What’s the story? Sno-Isle Libraries and Little Free Libraries in the times of coronavirus

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With Sno-Isle libraries—and its five branches on Whidbey Island—closed since mid-March, patrons are redirected to access online resources for books, audiobooks, film, events, and research. 

I, for one, miss spending time with favorite library staff, being able to browse shelves, and printing documents. One wonders when the heart of our communities will be open to us once again.

Checking in with the island’s library managers this week, here’s the latest:

Mary Campbell, District Manager, West District (which includes Island County), Sno-Isle Libraries: I heard that you are writing an article about Whidbey’s Little Free Libraries. I know there are quite a few of them on the island. Oak Harbor’s former mayor has one in front of his house, which I’ve always loved. While Sno-Isle Libraries does not manage any Little Free Libraries, we certainly support reading in any form. Finding physical reading material that can be handled safely is definitely more challenging, now that there are so many restrictions and warnings in place.

There is a draft document– Materials handling during Covid-19 DRAFT 4-10-20 –on materials handling during Covid-19 developed by Sno-Isle Libraries, King County Library System, Seattle Public Libraries, Timberland Library System, and Pierce County Library System, just so you can see some of the detailed thought that has gone into planning for safe materials handling.

We continue to monitor information from a variety of sources including the CDC, Battelle Laboratories, and other U.S. libraries that have opened to the public, and will implement best practices as we begin to safely handle materials in the libraries. 

Currently the Sno-Isle Libraries are closed to the public with no staff working on-site and most staff working remotely. We are watching carefully for guidance from state and local health authorities. As restrictions are lifted our plan is for limited staff to work on-site to ready the library for opening and provide contactless pickup service for physical materials, until we can restore regular public access to the libraries. From the Governor’s message earlier this month we know that stay at home orders are extended until May 31. Washington libraries are listed as opening to the public with some limitations in phase 3. The timeline for returning to full library services is still unknown.

With community libraries closed to the public and all in-person events canceled until further notice, library staff have been working to move as many services, programs, resources and events as possible online. Circulation of eBooks and eAudiobooks has increased exponentially during this period as we’ve increased access and provided simultaneous use to many more online books and magazines. Continue to visit Sno-Isle Libraries to see the latest news.

Oak Harbor Library Manager Jane Lòpez Santilana. Photo by Maribeth Crandell

Jane Lopez-Santillana, Interim Managing Librarian, Oak Harbor Library: Sno-Isle Libraries still do not have firm dates for reopening to the public for service.  We are following health guidelines from the Governor and county health departments. In the governor’s most recent statements and guidelines, libraries fall into the phase 3 category for opening to the public. In preparation, we are hard at work developing re-opening plans that align with public health directives and guidelines to protect the health and well-being of library employees and the public.

While our buildings have been closed, library staff have quickly developed innovative ways to continue to deliver library services remotely. Wherever possible, we have expanded digital resource offerings, continued to serve the public online and by telephone and virtually, made free Wi-Fi accessible in our parking lots, and offered both educational and entertainment opportunities for students, families, and people staying at home. Storytimes, book groups, Trivia, and other programming opportunities are all available online through our website. We also have created a webpage with links to updated COVID-19 information and resources.

Leslie Franzen, Library Manager, Coupeville Library: Our youth services staff have been working directly with our school districts to provide resource support to the teachers and students throughout our two counties. This can include homework support, recommended reads and more. Sno-Isle Libraries are also gearing up for an online Summer Reading program for children and teens. Also, the Friends of the Coupeville Library–FOCL–sponsored a Free Little Library that is in downtown Coupeville on the Collections building, near the entrance to the wharf.  It is an upcycle of the old GTE phone booth that is on the side of the building and the work was done by Bill Haselbauer, FOCL.

Jayanne Bixby, teen and children’s librarian for Langley and Freeland libraries, is preparing for the Summertime reading programs

Betsy Arand, Library Manager, Freeland Library: Like staff throughout Sno-Isle Libraries, Freeland staff have been diligently working to provide library services while at home. We have made almost 2,000 phone calls to active Freeland Library users who are over age 60 to help them connect with online library resources. Some conversations have been a quick “I’m good – thanks for calling!” and others have been much longer as people share their stories of being isolated during this time. We all miss seeing library customers as much as they miss coming to the library in person.

A Freeland Librarian has been running the highly successful PubTrivia at the Taproom in Bayview Corner since last fall. Trivia was one of the first programs Sno-Isle chose to offer online and it is now available twice a week! Other staff are busy planning a variety of online programs: Summer Reading, Crafting, and Humanities Washington speakers. Book-a-Librarian appointments were also popular in Freeland and several staff are now providing this service online.

One of the book discussion groups that regularly met at the library decided to try using Zoom for their meetings. An unexpected bonus is that former members of the group who moved off-island to places as far away as Virginia and California have joined in!

We are also pleased to announce that Whidbey Reads will host author Laurie Frankel for an online event on Thursday, June 11 at 7:00 p.m.  Registration is open for this free event.  As part of your registration you will have the option to submit a question that may be used in the interview with Laurie Frankel.  Frankel is the author of the Whidbey Reads 2020 selection, This Is How It Always Is

Vicky Welfare, Library Manager, Langley Library: Staff across Sno-Isle have been hard at work with planning what we will need to do in order to reopen and how best to do it to keep staff and customers safe in each building. It has been gratifying to see how the use of online services has exploded as people continue to turn to their libraries for information and entertainment. I don’t know if you are aware, but all over SIL we have been doing socialization calls, checking in with our senior customer base to see how they are doing, are there any resources we can refer them to. We are also working with continuing our partnership with Humanities Washington, and seeing how we can transfer those popular programs to an online format.

