Snohomish Library makes NPR commentator’s top 10

SNOHOMISH — At the Snohomish Library, windows stand taller than bookshelves and let natural light shine in. People curl up in couches near a fireplace. Librarians work hard to let people feel cozy and comfortable.

The library offers nothing gimmicky.

“We are still trying to keep this a place where people feel comfortable. That’s very easy for us to do,” said Eileen McDonnell, an interim managing librarian of the library.

The library’s homey atmosphere makes it a special place and one of the top 10 libraries in the nation, said Nancy Pearl, a National Public Radio book commentator.

Pearl, a former executive director of the Washington Center for the Book and model for the popular shushing Librarian Action Figure, recently ranked her favorite libraries for USA Today. The list of her 10 favorite libraries appeared in the newspaper Friday.

“I had spoken at the Snohomish Library a couple of times and loved the way it was laid out,” Pearl, 63, of Seattle told The Herald on Monday. “Even on gray days, there’s lots of light coming in.”

Pearl worked as a librarian and a bookseller in Seattle, Detroit, and Tulsa, Okla., and is author of the bestseller “Book Lust.”

She’s visited “hundreds of libraries” in the United States and in countries such as Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, Pearl said. She selected the top 10 libraries to introduce little-known libraries.

“It needed to be a library that stuck to my mind. So, in a sense, it was easy,” she said.

When the $8 million Snohomish Library was built in 2003, residents were involved in its design. They wanted the 23,000-square-foot building to match the city’s landscape, especially its historic downtown along First Street, McDonnell said.

Before the new library opened, the Carnegie Building in the downtown had been used as the city’s library since early 20th century. City officials are now mulling over how to preserve the building.

Snohomish, a city of about 9,000 people, takes pride in its tradition and small-town feel, Mayor Randy Hamlin said.

“It’s fantastic and makes our city proud,” Hamlin said. “It’s quite an honor to have a library that is on the top 10.”

The Snohomish Library is run by the Sno-Isle Library Regional System. It’s the third largest after Marysville and Lynnwood in the system, said Mary Kelly, a spokeswoman for the system. In 2007, the Snohomish Library attracted about 275,000 visitors. Those visitors checked out about 507,000 items last year.

Pearl informed Kelly that the Snohomish Library made the top 10 list a few weeks ago, Kelly said.

“I couldn’t sit at my desk,” Kelly said. “But I couldn’t tell anybody. That was a dilemma for me.”

Staff members at the library are patting themselves on the back, McDonnell said.

“I’m stunned,” she said. “For such a small town, being on such a list is amazing.”

McDonnell and Kelly said they are considering how to celebrate the good news with the community.

On Monday afternoon, the library was quiet as usual, with people reading, studying and working on computers.

“I like the lighting,” said Lila Rawding, 51, of Snohomish. “I think it’s very organized, and people who work here are very helpful.”

That her favorite library is considered one of the best in the nation caught Rawding off-guard. But it makes sense, she said.

“I can believe it,” she said. “It’s very nice and comfortable.”

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