Seattle Public Library (Central Branch), designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, located in the heart of Downtown Seattle.
The Seattle Public Library (SPL) is one of the highest-ranked urban public library systems in the nation. Officially established by the city in 1890, the SPL today has grown to operate a total of 26 branches located throughout Seattle along with the Central Library, hosting approximately 5,200,000 in-person patron visitors as well as approximately 12,000,000 online patron visitors every year. Circulating nearly 13 million books and media resources annually, as well as offering patrons access to more than 30 Special Collections, the SPL continues to be a staple of education and accessibility within the local community. In partnership with community members and organizations throughout the city, the SPL offers a diverse array of programs and services for youth, teens, and adults centered around skill-building, community building, writing, diversity, arts and culture, and more. The Library’s Social Justice program, for example, offers a multitude of interactive series covering Equity Work at the Library, Indigenous Sovereignty, Intellectual Freedom, Racial Justice, etc. and even includes an SPL original Social Justice podcast highlighting Environmental Equity, Criminal Justice, and Homelessness issues within the Seattle community. Additionally, the Library’s Civics and Social Services program provides resources to immigrants and refugees, including citizenship preparation and English language courses, which has helped to further solidify the SPL’s reputation as a safe, equitable, and educational hub for all.
The SPL’s work in equity and increasing accessibility to books, technology, information, and resources for new and local members of the community, has been equally impactful in helping the international community to learn about new ways in which they can utilize their library systems to create positive change as well. In collaboration with the World Affairs Council of Seattle’s International Visitor Program (IVP), the SPL has met with international leaders from around the world, participating in the U.S. State Department’s premier professional exchange program, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) currently celebrating its 80th Anniversary, as well as other professional exchange programs to share their expertise on how the SPL continues to strengthen the Seattle Community.
Rick Sheridan, Director of Institutional and Strategic Advancement for the SPL, regularly meets with our international visitors. Leading fun, engaging, and informational tours that highlight the history, architecture, programs, technology, and partnerships of the SPL, Rick continues to provide our visitors with a holistic understanding of the SPL and its impact on the Seattle community. He truly captures the beauty and value of the SPL and additionally, connects our visitors to his amazing colleagues who have shared their expertise with IVLP visitors on a wide range of topics including Migration in the Americas, Library Management, Science and Technology Education for Youth, and more. The most recent group to visit the SPL was for an IVLP on Regional Responses to Refugee and Migration Issues in the Indo-Pacific in February 2020. The library staff met with these international leaders to discuss the services SPL offers for immigrants and refugees, equity work at the library, and establishing a lasting volunteer network.
International visitors participating in the TESOL Access Exchange program strike a pose on the iconic “Red Floor” at the Seattle Public Library’s Central Branch. Mar. 2019.
Rick and his colleagues at the SPL enjoy meeting with our international leaders because, “by bringing international guests to Seattle, you provide us the opportunity to highlight our approach to learning and information sharing,” as well as showcase “what makes our city and library special, while learning about our guests’ cultures and professional focus.” Furthermore, Rick believes that, as an institution focused on learning, the SPL wants to “do its part in supporting the exchange of information across borders and cultures. We believe that diplomacy fostered through personal connections and the sharing of ideas can make a difference globally.” On the flip side, hosting international leaders from around the world has helped staff to “learn other countries’ best practices and stay abreast of library focused innovations.”
It is gratifying to learn just how impactful the person-to-person interactions fostered by programs such as the IVLP, have been in offering unique opportunities for our local community to connect with the rest of the world. The connections built through these programs resonate on both sides and continue to normalize international exchange across the globe. We are incredibly grateful to Rick and his colleagues at the SPL for their willingness to engage so meaningfully with our visitors. We thank you for your continued support of our programs, and we look forward to working with you again soon!
International Visitors participating in the U.S. Higher Education Program for High School Guidance Counselors tour the Seattle Public Library's Central Branch. Feb. 2020.
- Due to COVID-19, the SPL and its branch locations are temporarily closed. They are, however, still offering digital materials and a number of virtual programs and events for youth and adults during this time.
New to the Community Spotlight Series? Check out our previous Community Spotlights recognizing our amazing community partners and the lasting impact of exchanges!
By Avery Closser, Intern, & Julianna Patterson, Program Coordinator, International Visitor Program