CLIFF’S EDGE: If you haven’t visited a public library lately, I encourage you to do so


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If you haven’t visited a public library lately, as I hadn’t until this week, I encourage you to do so. If you happen to have children or grandchildren, invite them along.

There’s a lot going on there that should be of interest to all of you.

I was curious about how relationships are faring among libraries and kids in this age of rampant digital communication, so I chatted with children’s library specialists at the Burien and White Center libraries.

It was my first visit to the new White Center library, which opened a little over a year ago, and as I was shown around by Lydia Katzel, children’ services librarian, I was impressed by the newness, of course, not only of the main library area, but of the technology it housed.

I also was impressed by the 25 or so patrons on this quiet, summer weekday seated at computers, browsing through books and newspapers, some making notes, others lost in their thoughts.

It was predominantly an adult group on this day, but Lydia said the next day she and a performer hired by the library would present a session for 5-to-7-year-olds titled “Let’s Go Camping.”

It likely would be far from passive, perhaps including art projects (crafting a tent?), and a song, as well as time with a book or two.

I was told at both libraries that whatever the ages involved, those who participate in these and other library activities often do it as families. That reflects in part the libraries’ expanded roles in serving the influx of non-English-speaking families and individuals to our communities.

Working in conjunction with schools and other organizations, they help alert parents to the importance of education to them and their children and also introduce to them the many ways to learn through language-oriented activities.

The next morning, I arrived at the Burien Library for a story-telling session with Gaye Hinchliff, the children’s librarian there. This session was for the very young, and the semi-circle of chairs was occupied mostly by 2-year-olds. But a father, several mothers, a couple of grandmothers and a nanny also were pointed out to me.

One 2-year-old experienced the day’s activities with his Somali mother and brothers, 5 and 8.

Led by Gaye, the 25 or so adults and children began this morning session by acknowledging their toes, and other body parts and counting in verse from 1 to 10 and back again (a little boy applauding the number eight).

It was a glimpse of Sesame Street come to downtown Burien.

Gaye led the group, constantly in motion but attentive, through books about birds in general (flapping, hopping, sleeping), ducks (specifically, blowing up and popping balloons), and teddy bears.

They ended up singing, “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” and I was pleased to discover that all that bear still sees at the crest is “the other side of the mountain.” Not everything has changed, fortunately.

Gaye explained that children’s librarians may interact with more than 100 children during the summer, whether at their respective libraries or in visits to summer camps and other organized children’s groups.

At the White Center Library, Lydia Katzel had explained how their presentations often fall into one of two categories: Mirror activities and Window activities.

In the “mirrors” children working with letters, words, pictures and songs encounter things common to their lives and surroundings.

Employing the same language devices through the “windows” they meet people not as familiar to them and expand their worlds.

English is not the sole language used. Take a look at the King County Library System website and marvel, as I did, at the array of languages practiced through the library programs in this county.

At both the Burien and White Center libraries you can access materials in Chinese, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese. The Burien library also provides Arabic. Using all the libraries in the system, you can travel the world, linguistically.

But wait, there’s more…

Children completing eight library activities this summer collect a “halfway prize” good for two free tickets to attend a Seattle Storm game. Finishing 16 activities earns the finisher prize, a “reading backpack.”

In return for your escorting them to the library, your child or grandchild may take you to the game and let you borrow the backpack.

Cliff Rowe is a retired journalist and journalism professor. (He practiced both in a time before journalists and what they produced were considered “enemies of the people.”) He and his family have lived in the Shorewood area of White Center (then Burien) since 1969 when they returned to the Northwest after seven years in the Chicago area. There, following graduate school, he wrote and edited with the Chicago Sun-Times and with Paddock Publications in the Chicago suburbs. On moving here, he was with The Seattle Times for 11 years before turning to teaching journalism at Pacific Lutheran University for 35 years, retiring in 2015.

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15 Responses to “CLIFF’S EDGE: If you haven’t visited a public library lately, I encourage you to do so”
  1. rlc says:

    I took my grandson to Burien Library and a fight broke out and that was the last time. Burien Police work off duty in uniform at the Library as it has so many problems. When the City makes it safer might revisit the place for now no thanks..

    • Captain obvious says:

      When did you visit and have you at least try going back with out your grandson a few times and see if that activity happens again or how often.

      Also was just a fist fight or worse like a gun fight or knife fight. Also how fast did the off duty police put a stop to it.

      • rlc says:

        people settle down I just wont take him to Burien library to much crime and unsafe. I take him to other’s outside this area seems to be a lot better.

    • michaelJ says:

      Too bad you deny your grandson of many future educational, multicultural, and just plain positive experiences because of one incident that was actually no threat to either of you. And itself a lesson that you cannot and should not always shield kids from in the real world.

    • Ron G says:

      Sorry to hear your experience was so traumatic. But so what? There was a fight and now you will never go to another library? Oh my! There was a car accident on my street. I should never drive again, it’s NOT SAFE! You sound like an fool. This library is great. The building is beautiful, and everyone is helpful. When my business is done there, I like to grab an Aussie Pie and eat it outside and start on my latest book selection.

