Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
Whether you are a kid in need of a Harry Potter fix, or an adult wanting to learn about civil lawsuits, Seattle-area libraries have you covered.
The libraries are closed, but their programs have continued by going online, and there is a class or group for just about anyone. Participating is a way to stay connected during this period of isolation caused by the coronavirus.
For children who no longer have going to school as a way to stay connected, programs like the Harry Potter & the Social Distancing Book Group run by King County Library System can help with feelings of isolation.
“We see it as so much more than just a means to promote reading and social literacy, and it is incredibly important to us that tweens and teens who may be struggling with isolation hear about it,” said KCLS librarian Ellen Herring, who along with Devon Abejo, is the main organizer of the program. “(We) sincerely feel this program can help youth make connections that might just be lifelines during this difficult time.”
Abejo, a teen-services librarian, came up with the idea when J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, announced free electronic availability of the first book. Herring was in the middle of running a Harry Potter program series at Covington and Black Diamond libraries when the libraries were closed. She joined in, as did a few other librarians.
The book group is in the middle of a nine-week run, with online gatherings every Monday for ages 9 and older. There are also Harry Potter reading challenges and Harry Potter events on Fridays that tie in with the book club.
“We have seen so much excitement,” Herring said. “Not only are they talking to us and their peers in the actual meeting itself, but there is a chat room that goes on, on the side, and they really get a chance to talk to one another and almost play. They will do live-action role play where they will take on their favorite character. You can tell it’s been a while since they have had a chance to talk to anyone but their siblings and older persons.”
The Schulte family moved to the area from Colorado in January. For Lucia Schulte, a 9-year-old in third grade, the Harry Potter book club has helped her adjust to the new normal during the coronavirus. She has read the last four Harry Potter books since schools were shut down and is a regular attendee at the book-club events.
“She went from finally getting to know her friends to zero school,” said Sarah Schulte, Lucia’s mother. “It has been a great opportunity for her to talk to kids her age. … Keeping her engaged and with her peers is something I feel she needs. She is the one who reminds me that it is 3 o’clock on Monday (when the book club begins). She is in there with her notebooks and her books, and it’s important to her. It’s been a real treat and they do a great job of keeping all those kids engaged and happy for 45 minutes.”
Said Lucia Schulte: “It’s fun being with other kids, instead of being stuck with my brothers (5 and 3).”
Joining the club late is not a problem, based on the experience of 12-year-old Elizabeth Hanson (the reporter’s daughter). She joined the club for the Week 4 discussion of chapters 5 and 6 from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
“It was a nice opportunity to talk with people who know and understand about Harry Potter — because my parents don’t,” said Elizabeth, who is looking forward to the “Sorting Hat” online event where she will get sorted into a Hogwarts house and create a themed bookmark. “I felt a connection to the rest of the world, just talking to other people who weren’t my family.”
That is a typical reaction of students, Herring said. The Monday book group has been averaging about 25 to 35 children, mostly in the 9- to 13-year-old range. Herring said the book group will continue after the nine-week run ends, with the next session already being planned.
There are many other offerings through both KCLS and Seattle Public Library that fit a diverse audience.
For example, SPL is offering art classes for people over 50, English language help and practice, and technology certification exams.
Some of the offerings through KCLS include genealogy help, “Sip and Savor” cocktail book clubs, kids’ reading sessions with cats and dogs, and small-business counseling on navigating COVID-19.
On the other side of the demographic spectrum from the Harry Potter book club is the virtual legal civil-trial classes that the King County Law Library is running in partnership with Seattle Public Library. The group of four classes are advertised as this: “Learn to navigate civil lawsuits without tears with a series of virtual legal classes to teach you the ins and outs of self-representation.”
The online classes started with a cap of 20, but were so popular the cap was expanded to 5o, said Barbara Engstrom, executive director of the King County Law Library.
The classes began two years ago as in-person events at libraries. It began as one 90-minute introductory basic class, then expanded to four with advanced classes on motions, pretrial discovery and evidence.
“Most of the people that are taking the classes are trying to represent themselves in a lawsuit and are just completely befuddled and this gets them on a track where they can understand the court rules and how it works,” Engstrom said. “One of the reasons I started the classes is because they would go to legal clinics and they would get help, and after they did what the legal person at the clinic said they wouldn’t know where to go next. As a gap-filler, it was, ‘Take this class and you will get the big picture.’ “
The classes continue, despite the coronavirus.
“Once the word got out, it was a lot more popular online,” Engstrom said.