Young reader benefits from deep dive into Library Picks

By Kurt Batdorf

Special to the News-Times

Rachel Shaw and her family latched onto the Oak Harbor Library after the U.S. Navy moved them to North Whidbey Island four years ago.

“The Oak Harbor Library has been a life preserver for us,” Shaw said. “In the pandemic, I have depended on our friendships with the staff at Oak Harbor.

“The library is our hub, five library cards as full as I can keep them at all times.”

Everly, Calder, Julian and Rachel Shaw are huge fans of Sno-Isle Libraries, especially the Oak Harbor Library.

One of Shaw’s friends is Library Associate Rhianna McBride. Shaw praised McBride’s ability to find great books for her three home-schooled kids, Julian, 12, and 9-year-old twins Everly and Calder.

To say the Shaws are avid readers is an understatement. They pick up holds at the Oak Harbor Library often, sometimes twice a day.

“One day we had eight bags!” Calder said.

“We’re trying to break the library,” Julian said.

McBride laughed and encouraged them to keep trying.

When Calder recently started having reading trouble, Shaw sent McBride a Facebook message asking for help.

“Rhianna sent our questions and requests to (children’s librarian) Chelsea Cooper and we were very grateful,” Shaw said.

Shaw said that Calder’s “neuro-divergence” was making reading increasingly difficult and frustrating.

He’s at the right age for “reader books” with a captivating story and pictures. He likes funny and silly stories.

But for him to read successfully, the books need to use a single font for text and specific colors inside clear illustrations.

That’s easier said than done, since those aren’t normal search terms for book contents.

“I know the library like the back of my hand, but not being able to see inside the books or chat with the children’s librarians about all the cool stuff they store in their heads made finding things he loves a challenge,” Shaw said.

Around the same time, Sno-Isle Libraries had launched a new contact-free service, Library Picks.

Customers submit an online form that librarians use to browse for books, movies and other physical materials that the customer would have found on shelves before the pandemic when community libraries were open to the public.

Cooper dug in and treated Shaw’s request as it if had come through Library Picks.

While the typical Library Picks request takes no more than an hour to fill, it quickly became apparent that this was bigger than a normal request.

“The first thing I realized is that we don’t have enough metadata on our collection for this,” Cooper said.

Cooper researched dyslexia and color-blindness to improve her own understanding and learn which electronic and print reading formats work best with those issues. She found resources with tips and advice to support parents of kids with dyslexia. She noted helpful websites and useful resources for Shaw.

She explained how Shaw could fine tune the search tools on the book research site NoveList.

“Then I set about analyzing our collection for books that not only met the requested technical criteria, but also met Calder’s interests,” Cooper said.

“It’s extra important for struggling readers to read books that they enjoy. Why spend the time and effort if you don’t like the book?”

She pulled several books from shelves and put them on hold for Shaw. Cooper recommended the “Here’s Hank” series by Henry Winkler, the 1970s TV star and actor who turned to writing to overcome dyslexia. Three printed pages of resources for Shaw went with the books.

Cooper said she put in about eight hours of work on Shaw’s request, and the payoff came when Shaw arrived at the library.

“I was blown away with Chelsea,” Shaw said. “Now I can order books for Calder that work. Chelsea found books with illustrations that he can see.”

Shaw praised Cooper’s research and the books she picked.

“Now Calder wants to read,” Shaw said. “He read three books in a row. That’s incredible.”

He’s currently reading the Crabby Book series by Jonathan Fenske: “Hello, Crabby,” “Wake Up, Crabby” and “Let’s Play, Crabby.”

Calder likes reading now. “I’m excited,” he said.

For Cooper, it was all in a day’s work to meet a customer’s needs, and she was happy to hear that her hard work paid off.

“It was so nice to connect with new customers and to share a new service with them,” she said.

“Even though this went well beyond our basic Library Picks form, it wasn’t until Rachel saw this service offered that she realized that she could make requests like this from librarians.”

Now Shaw has another librarian best friend in Cooper.

“I could cry so many hard, happy tears from the kindness of this one gesture,” Shaw said.

“It’s making all the difference to have the Oak Harbor Library and the amazing Sno-Isle Libraries as a free community resource open and providing services during the pandemic.

“I won’t ever shut up about libraries or librarians or clerks or pages or how much I love them or how good they’ve been to my family.”