Q&A with Nancy Pew, Children’s Librarian
Community, Connections and a Whole Lot of Heart
Enjoy Lake City (ELC) recently visited Nancy Pew, Children’s Librarian at the Lake City branch. Nancy shared some of the highlights of her career, her thoughts on the importance of connection and community, and the joys of working out of the box.
ELC: You seem to absolutely love your job. What made you decide to become a children’s librarian?
I’ve always liked libraries. When I was in 7th or 8th grade, my mother went back to school to get credentials to be a school librarian. I was in the library guild in high school and I got a varsity letter in library. I still have it!
In college, I thought about library school but it’s hard to do the same thing your mother does, so I got a history major in three years. After graduating, I decided to go to library school after all. After school, I applied to Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I’d never been west of Kansas and I wanted to see other parts of the country. We were very much into social justice and community service and I got a placement at St. Therese Parish here in Seattle, working with African American children in the Central District in 1978.
ELC: You and your husband Pat do a lot of community work together at events in Lake City. How did you meet him?
Pat and I both worked at the same school, and we often worked on projects together. I was a volunteer and he was a teacher. When I first met him, we were doing introductions around the room and he said to me, “Hello I’m Pat Pew, I’m single.” which he’d never said to anyone else before or since. He told me later, “I don’t know why I blurted that out!” He was just mortified.
When I went home for Christmas to my folks in Missouri, I guess he thought I wouldn’t come back, so he gave me what he called an “eastern seaboard survival kit”. It had a calendar from Seattle, salmon canned in Seattle, all this Seattle stuff. Well, I did come back and I married him in 1979!
ELC: Were you based at other branches before Lake City?
I stopped working for a few years when I became a mother of three. When I came back to work, I got a job with the bookmobile and also did story times in childcares in low-income areas.
After a couple of years, I went to the South End, working at 9 libraries with only 5 children’s librarians. I got hired to go around and fill in the gaps in the story time schedules to expand the programming.
ELC: Where did you go next?
During the waves of library remodels back in the 80’s, I went into neighborhoods and did story times in West Seattle, Garfield and the Y. Next, I got a job at Columbia Library and later I was sent to SPLASH, an after-school drop-in program.
At Madrona, we made dollhouses out of mat board. At Columbia, we had a little 2-inch-high stage outside in the park where the kids would read a dramatic story and then act it out.
Then I came to Lake City about 12 years ago. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been invited over and over again in my career to do things that were out of the box for the library and I do a lot of my work out in the community.
ELC: What are some of the most popular programs or services you’re involved with?
Cultural celebrations. I try to invite people of different cultures to do the planning and whatever work they want to do, and I fill in the gaps to support them. We’ve done Eid, Day of the Dead, 3 Kings Day, Diwali, Christmas/Winter, Lunar New Year, the Japanese Spring Festival and many others.
ELC: Are there any people or events that particularly stand out in your mind?
We did an African celebration with other organizations in Lake City. At the time, there was an African exhibit at the Burke Museum and I took some of the effects to my outreach sites. One of the ladies looked at the items and said, “I used to have some of those, but I couldn’t bring them with me from home when I came to America.” It was really touching to be able to show her the things she had used and give her children a chance to see them too.
ELC: You were recently honored when the library named a room for you.
Peggy Hernandez and Nancy Blase made that happen! They also got other people to donate to the remodel and for the room. At first, I felt kind of funny about it – other people do all kinds of wonderful things! Then I kind of liked it. I appreciate that people appreciate me. I asked them to include my maiden name because my mom was a librarian too. So it’s the Nancy O’Leary Pew Project Room. I’m really, really pleased. The first thing I said was, “I’m not even dead yet, and I’ve got a room named after me!”
ELC: How have libraries changed in the years you’ve been here?
I think the library has a spirituality about it. The spirit of the library goes through time no matter what the changes are. It’s something everyone can really tap into when they get frustrated. You have knowledge and learning, and the transformation that stories can have on your life. It makes libraries not just about the books, but an engaging experience about ideas and community and trying new things. There are the story times, craft times, having children doing stories with you, going out in the neighborhood and meeting people and it all just sort of evolves into even more connections.
ELC: Can you name a few of your favorite places in Lake City?
I like Little Brook Park as a place where people can gather and have activities celebrating people who live in that area.
I appreciate North Seattle Family Resource Center because it supports so many people in who they want to be and recognizes them for their unique knowledge and experiences.
And I like the many businesses that have the wonderful murals on their walls, especially the fish store mural. Jalisco’s restaurant does wonderful things; they’re so supportive of the kids at Nathan Hale. Kaffee Klatsch is great and so is the Community Center.
ELC: What do you think is Lake City’s biggest challenge?
Housing affordability. Some people are being driven out. People who’d like to live here, have left.
ELC: What things do you think are going well in Lake City?
So many community organizations work together here to support people through special events and services, like the Food Bank, the family advocates at the North Seattle Family Resource Center, REWA and their pre-school, Sound Generations’ pop-up senior center, the work the Mennonite Church does with the homeless, the social workers at low-income housing sites, Lamb of God Church who invites us to do story times there, and Hunger intervention.
ELC: What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m not a very private person, people already know a lot about me! I’ve studied Incan shamanism with my sister for about 10 years. We think we can think our ways out of a problem by will power and thinking. A lot of people, especially Northern Europeans, drag their ancestors and a lot of negative things with them, kind of like Scrooge did with the ghost of the past. Incan Shamanism is about shifting energies and removing energetic debris — to be free of connections that don’t serve you, and to be open to receiving energy that other people have sent you, whether it’s good or bad.
ELC: If you were to sum it up in one sentence, what is the very best thing you love about your job and working with the Lake City community?
Being a catalyst for helping people find connections, love and joy.
Lake City Library is located at 12501 28th Ave NE, Seattle WA 98125
Hours: M-Th 10 am – 8 pm Fri-Sat 10 am – 6 pm Sun 1 pm – 5 pm