Darlene Tanis sorts books Thursday at the downtown Everett Public Library. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Darlene Tanis sorts books Thursday at the downtown Everett Public Library. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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Shrinking the ‘digital divide,’ area libraries slowly reopen

This week, services such as computer and Wi-Fi use — and even book-browsing — were reinstated.

Correction: This story has been changed to accurately reflect the days the downtown Everett branch of the Everett Public Library is open.

EVERETT — Hundreds of folks this week were reunited with a dear old friend: their local library.

Nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered buildings and halted in-person services, a steady stream of library patrons returned.

Several libraries in Snohomish and Island counties have reopened in limited fashion.

The Everett Public Library opened the doors to both branches Tuesday. Each day since, over 100 patrons have visited the downtown branch, at 2702 Hoyt Ave., to browse books and use other services, such as computers and Wi-Fi access.

“The city of Everett, and the nation, still has a big digital divide,” library Director Abigail Cooley said. “We all take having laptops and cellphones — devices attached to the internet — for granted. There are many who don’t have that.”

The libraries also offer a variety of other services, such as resume editing, tax help and job search assistance.

COVID restrictions are in place at the Everett Public Library. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

COVID restrictions are in place at the Everett Public Library. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Libraries are operating at 25% capacity right now, per state reopening guidelines. Patrons are allowed in the buildings on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no time limit for browsing, but patrons are encouraged to keep their visits brief. Computer use is limited to two hours per visit at the downtown branch.

The downtown Everett branch is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and the cafe remains closed. The Evergreen Branch, at 9512 Evergreen Way, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The limited hours reflect staffing cuts due to budget shortfalls the past year.

Those browsing for books have the option to forego the desk for checkout and instead use a self-check-out kiosk or phone app, called cloudLibrary.

A customer uses a computer Thursday at the Everett Public Library. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A customer uses a computer Thursday at the Everett Public Library. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Marianne Le, an Everett resident, had her arms chock-full of books as she approached the self-check-out kiosk Friday during her weekly visit to the downtown branch. An avid reader, Le is thrilled the library is open and said it was no secret to her friends and family that she really missed it when it was closed.

“I prefer to find my books by browsing,” she said. “This is also just a really nice place to hang out.”

She enjoys spending time at the library because, unlike stores or restaurants, one can occupy the space without spending money.

Some libraries in the Sno-Isle district have begun to reopen, and plans are in the works to open more in coming weeks, said Kurt Batdorf, a library spokesman. Library officials are keeping the process gradual in the interest of public safety.

“Since the libraries have been closed to the public for so long, we didn’t want to have everybody descend all at once,” Batdorf said.

Furniture is stashed away, for now, due to COVID-19 restrictions at the Everett Public Library. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Furniture is stashed away, for now, due to COVID-19 restrictions at the Everett Public Library. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Rebecca Loney, Sno-Isle’s director of public services, said the regional library system is gradually adding in-building services. “We will also continue to offer our customers their choice of contact-free and online services and programs,” Loney said.

The libraries in Freeland, Darrington and Camano Island opened their doors last week. This week, the libraries in Brier, Coupeville, Lynnwood and Snohomish began offering “grab ’n’ go” service, and the Marysville Library is providing a meeting room for computer access. Under “grab ’n’ go,” customers can browse library materials. However, the number of customers is limited, they must wear face coverings (including children over age 2) and limit time in the building to 30 minutes.

All 23 Sno-Isle community libraries offer contact-free services, including pickup of materials, printing, laptop and Wi-Fi checkouts and more. Online services and resources are available 24-7 through the recently redesigned website, www.sno-isle.org.

Back in Everett, Cooley said patrons have been especially interested in gardening and cooking books since the pandemic started.

The reopening has even moved some avid bookworms to tears of relief, library security guard Lee Brooks said. “We had some ladies come in the other day, and they were more excited than the kids were.”

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; edennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen

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