EDMONDS — Betsy Mugavero Mattfeld is a self-proclaimed “public library nerd.”
She’s taken advantage of all they have to offer as she and her husband, both regional theatre actors, have migrated with their two children around the country. Over the last few years, Mattfeld estimates she’s amassed library cards in at least six states.
“Libraries have always been our first go-to place to find on a map when we move,” Mattfeld said. “It’s where we could take our kids to meet people in our new community and find services that meet our needs.”
Libraries are crucial to Mattfeld’s family and so many others, she said, because they provide valuable resources and connections regardless of a family’s cultural background or ability to pay. Storytimes and workshops at her local branch have been especially important to Mattfeld because they give her kids a chance to do something constructive and expand their horizons while their parents get a brief moment to relax.
At a Día de los Muertos-themed craft workshop hosted by Sno-Isle’s Edmonds branch on Tuesday, Mattfeld’s 5-year-old son August made fast friends with another little boy named August while eagerly sprinkling glitter on a sugar skull around the craft table. Her toddler Ramona, too little to craft with the big kids just yet, perched on Mattfeld’s lap while library staff stopped by frequently to ensure she felt included in the fun, too.
Administrators of the Sno-Isle Library system, a network of 24 libraries scattered across Snohomish and Island counties, hope to expand their reach into the communities they serve using a $100,000 grant awarded last month by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Christina Kourteva, executive director of the Sno-Isle Library Foundation, said the grant is one of the largest the library system has received in recent memory, and they have some big goals they hope to tackle with it.
Kourteva said the Gates Foundation identified Sno-Isle libraries as exemplifying its priorities for funding public libraries. The libraries settled on their priorities for use of the funds after weeks of discussion and listening to patrons, Kourteva said. One of the community’s greatest concerns was improving some library facilities.
A portion of the grant money will support a remodel that’s already underway at the Arlington branch, an aging building long overdue for some updates, Kourteva said. The branch got a new roof this summer, and later on the project will install better air conditioning and improve accessibility to make the building more comfortable and inviting to patrons. Darrington’s library will share in the wealth too, with a complete remodel including rooftop solar panels expected to begin next year.
Activities, like the Día de los Muertos workshop, that offer fun alongside cultural enrichment and inclusivity are emblematic of other programs the library system plans to expand using grant funds. Kourteva said patrons and staff identified the need to broaden the reach of their equity, diversity and inclusion programs to better engage the vast array of cultural groups served by the library system.
One such program will expand storytimes to children who don’t speak English at home through the library’s planned World of Languages program. Kourteva said grant funds will help the system work with Korean, Spanish and Russian-speaking communities, among others, to connect with native speakers who can provide kids from all backgrounds with a storytime of their own.
Funds will also be used to help libraries continue providing books to third-graders as part of a program designed to encourage kids to develop a love of reading early in life. Kourteva said librarians select a few books each year, usually award winners or books dealing with relevant world events, to distribute for free among over 100 participating schools in Snohomish and Island counties.
“We want to continue to support this effort, and especially in communities that are underserved or economically stressed where the families may not be able to purchase books for the kids,” Kourteva said.
Mattfeld said she was excited for the library’s plans going forward, and she’s optimistic about the library’s efforts to extend a hand to even more families. She believes each part of the plan will contribute to making each local branch a safe, welcoming space that encourages everyone to engage with their communities and enrich their lives.
“I think that’s something that people will notice and will feel that they can approach,” Mattfeld said. “If it seems like a place that you can go where it’s not just about reading a book alone, or even if you do need to be able to read a book alone, that’s what will draw people towards creating a bigger community around it.”
Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @RHaunID.