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Get connected at the library

As technology moves forward at breakneck speed, the Sno-Isle Libraries are keeping pace.

Mary Campbell, Oak Harbor Library managing librarian, recently described to the City Council the changing face of the American library and the increased role it now plays in connecting people who would otherwise be socially or geographically isolated.

Standing above the former library site in City Hall, Campbell highlighted the multitude of services offered in Island and Snohomish counties through Sno-Isle’s more than 20 locations.

“A lot has changed in the 15 years since the current library was dedicated in 1993,” she said. “The Oak Harbor Library is no longer just a quiet place to go get books and study – it has evolved into an essential ‘go-to’ place for all ages. Community needs have changed, and our library has changed with them.”

The Internet has transformed the library into a “communication hub,” the librarian said. And the technology has increased the number of users almost exponentially. Last year, more than 230,000 people visited the library to check out materials, which not only includes the written word but music and books on compact discs, and DVDs. Others used the Internet-equipped computers or enjoyed free WiFi. Still other visitors — of all ages — attended one of the many popular programs offered.

“While technology has become an essential part of people’s everyday lives, about one-third of North Whidbey residents still do not own computers or have high-speed Internet access at home,” Campbell said. “The library is their lifeline. It is also a place where tourists and visitors can get free Wi-Fi access or guest passes to use library computers.”

The librarian called attention to the elephant in the room: financing. Services are provided by Sno-Isle Libraries, she said. The city has been annexed to the library district since 1983, sending taxes from residents within the city limits — just like those living in unincorporated areas — directly to the library district.

“At Sno-Isle Libraries we take our role as steward of the tax dollar very seriously,” Campbell said of the library system’s substantial annual budget, which topped $35 million last year. “The total amount spent by the library district for Oak Harbor Library operations is more than $2 million each year.”

As a one-third owner of Hayes Hall, the city recently replaced 15-year-old flooring as part of its maintenance obligations. Skagit Valley College owns the other section of the building and the library district repays the city for services provided by the college.

“It’s a three-way partnership that works well for all involved,” Campbell said.

Libraries are no longer the underutilized, best-kept secrets they once represented. Every demographic can be found in the Oak Harbor facility. Whether each visitor realizes it, their very presence is advocating literacy. And the library is a neutral location where judgment is withheld and resources abound.

“Our city library is democracy in action,” Campbell said. “It provides the most visible symbol of government’s civic presence. With free and open access to information and services to all residents regardless of income, race or age, it is a respected community doorway to reading and resources and a safe ‘third place’ – space that’s neither work or school, nor home. It’s a center for people, ideas and culture in the heart of Oak Harbor.”

The Oak Harbor Library has increased its visibility and goodwill by building community partnerships. The annual Whidbey Reads program started in Oak Harbor and has now expanded to include all of the island as well as areas businesses and organizations.

“Our vision is to be a leader in connecting people and communities, inspiring ideas and providing services and resources that improve quality of life,” Campbell said. “How effective the library is in achieving its potential depends on how connected we are to the needs and opportunities within our community.”

For more information about Sno-Isle Libraries, visit www.sno-isle.org. The Oak Harbor Library can be reached through the Web site or by calling 675-5115.

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