the library and its community.
Some of the teacups are in glass cabinets, the stories of their donors etched into the glass, while others are showcased throughout the library, suspended singularly in resin cubes. Another 120 teacups form a beautiful oval that looks down on the book stacks.
“As a vessel that contains and brings the primal sustenance, water, to our lips, the cup is a simple but potent symbol across cultures. Among the diverse cultures of Seattle’s International District/Chinatown, the teacup has additional meanings, including the gesture of hospitality, and embodies ritualized cultural traditions that continue to enrich the community. From this emanated the idea of Wellspring: a collection of teacups from the community, each cup an individual well of nourishment, and jointly, a gathering of goodwill and vitality,” the description explained.
Yung said, “The process of generating the teacup donations was in itself made possible through a series of relationships between the library and community groups and institutions, and brought me into contact with some of the contributors. The stories the teacups bring are all touching and remarkable, and often connect to one another. Thus, Wellspring is also a celebration of the storms in teacups, which, far from trifling, are the stuff of life, and the subject of all the volumes of all libraries.”
For more information, visit spl.org.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.