The Oak Harbor Library has kept patrons well read for 50 years

Managing librarian Mary Campbell, at left, and Susan Norman, president of the city’s library board and a Friend of the Library, browse the Oak Harbor Library. They are helping to organized the library’s 50th anniversary. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Managing librarian Mary Campbell, at left, and Susan Norman, president of the city’s library board and a Friend of the Library, browse the Oak Harbor Library. They are helping to organized the library’s 50th anniversary.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

For thousands of people, the heart of the Oak Harbor community is located at its public library.

Any business would be jealous of the hundreds of patrons that the building attracts each day. It’s somehow a beehive of activity and, at the same time, a quiet spot for reading and reflection.

Managing librarian Mary Campbell describes the facility as being sort of a melting pot. It’s a place where toddlers and seniors, military and non-military families, technology-seekers and Luddites congregate.

“It brings together the community better than any other facility or group can do,” Campbell said.

It’s an institution with a rich history on North Whidbey. The Sno-Isle Regional Library system, which includes Oak Harbor, has been celebrating its 50th birthday with events at its various branches in Snohomish and Island counties.

In Oak Harbor, the 50-year mark has special relevance. It was here that the unique, two-county library system was born through a vote of the people in 1962.

The library officials invite everyone — card holders or not — to the 50th year celebration from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27 at the library,  at one end of the Skagit Valley College building on Regatta Drive.

There will be refreshments, entertainment, speeches and door prizes. Library supporters are putting together a time capsule which will go on display.

“How do you capture 2012 and put it in a box?” Campbell asked rhetorically.

So far, the items include the News-Times publication of 2012 graduates and a list of the most checked-out books of the year. Councilwoman Tara Hizon has promised a DVD of this week’s council meeting.

In addition, supporters are creating a display to show a timeline of the library’s history.

Growing the stacks

The Oak Harbor Library’s official history, provided by Campbell, describes an evolution that began nearly 100 years ago.

The first attempt at starting a library came shortly after the town was incorporated in 1915. A photographer named L. Wellington moved to the town and set up a library with his books. The Ladies Aid of the Methodist Church donated space for the library. Wellington became ill a few years later and the books were put into storage.

The town went without a library until 1934, when Lillian Kellog organized a book club in the back of a variety store owned by Rein Zylstra.

It was moved to a room in a city building the next year with the Women’s Improvement Club serving as librarians. Wellington donated his books to the collection and new books were purchased with a $50-a-year donation from the club. Rubye Weaver was the first paid employee, receiving 50 cents an afternoon.

The city took on the library in 1938 and it continued to expand until it outgrew its small quarters. The new City Hall, which is the current City Hall, was built in the 1950s and the library was moved to the bottom floor of the new building.

Then came the 1960s. The Snohomish County Library sponsored an 18-month bookmobile service that came to Oak Harbor, causing library usage to double in the months the bookmobile was present. The Friends of the Library group, which is still active today, started in 1962.

That same year North Whidbey residents petitioned to join the Snohomish County Library system. In the fall, voters passed a levy establishing the Sno-Isle Regional District with headquarters in Marysville.

Oak Harbor became the first city to annex to the Sno-Isle Regional Library in 1981. The city and Skagit Valley College partnered in constructing the Regatta Drive building that still houses both the college and the 10,700-square-foot library. It was dedicated in 1993.

Library evolution

The library has remained in the same space over the last 20 years, but it’s constantly adapting to remain relevant.

Susan Norman, president of the city’s library board and a Friend of the Library, is especially impressed with the technological strides the district has taken. There are 1.2 million titles available in the Sno-Isle system, but they aren’t all books. The library has a large catalog of digital books, downloadable music, DVDs and CDs. The access saves people a lot of money, she said.

Norman admits that’s she’s not exactly technologically savvy, but she said downloading books from the library’s website onto her Kindle was easy.

“I heard about a deployed sailor who downloads books via the internet,” she said.

Campbell explained that the library is building a Center for Lifelong Learning with grants from Sno-Isle and Friends of the Library. It’s an open area at the front of the library where adults to get together to chat, share ideas or just hang out. It would be a perfect spot for a book club, for example.

“It’s not a quiet spot,” Campbell said, promising no “shushing.”


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