      • Diane says:

        Ron G,

        “But so what?”. That’s the problem.
        Junkies in the bathrooms. So what?
        People sprawled out sleeping in chairs all day. So what?
        People sleeping under the stairs. So what?
        The smell. So what?
        Not to mention the library materials are pretty substandard. So what?

        • Captain obvious says:

          Well Diane when was the last time you went to the burien library. Or are you just reading into some old issue’s at the library. Now over dramatizing the facts for your own fun.

          Also did you report any of these activities to the off duty police officer or library staff. Or do you just want to take the time to complain on a blog about a issue without providing the right people the information to possibly fix the issue.

        • Clean it up! says:

          Diane, “substandard”??? No way. Not only is our library well stocked, but we have access to materials throughout not only all of the King County Library System, but also the Seattle Public Libraries and other neighboring county library systems. Some of these libraries have extensive unique collections of things like Washington state history, art, law, poetry etc. Most popular new books/dvds/cds are available with relatively short waiting lists. There is even a large collection of paperbacks that one can checkout without worrying about a due date. If you are house bound, they will send items to you for free. There are numerous meetings/activities through-out each month for children and adults. I always find the restrooms clean and open and well lit. As is the rest of the library. There are many perfect places to sit and read or work at a table or pc away from the squatters. It’s easy enough to ignore them. If all else fails, browse the library online and order up whatever your heart desires. You will also find all kinds of current and local information on what is happening in our area. Our library is a treasure with a wonderfully knowledgeable staff waiting to help in anyway they can.

    • JJ Greive says:

      Our library is a wonderful community asset, and those that claim it if full of crime or homeless are spewing untruths. I walk downtown every day, are there homeless in the city that use the library, of course. Has there been fights, of course. These are the exceptions and not the rule. Put it in perspective, there are many people that use the library and this access to information and the internet is the great equalizer. To say I once saw an altercation at the library and I will never go back is as ridiculous.

  2. Clean it up! says:

    Great post Cliff! I am a life long library user. It’s truly fabulous what is available to us for FREE! As we have moved into the tech age, the library has helped me keep-up. I learned how to use a computer and build a website with the help of people and materials found at the library. I’ve planned trips, researched property owners and enjoyed so many fiction and non-fiction books. I love to listen to audio-books while cooking or gardening and use the library online access for free current titles, often read by the author! . I also like the large print books for when I want to shed my glasses. Recently I used the library for a meeting with a realtor. It was the perfect place. We sat near the crew that hangs out at the front windows without any problems. At first I thought it could be a mistake, but they were quiet and though disheveled, not any real problem.

    I used to go by the little building on 153rd that was my original Burien library and remember when my mother took us kids to pick-out books for our summer reading. She always had a huge armload of books for herself to carry into the house, too. We all loved ‘coffee table books’ with themes like ‘Red Barns in the US’, CATS, DOGS, Trees, Presidents, Washington, Geology, Tony Hillerman’s New Mexico, Insects, The King Ranch -TX, Quarter Horses, The History of Arab Horses in the US. Flowers, Gardening, National Parks, Africa, South America, The Great Lakes, and on and on and on. Many of the images from these books are still with me 60+ years later. Our American authors, old and new are part of me now too, because of my life long access to our public libraries. These days I place holds online and cruise in to check-out my selections when notified they are available. It’s all so easy!

  3. Munga says:

    I used to take my grandson to the Burien library but no more because you never know if he’llsee homeless urinating otr be asking “What’s that smell?” I can’t subject someone I care about to what I find offensive. Even if they want books. We now go to another branch not in the immediate community.

  4. Gwen says:

    Cliff – thanks for highlighting a national treasure, the public library system. I have used public libraries in every town I’ve lived in since I was a child. It’s a truly democratic institution. I was recently staying with a friend in Douglas County, Oregon and went to check out the local library only to find they had closed all 11 libraries in the county. This was appalling to me but a reminder that when the public doesn’t understand their role in maintaining democracy, these institutions can fade.

  5. cliff rowe says:

    The responses to my columns, since I’ve started them, are most appreciated. That is certainly the case with all your replies to this one. Each adds a valuable dimension to what I had to say. I think it all adds up to an expression of interest about something of value for Burien. Again, they’re appreciated

  6. Rachael Levine says:

    Thank you, Cliff, for the report you wrote after having visited both the Burien and White Center Libraries. Part of the King County Library System, which thankfully has a dedicated source of taxpayer money from property tax, they are the best bargains to be had. You illustrated for your readers the essence of democracy in action. The great tradition of sharing information and experience give us the tools with which to live and build our communities.

  7. Thank you for the article, Cliff, and for highlighting the activities at our KCLS libraries. Since reading during the summer is so important in children’s academic successes, we also visit sites outside the library to provide programming and books for families who aren’t able to come to the library. Sometimes we bring our big red Library2Go van. We can often be found in daycares, parks, neighborhood communities, and summer camps. Summer is a great time to connect with children and families.

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