Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden reads “It’s Only Stanley” by Jon Agee to youngsters while visiting Sno-Isle’s Marysville Library last week with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen last August. While Sno-Isle and Everett libraries have closed during the coronavirus pandemic, both library systems are working to offer the same services, such as storytime, online. (Dan Bates / Herald file photo)

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden reads “It’s Only Stanley” by Jon Agee to youngsters while visiting Sno-Isle’s Marysville Library last week with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen last August. While Sno-Isle and Everett libraries have closed during the coronavirus pandemic, both library systems are working to offer the same services, such as storytime, online. (Dan Bates / Herald file photo)

Editorial: Libraries go online to keep us reading, connected

The closures of buildings haven’t kept Sno-Isle and Everett libraries from offering their services.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Maybe your kids have already burned through the books they checked out from the library a month ago, or you want to find new resources to use as they continue their schooling at home. You, perhaps, are looking for a new mystery for yourself or are missing the social interaction you got out of a book club or even trivia night at a local pub.

Too bad the libraries are closed and are likely to remain so at least into May.

But while the brick-and-mortar locations are closed for both Sno-Isle Libraries and Everett Public Library, both systems are reaching out to their patrons and offering access to nearly all of their traditional services online, including checking out ebooks and audio books, answering general reference questions, supporting book club discussions and — in the case of Sno-Isle — even offering a weekly “pub” trivia night.

Both library systems have long had an online presence through their websites, offering ebooks and other resources, but following closures of their physical libraries in mid-March, both are emphasizing their virtual libraries to better facilitate those services.

Everett Public Library, for example, is inviting patrons to use Libby, Lynda and similar smartphone apps for checking out ebooks, audio books and even digital magazines. There are also links to its library blog and podcasts and online resources.

“We’re really seeing a need for our services and to engage in the community,” said Lois Langer Thompson, executive director for Sno-Isle Libraries, which manages 23 community libraries in Snohomish and Island counties.

Faced with a continuing mandate to limit exposure during the coronavirus outbreak through social distancing, families are staying at home and away from activities that previously connected them with friends and community members. As best they can, Langer Thomson said, Sno-Isle staffers are keeping those connections going online.

Sno-Isle’s closure, for example, hit just as the library system was in the middle of its Third-Grade Reading Challenge with more than 1,600 students from 60 elementary schools, testing their knowledge at special events following reading assignments. The challenge has now been adapted as a “home edition,” with support through the website, and has added a pet photo challenge.

Sno-Isle’s staff also are encouraging patrons to discover new tools for community connection, including video-conference apps, such as Zoom and GoToMeeting. Designed to facilitate business meetings, the video-conferencing apps, which work with smartphones and camera-equipped tablets and computers, easily lend themselves to the social interaction of book club discussions, children’s story times and even trivia contests.

Sno-Isle launched its pub trivia night on Friday, signing up 50 contestants prior to the event in just three hours, said David Durante, the library system’s public services director. Durante said library staff tested the concept before Friday night. “I felt a little intimidated,” Durante said. “I don’t know half the facts, but I know how to look them up.”

The library system’s offerings of ebooks and audio books have been bolstered by recent news from the publishing world. Late last year, Macmillian Publishers, one of five major book publishers, announced it was drastically limiting public libraries’ lending rights to its publications, allowing each library system one copy of each new title for the first eight weeks of availability, meaning Sno-Isle, for example, had to share one copy of an ebook among its 23 branches. The book publisher felt it was losing sales because people were checking out ebooks from public libraries, though library supporters argued that lending actually encouraged book purchases.

But last month, Macmillian announced it was lifting its embargo and returning to its previous agreements with library systems. “There are times when differences should be put aside,” announced a memo from Macmillian’s chief executive, John Sargent.

“That let us fill a long waiting list for Nora Roberts’ (latest book),” said Jessica Russell, assistant director for Sno-Isle’s technical services. “Penguin Random House also announced new prices and discounts, and we’ve really appreciated those moves.”

The online services are limited only by the internet connection available to users, which Langer Thompson admitted is a problem for some of the system’s patrons living in more rural areas. To address some of that lack of access, the library branches’ Wi-Fi connections remain available to patrons parking outside the closed libraries.

The closure of the physical libraries was a difficult decision to make, Langer Thompson said; no one wants to limit a service that so many depend upon, especially a service as essential as books and information. She and others are looking forward to opening the doors again.

“We become attached to our customers. We see them all the time and watch their kids grow up,” she said.

Until then, she said, “we are trying to take down any barriers” that have resulted from the outbreak.

The response to the coronavirus pandemic has demanded changes to our daily lives, required us to find work-arounds, to learn to do without some things, to prepare and prioritize. It has also reminded us of the value of things we often take for granted.

The exchange of ideas and access to education, information, literature, entertainment, art and culture that libraries provide — whether made available online or found inside a building — need our continued support and our appreciation for those working to provide those services.

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