Memory Hub Spotlight: Emily Billow, Seattle Public Library

April 05, 2024

Memory Hub Spotlight, Programs

Emily Billow is the Older Adults Program Manager at the Seattle Public Library and has worked with older adults for a decade. Growing up in Montana with four active grandparents, she has always had older adults in her life. Emily has a degree in gerontology, which was her focus for undergrad. She has experience working with older adults in healthcare settings, senior centers, and now at the Seattle Public Library providing inclusive programming and partnerships to improve the wellbeing of older adults.

In this spotlight, Emily talks about how the Seattle Public Library has worked with the Memory Hub to deliver resources and what being part of a dementia-friendly community means to her.

Interview by Genevieve Wanucha

You work as the Older Adults Program Manager at the Seattle Public Library. How did your work at the Library lead you to the Memory Hub?

I coordinate all programming for the 50+ audience at our branches and with community partners, which includes senior centers, Seattle Housing Authority buildings, and of course, with you at the Memory Hub. So, I work with a wide variety of folks. This year, I'll run over one hundred different programs in library branches and in the community. Another big part of my job is thinking about how we are interacting with older adults at our branches, as well as how we can be an accessible and dementia-friendly library system. I'm also involved in staff training around issues specific to older adults and also just interacting and connecting with older adults.

Once I took this Seattle Public Library position in 2022, I took a lot of time to do some community mapping to see what resources for older adults exist and how can the library best support and elevate the programs that are already happening. I first reached out to the Memory Hub just to see what resources were needed. We found out that the Memory Hub needed books! 

The Seattle Public Library helped us stock the Memory Hub's Library and Resource room with a wide array of books and educational materials on living with memory loss and on caregiving. What was the decision process that went into creating this special book collection?

I asked librarians from across the SPL system in our Older Adult Work Group to create a book collection for at the Memory Hub. A lot went into those decisions because we knew a diverse audience at the Memory Hub would be accessing these books. We considered large print books and books in Spanish, and books in different genres. We considered different genres such as books on caregiving, more academic-based books, fiction, and non-fiction. We also offered some books for kids and teens. We also wanted to make sure the books represented authors from diverse backgrounds. We put a big list together and then narrowed it down. 

What kinds of Seattle Public Library resources have you helped bring to the Memory Hub?

The resource needs at the Memory Hub have changed over the last two years. For example, we have done art programming and educational opportunities where we brought library resources into the Memory Hub. [See: E-Books, Tech Help & More: An Intro to Seattle Public Library’s Tech Resources ; Tech Help at the Memory Hub] This year will bring an even more extensive offering of resources. The program that sticks out to me was the Found Object Puppetry Workshop we helped present at the Memory Hub, facilitated by SilverKite Community Arts teaching artist Valencia Carroll, with support from Full Life Care. I think the best part of it all was that we got to introduce the puppets we had made and create a persona. It was that kind of magical moment of where art, music, and community come together to form this beautiful moment of people just getting to be themselves—or be someone totally different.

What does it mean to you to be part of the dementia-friendly Memory Hub community?

One phrase I use a lot is that having a dementia-friendly community is welcoming for all. For me, dementia-friendly community is important because I have a grandma who has dementia. Just knowing that the community is inclusive of not only her but also of everyone who is going through this experience. I think when we think about diversity, we don't often include accessibility as one of those key components. But, it's so important. And it's important that we're creating this space now because we are only going to see more and more people living with memory loss or dementia and other diseases that cause similar symptoms. Creating these systems now and just being part of inclusive places for all is a big part of why I wanted to work at libraries. And being part of the Memory Hub is adding on that extra layer of dementia-friendly community. •