We caught up with the Seattle Public Library during PLA to chat about one of our favorite stories from #TheLibraryLife—their superbly successful Somali children’s board book project.
Hear the inside scoop on how they:
- Took a big step towards fulfilling their library mission
- Created community-based partnerships to support the program
- Planned special events and met with unexpected surprises along the way
- Responded to other libraries with similar community pockets
Featuring Special Guests:
Andrew Harbison, Assistant Director of Collections and Access
Helen Gutierrez, Collection Services Manager
Behind-the-scenes of recording the podcast episode at PLA 2018
Jim Heuer [00:00:14] Good morning everybody, my name is Jim Heuer, Director of Sales for Ingram Library Services. Really pleased to bring you a special episode of our podcast series, Two Librarians and a Microphone. We are coming to you live from the trade show floor in Philadelphia, for the Public Library Association 2018 Trade Show. It was an interesting show so far, some people really struggled to get here with the "nor'easter" that hit, little Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I think that once everyone got here, the energy at this show has been really positive. We've had a good time, and we're now looking forward to doing something a little bit different for us. Our podcast series is Two Librarians and a Microphone, if you've been following, I am neither a librarian, but I do have two librarians with me. Let me introduce our special guests to you this morning. First, we have the Assistant Director of Collections and Access from the Seattle Public Library, Andrew Harbison. Good morning, Andrew.
Andrew Harbison [00:01:13] Hi, good morning, thanks for having me.
Jim Heuer [00:01:15] Thank you for being here. And, as well, we have the Collection Services Manager, Helen Gutierrez, also from Seattle Public Library. Good morning, Helen.
Helen Gutierrez [00:01:22] Hi Jim, nice to be here.
Jim Heuer [00:01:24] Thank you so much. Alright, let's talk about a special project that we did together. So first, I'm going to say, "Subax wanaagsan sida aad tahay." What I've probably just done there, according to the United Nations, is offended about 15 million Somali speakers worldwide, but what I was trying to do is say, "Good morning" and "How are you?" in Somali. Why would I do that? Why are we talking about that? Well, in the United States, there are a couple hundred thousand Somali-speaking refugees and/or citizens. The top three cities in the United States with those populations are Minneapolis, Minnesota, Columbus, Ohio, and Seattle, Washington. That's the background. We'll take you back a little bit in time. In November of 2016, a few of us from Ingram Library Services met with Andrew and one of his colleagues, and Helen's colleagues, Rachel Martin, in the library in Seattle, for a regular business review. During the course of that discussion, there was an ask for children's books in Somali, and specifically, some board books. That proved to be a challenge, finding something, but we actually looked at it from a different way and we thought, perhaps, creating the content together would be an easy way to, or a better way, or a way to at least make some of that material available to the patrons of Seattle. I went off on my merry way to find a publishing partner. Fast forward about six months, we actually found, in our own backyard, Applewood Books, and publisher Phil Zuckerman, the very first Ingram Publisher Services publisher, back in 2005.
Jim Heuer [00:03:14] They started working with us. They were really enthusiastic to get on board with this project. It was a project that we decided to create the content. That's kind of from the Ingram perspective. That's not really why you guys are tuning in to hear about this. What you really want to hear about is, from the Seattle Public Library perspective. Let's toss some questions over to Andrew and Helen about this project, and how it came to be. Andrew, creating a book, a board book in Somali, is certainly a little bit different than what has been done in most libraries. How did this project come to be from your perspective?
Andrew Harbison [00:03:53] Thanks. It's a really interesting project, something we got very excited about. Just backtrack a little bit, I was at that meeting, that business meeting with Jim and Rachel at the Seattle Public Library. We had a great conversation about the possibilities of creating a book that we knew was needed, and wanted in the community. But unbeknownst to us, there was already people kind of working on that same concept at the Seattle Public Library. So, for the last two years, families from the New Holly neighborhood, which is where we have the highest concentration of Somali speakers in Seattle, were working with Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Housing Authority, and a community art organization called the Somali Family Safety Task Force, to collaborate, to support children's education, with a lot of help from "Race to the Top Deep Dive Three Grant", which was from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Through that work, they learned that families were concerned about the loss of their culture and language. We were recognizing that there was not a lot of support of the Somali culture in the community. Somali families were walking into American classrooms, and not really seeing themselves in the learning materials that were provided to them. The library joined in on this conversation with those community partners, about a year ago, and thought about how we could create a community-based partnership and program to address this issue. One of our program managers, Amy Twito, whose title is Informal Learning Program Manager,
Andrew Harbison [00:05:44] met with some colleagues at the Seattle Public Schools, and asked about creating a Somali book. Once Amy looked at what we had in the library, which is only at best, 200 Somali books, we decided to go ahead and do this. She was really the lead person from the library to work with the schools and the Seattle Housing Authority. Unfortunately, Amy can't be here. If she's listening, just wanted to do a quick shout-out to her. She was a big lead on this project and was able to make it happen. I just really want to emphasize in closing that this was truly a collaborative effort across four agencies, Seattle Public Library, Seattle Housing Authority, Somali Family Safety Task Force. We were able to pool our funds to get this project started. Once we were underway, I was really pleased to circle back to Jim and Ingram, to find that publisher, and produce a quality product. But also open up that book to serve and reach communities beyond Seattle, out in Columbus, out in Minnesota, and other places where people could benefit from this material. We were able to reach our immediate need in the community, but Ingram helped us with their distribution and marketing channels to reach a much wider audience and have a bigger impact, so we're very excited about that.
