First, know that Sno-Isle Libraries has very little to do with snow. The Sno- is short for Snohomish, just like Isle is short for Island. The main library system serving Whidbey Island is The Sno-Isle library system, a cooperation between two rather rural counties north of Seattle: Snohomish County and Island County. Seattle and King County may have millions to serve, and have impressive libraries (and impressive library budgets). Snohomish plus Island County have a combined population of just under one million people; large, but definitely something that benefits from cooperation. Browse through this blog and find several references to the services the libraries provide, even during Covid.
(One benefit is that they left the wi-fi on, so this post is being written from a shady spot on a comfy bench beside the Freeland Libary.)
Of the roughly two dozen libraries in the system, five are on Whidbey Island: Clinton, Langley, Freeland, Coupeville, and Oak Harbor. Five libraries for fewer than 100,000 people? The national average is 2,667 people/library (328,000,000/123,000 – source: IMLS). The island stretches that to 16,000 (80,000/5). Hmm. Maybe we need more libraries. It certainly doesn’t make much sense to have fewer. Driving from the Clinton Library to the Oak Harbor Library is about an hour, a nice tour of the island – and a long stretch between the sites. In those far away “normal” times a bicycle ride from each to the next would’ve been fun and tiring, especially because they provide a place to rest and recuperate; and then hop some free bus rides back to the beginning. Ah, but those are other times.
Currently, the libraries are closed. Sigh; but not totally closed. The staff have found ways to accommodate pickups and drop-offs. We patrons can’t go in, but at least at some of the sites the librarians are working from portable shelters at their front doors. Langley even seemed to be adding a walk-up window. The staff has also been busy organizing on-line events, including readings for kids.
The libraries are about more than books, which means some things like research are still operating and in demand.
Over on the WritingOnWhidbeyIsland blog/podcast is an interview with one of the librarians; Our Libraries Our Librarians – An Interview With Vicky Welfare. Hear from one of the people who are finding ways to make things work, even as the rules change.
The five libraries work with each other, as well as with the other libraries in the system; yet each is unique, which is appropriate for Whidbey.
Clinton Library – Probably the smallest of the libraries, but also the most convenient to the ferry and the south end in general. Another blog post was written from their shady spot in the forest. A fawn even dropped by to maybe make some edits; or hunt for apples. The building may be small, but they also have access to a community hall next door.
Langley Library – Get history while you’re visiting. Not only is the building old (and nicely renovated), the library was established in an era when the town was run by an all-women city hall, one of the first in the nation (there’s some debate about who is number 1). When open, don’t be surprised to find that the locals have already claimed the cushy couch and chairs, another third place to hang out.
Freeland Library – Somewhat off the main flow of traffic through Freeland is their relatively new library (that is currently staffed by a bird that wishes this visitor would sit somewhere else.) They have their own meeting room, which has been handy for presentations, community meetings, and generally being able to have talks and conversations without interrupting the others in the library.
Coupeville Library – Congratulate them on their renovation and expansion. Near downtown Coupeville, which also means being by but not in the tourist flow, is a library with a sweet setting. Step inside to find rows of shelves, of course; but also an even larger meeting room, as well as a reading area that looks like a living room larger than some houses. Bonus: Enjoy the view of Penn Cove.
Oak Harbor Library – This is the big one, which makes sense because Oak Harbor is in the biggest city on the island. It is also on the campus of Skagit College (yet another collaboration with yet another rural county?). Meeting rooms? Class rooms! Research? Stacks and racks of reference materials (but check for access to those shelves – after we’re allowed back inside.)
Each has been supportive of islanders. As mentioned above, browsing through this blog reveals several references to the library system, particularly because the libraries have hosted various presentations. The libraries are also supportive of a significant writing community. (Hence the blog, WritingOnWhidbeyIsland.com.)
Just because we can’t walk through the doors doesn’t mean they can’t find ways to deliver their books, movies, and other materials. Drop by. Say hi; but wear a mask, maybe wear gloves, and definitely say Thank You.