Now retired, popular library assistant Gwen Goodbee looks out the window of the Clinton Library. Friends of Sno-Isle libraries have donated funds for a variety of Georgia Gerber sculptures, such as this joyful rabbit and squirrels. Nowadays the squirrel wears a mask in honor of Governor Inslee’s mask requirement.

Debby Colfer, Library Manager, Clinton Library: This has been a time of discovery for many people who have not utilized Sno-Isle Libraries digital materials in the past. Sno-Isle Libraries have added eBook titles, and we always have a selection of digital titles that are available for immediate download so there is no waiting. Customers are discovering RBdigital to download magazines and comics, and Kanopy and Hoopla for streaming movies.

We have made it easier to get a library account online and expanded the access to online items and services for people new to using the library. If anyone has questions there is a link to Ask Us, Tell Us to submit questions. Library staff members are working remotely to answer questions, even though the libraries are closed.

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With public libraries closed, there are a number of Little Free Libraries scattered around the island which share books. Resembling little glass-fronted cupboards, or cottages, the neighborhood boxes offer books to read and trade. LFL’s website offers a map to locate the nearest Little Free Library in your neighborhood. Enter a ZIP code and a Google Map will display a number of pins to click on, highlighting the library’s owner and location. Little Free Libraries is a non-profit organization, with more than 100,000 locations worldwide. Fostering a love of reading and building community, millions of books are exchanged each year.

This is Whidbey’s David Welton took photos this week of a number of South Island Little Free Libraries. One is closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Another offers hand sanitizer; another peanut butter and microwave popcorn. If you’re jonesing for a good read, check out the Little Free Library map, leave or take a book, and please be mindful about others’ health and yours.

There’s a serene Little Free Library on Zimmerman Road in Clinton. Set amid a green cathedral of trees, you can forest bathe or practice the art of shinrin yoku while walking to the little box of books. David and I talked with Reed and Jenny Kaltenbach, who were going for a stroll on a cool morning this week. Reed said that given the smaller choice of books available, he’s read books that he ordinarily might not select.

Vicky Hassrick, co-owner of Matt’s Import Haven, has closed her Little Free Library in these times

Vicky Hassrick, who owns Matt’s Import Haven with her husband Matt, received a Little Free Library for Christmas. However due to concern about surfaces, and the spread of the virus, she has closed it for the time being.

The Little Free Library on Melsen Alley in Langley offers sanitizer for books and hands. Artist/photographer Don Wodjenski lives nearby. When asked if he checks out books from its location, he wrote in a text message: “Yep and it gets lots of visitors from alley strollers. Even has a little bottle of home brew hand sanitizer.”

Architect Ross Chapin’s Third Street Cottages in Langley host a Little Free Library. It contains a plaque dedicated to the memory of UW librarian policy administrator Charles Chamberlin, who died in 2018.

Weighing in after Thursday’s publication of the story, is a woman who has some good information to pass on should you be interested in starting your own Little Free Library.

Janis Machala, Langley:  When we moved to Whidbey Island in 2016 I knew it was the time to build our little library because our house is at the entrance of Canyon Ridge, an enclave of houses off of Coles Road. We felt we could create some community being new to the neighborhood. Also, it’s clear that South Whidbey is a literary community and I love all the book sales!  We get quite a lot of usage of the library now that it’s facing Coles Road (location location location!) but we do stock it far more than we get books donated back into the library by others.

We don’t mind because I love looking for books to add from the library sales, Good Cheer, the Commons, and from my friends/neighbors who all donate to my library.
A great program has also been developed by our Whidbey Westside Rotary group to stock books throughout the South Whidbey area in the LFLs. We gather books as a club, stamp them with our “compliments of” and the standard verbiage about asking people not to sell these books, but to pass them along to others, and drive them to the LFLs to help add books to the libraries. It’s a great public service our Rotary group provides to our South Whidbey community.
I’ve learned a bunch of tips to share for anyone who wants to build their own LFL or buy one (Etsy has them, there are libraries for sale at Little Free Library, or there are plans available for building them yourself. What a great COVID-19 project!  Books need to be current and not 30 years old, books should be in good condition, there should be a good selection of fiction, a little bit of nonfiction, and teen/children’s books. In terms of what people drop off or put into the library they should not provide textbooks, user manuals, crummy books you no longer want and are looking for a place to dump them, or anything that would be considered contentious/religious/pornographic/politically slanted. It helps to put a moisture drying agent like Damp Rid so the books don’t get mildewed. We check the books weekly, we rotate stock twice a month, and add books as needed, usually twice a month. We have a notebook for people to leave any notes or provide info on what they’ve taken and a few have done so but mostly books go out a lot but a very few get added from others. My wish is that people would be more active in the lending process and consider that this is a library versus just taking books. All in all, it gives us great joy to enhance the reading breadth and depth of our fellow South Whidbey-ites so for us it,s the gift of reading we can bring to our community that ultimately matters.
We, no doubt, are the only Little Free Library with a Dandie Dinmont Terrier weathervane, since we are ‘owned’ by two of this special breed of dogs!
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Traveling elsewhere on the South Island, David found these other Little Free Libraries.

In the mean time, please consider how our stories connect us and we look forward to sharing your story in upcoming weeks of This is Whidbey.

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4 Comments

  1. Sharon Lundahl on

    Sweet sweet article! There is also a mini library in front of Music for the Eyes at 314 First Street Langley

  2. Fun reading and great photos! Thanks Kate and David. Keep on truckin’ ! Do more. Ray M, Sno-Isle Libraries

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