50 years later, Sno-Isle Libraries ‘bet’ a success

The first stirrings of the Sno-Isle Libraries began as something of a bet.

State money helped establish demonstration libraries on Whidbey and Camano islands in 1961.

The idea was simple: Show the public the benefits of having library service nearby, and then see if they’ll be willing to approve a tax to support it.

Starting in October of that year, bookmobiles made regular stops at 50 Island County communities. On Camano Island, these included the Utsalady Ladies Aid building, the South Camano Grange Hall, and the Madrona Beach store.

Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley had existing town libraries that could be used by town residents, but they were small. These libraries were stocked with additional materials and had their hours extended. In Freeland, a library was established in a gift shop called The Green Parrot. Camano Island residents were granted free access to the Stanwood Library.

“That was not uncommon at the time to have these demonstration projects to show people what it would be like to have a public library, said Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory, director of Sno-Isle Libraries.

At the end of that project, in November 1962, Island County voters approved the formation of a library district. It joined what was then known as the Snohomish County Rural Library District, a library system that would serve both counties but remained independent from the Everett Public Library.

In the 50 years since its founding, Sno-Isle Libraries has grown into a service providing a variety of reference and information services with a budget of nearly $48 million and 450 full- and part-time employees.

Overall, the system has an inventory of 1.2 million items — books, videos, e-books and magazines — available to the public.

The two-county library system now has 428,000 patrons who made 3.7 million visits to libraries or its bookmobile last year. Lynnwood ranked as the most-visited library, with nearly 504,000 visits.

Beginning at noon Sunday, the Lynnwood library will host the first in a series of planned celebrations throughout the library system of Sno-Isle’s 50th anniversary. The event will include a performance by the Martha Lake Elementary School Chorus.

A year-long campaign will be announced to ask for donations for a time capsule, such as photos of local high school classes and jerseys from local sports teams; it will be opened in 10 years.

“We’re also hoping to collect stories on their experiences people have had with the library over the years,” said Michael Delury, managing librarian.

Sno-Isle’s 21 community libraries are located in diverse communities: Lynnwood with its suburban streets lined with restaurants, small businesses and home to a major mall; Darrington, a rural town encircled by the peaks of the Cascade range; and Coupeville, a languid community on Whidbey Island.

Its bookmobiles now serve children and staff at child-care centers, and people disabled or ill who can’t leave their home or care facilities. Last year, these patrons borrowed more than 167,000 items.

Despite the rapid evolution of electronic media, including e-books, Woolf-Ivory said she thinks that libraries will continue to fill an important community role.

“Libraries are more than books,” she said. “We’re community centers. Regardless of age or economic levels, everyone has access to materials, programs and services that can really help with lifelong learning.”

Libraries are one of the few places where people can use the Internet free, she said. Many employers require that people apply for jobs online.

“If you don’t have an email account or Internet access, how do you participate in searching for a job?” she said. “That sure is something that we are seeing in our libraries every day.”

There’s also been rapid growth in the number of groups that meet in library rooms and classes that provide information on anything from genealogy to how to be a smart consumer.

The public also can arrange for one-on-one appointments with librarians so they can learn how to use electronic equipment, download e-books or get help in learning how to do research or look for a job.

The library system focuses on lifelong learning. This means assisting with literacy for children and adults and working to maintain student reading levels during the summer.

Research shows that if students continue to read all summer, “they will at least maintain their reading level, and in many cases, their reading level can increase,” Woolf-Ivory said.

“These summer reading programs have existed from the very beginning of Sno-Isle,” she said. “People would have gotten on a bookmobile in very rural Snohomish County and would have had a summer reading program.

“Isn’t that cool?”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

Sno-Isle Libraries’ chapters

The first in a series of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Sno-Isle Libraries is scheduled to begin at noon Sunday at the Lynnwood Library, 19200 44th Ave. W. Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory, the library system director, will speak. The Martha Lake Elementary School Chorus will perform. Call 425-778-2148 for information.

The origin of Sno-Isle Libraries dates from 1944, when the Snohomish County Rural Library District was established. Island County residents voted to establish a library district in 1962.

Where were the libraries that were part of the original system established in 1962?

Alderwood Manor, Arlington, Darrington, Edmonds, Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Monroe, Mountlake Terrace, North Creek, Silvana, Stanwood, Coupeville, Freeland, Langley, and Oak Harbor.

Since then, libraries in the following communities were established or have joined the system: Brier, Camano Island, Clinton, Marysville, Mill Creek, Mukilteo, Snohomish, and Sultan.

The Everett Public Library, a city library system, is not part of Sno-Isle Libraries.

How is the library system is funded?

The library is funded by a tax levy on all properties in the unincorporated areas of both counties, and annexed cities. (Stanwood contracts with the library system.)

Where is the oldest still-functioning library?

Snohomish, established in 1910.

What is the newest library?

Camano Island, which began as a demonstration project in June 2007 at Terry’s Corner.

How many books and film circulated then and now?

In 1962: 910,175 books, records and films were loaned

In 2011: 9.5 million loans of books, CDs, DVDs, audio- and ebooks.

The library district’s operating budget, then and now:

In 1962: $253,312

In 2011: $47,780,962

What were the most popular books in 1962?

The best-selling novel was “Ship of Fools” by Katherine Anne Porter.

The most distinguished American picture book for children was “Once a Mouse,” illustrated and retold by Marcia Brown.

Source: Sno-Isle Libraries

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