Sound Off: Libraries — Building for the future

In the world of community buildings, libraries have an important role. I recently read an article in which libraries were referred to as a “bridge” for building connections. While many places and organizations bond together, libraries are unique in that they bring together people of different interests and backgrounds.

Our job at the Sno-Isle Libraries is to develop and build bridges through Island and Snohomish counties, making sure that we act as responsible stewards of your tax dollars. For that reason, we are turning our sights to the future of libraries in our communities.

Twenty years ago, in 1986, Sno-Isle Libraries implemented its first automated circulation system, moving from paper card catalogs to online catalogs. In 1996, the Sno-Isle Libraries offered its first Internet access, in a handful of “trial” libraries. What started as a trial has grown into an integral part of the library’s mission to provide access to information. Expensive encyclopedias and reference books we used to purchase for a few libraries are now available online, around the clock in all of our 20 libraries and from the library web site. What we tested in 1986 and 1996 are now basic library services. Who knows what 2016 will hold for our community libraries?

Those of us who live in Snohomish and Island counties are in the midst of a population explosion. Population growth predictions project an increase of 41 percent over the next 20 years for Snohomish County and 32.5 percent for Island County. The demand for library service is guaranteed to climb at a comparable rate. How do we provide a library service that will meet our community needs in 2026?

Last year, there were more than three million visits to our community libraries. Students with homework assignments, parents with preschoolers attending a storytime, seniors using the internet to access photographs of new grandchildren. A variety of people with many different reasons for seeking out the library. In addition, there are millions of visits each year to the library’s web site – researching a medical question, tracing a family history, getting real-time help for an algebra problem.

In order to continue providing the types resources that people need and come to expect from their community library, we need to begin a discussion about how that community library should look 10 or 20 years down the road.

This spring, we will be holding 24 community discussions. We want to hear from you about what you visualize for your community library of the future. Please add your voice to the conversation, and come to the meeting that is nearest to you.

Without your voice, a library is just a building. With your voice, it can be the heart of your community.

Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory is library director for Sno-Isle Libraries.

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