Jim Heuer [00:07:20] Wow, that's really some interesting stuff, and a lot of collaboration with local governments, which isn't always the easiest. It sounds like you guys all pulling together were able to get this off, and pretty quick timeframe? I think you went from concept to finished product in about a year, which is lightning fast in the world of putting books together. Alright, so when you look back on this project, there are a lot of things that happened. I'd like to hear from you, some of the surprising things that happened along the way, the interesting or the unexpected, and things of that nature.
Andrew Harbison [00:08:02] That's a good point. That's probably one of the biggest challenges that we heard from Amy and from our partners. Getting big, large bureaucratic agencies to collaborate is always a challenge. Then throwing in some private funding, community organizations, and families getting together and finding the time to bring everybody to the table was really a pretty big tremendous effort. Getting all of the approvals that needed to happen, from the funding side and from the programmatic side was really one of the biggest challenges. One of the things that we're very fortunate to have in our organizations is just a huge amount of commitment and drive. We connected with the right people, at the right time and recognized that it was a real opportunity to demonstrate partnership and collaboration and commitment to make something really important happen. Once we saw that value, I think everybody was willing to just pitch in and put in a lot of extra effort and make it happen. I think the energy and the enthusiasm was able to overcome some of the structural challenges with this type of work.
Jim Heuer [00:09:26] So, that would be if you had some advice for other folks, get them to have as committed leadership, or some of the other organizations in Seattle. In the video that I watched from your launch, Amy mentioned that there's another project, or there's more projects coming, or there's things that you want to build on this. Is it things you want to do next summer, or in the future?
Helen Gutierrez [00:09:54] Well, this book, this board book, is Learn Somali, and it's kind of an ABC book. We're looking this summer, we're really interested in creating a 1-2-3 book to go with it. It's just really important that we are able to provide culturally relevant materials in the languages spoken in our communities and having them help us develop that material is critical. We're just going to continue working with the families in the New Holly neighborhood, so that we can continue to publish these books, and make them available, not just for our communities, but nationwide, as Andrew said.
Andrew Harbison [00:10:36] Absolutely. It's a great model, as you mentioned earlier, Jim. If you don't find the content that you know the community wants and needs in your publishers or distributors, it's a great opportunity to say, "Hey, let's solve that problem ourselves." And figure out a way to add the community at the table in planning and creating that content, so it really, not only represents what they want and need, but also has their fingerprints on it. I think that was a huge piece of this project, also, the community engagement aspect of it. Building relationships amongst the community and these agencies was just a huge benefit for everybody to see how we could collaborate to meet a very specific need and build stronger relationships with the community.
Jim Heuer [00:11:36] I believe that the mayor of Seattle embraced this project pretty strongly, right?
Andrew Harbison [00:11:42] She did! We were very fortunate to have, we have a new mayor in Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan. She heard about the project and was just extremely impressed. We invited her to a book launch party and she came and shared some words, met the family members and the kids who worked on the book. Just was overjoyed with what we were able to put together. As a matter of fact, she issued a formal proclamation and made it "Somali Book Day". You couldn't ask for more recognition and support from the top. We were very surprised and happy that she was so happy to be part of this and recognize our efforts.
Jim Heuer [00:12:28] Wow, that is pretty amazing. One of the things that, from the Ingram side, this story's out there, and people know about the book, you had some copies, I know we're waiting on another reprint, and hopefully those will be along sooner rather than later. We've heard from other libraries who are interested in doing similar projects. They found pockets of community with different languages that are spoken and they also have the same need, which is kind of neat. You've obviously set the bar pretty high, if they're going to get the mayor to proclaim whatever book day that they have. This is the library world, we share our ideas, we like to see folks in different communities do the same things. What's the piece of advice, or if somebody's listening says, "Man, we should do this." or "Wow, that sounds like something really that our community could do." What would be the thing you would say to them is important to get this really off the ground?
Helen Gutierrez [00:13:27] Well, I think the family learning component is super important. Listening, really let it come from the community. It's really not something that we can initiate so much. We can provide the space, but the gathering around the meal, allowing discussion, and where all members of the family are welcome, I think that is really critical, is that we create a comfortable space, and the tools, the structure and the resources. But we're really just there to provide a welcoming space for the creative process and for the building of community. It's about building relationships and really kind of allowing the community to create their project.
Jim Heuer [00:14:22] Librarianship, right? That's what it sounds like.
Andrew Harbison [00:14:25] Absolutely. That's pretty much it.
Jim Heuer [00:14:30] I'd really like to thank you both for getting up early, you're both west coasters, so I'm sure it was a bit earlier for you than it was for me. Thank you so much, we really appreciate your time this morning. We really also appreciate the collaboration and being partners, and working on what is really a fun project for us, as well. So, thank you very much.
Andrew Harbison [00:14:50] Thanks, Jim.
Helen Gutierrez [00:14:51] Thank you, Jim.
Jim Heuer [00:14:52] All right. Two Librarians and a Microphone is a production of Ingram Library Services, Division of Ingram Content Group. Produced and directed by Rachel Cope, engineering by Craig Simpson. Special thanks to Essence Brisco, Candice Sweet, and Elizabeth Wilcox. I'm Jim Heuer, and thanks to you for listening.