Northwest NEWS

April 23, 2001

Front Page

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The Woodinville Library is at 17105 Avondale Road NE.
Deborah Stone/staff Photo

The changing face of Woodinville Library

by Deborah Stone
   Features Writer
   Libraries years ago were a different scene than they are now. Frumpy old, bespectacled librarians wearing perpetual frowns sat behind high counters surveying their domain as they cast disapproving glances at noises louder than a whisper. The lighting was dim and the atmosphere had a somber tone, implying that only serious, literary and research-bent intellectuals were welcome. If there were children's sections, they were isolated from the rest of the library and in some cases, housed in different buildings. Librarians saw their role as custodians of the library and in many cases, they felt it was their job to comment on book selections, especially if they felt it was in the "best interest" of the patron.
   Woodinville Library's managing librarian Don Julian, who grew up in Seattle, remembers being told by a librarian what was inappropriate reading for him.
   He recalls, "It was in the 50s and I was into reading about Communist China and all the propaganda books that were written about the torture used to get confessions from people. It fascinated me. I came across the book Red Star over China, which looked interesting to me. I brought it to the checkout counter at the library and the librarian took one look at it and said, 'You don't really want to read this book.' She wouldn't let me check it out because it was written with a positive slant towards Communist China. I will always remember that incident."
   The library has changed over the years in the services it offers, the philosophy it purports and the perceptions it receives from the community it serves. Today's librarians honor their patrons' reading choices and do not impose their feelings on readers' selections. Where they were once the gatekeepers to information, they are now guides.
   "It used to be that only the librarian was able to access data and then present it to you upon request," comments Julian. "The role has changed with the times. Now the doors are opened wider and it's not necessary for us to be the gatekeepers to these databases. We teach the public how to access these bases for themselves and show them where they can find the information they need."
   The old lending library concept, based on Ben Franklin's philosophy, expected people to come to the library when they needed books and information. Outreach was unheard of in those days. The change in recent years has been toward getting out into the community to make people aware of the library's services. Libraries are now active participants in their communities.
   "The library is a community place," explains Julian, "and the role of the library is one of partner in the community. Libraries need to be involved in community events, participate in community planning decisions, give feedback and input on various issues and be a visible presence outside of their buildings. We must go to the community rather than sitting back and expecting the community to always come to us."
   In reaching out to the community, librarians have had to learn how to provide technical assistance, teach classes on various software programs and help people use search engines. People can now ask librarians questions via e-mail and with a new service, "Ask the Librarian Live," they can request assistance of a live librarian who will respond to queries on the Internet in real time (this program is in a trial period for King County Library System and is available Monday-Thursday, 5-8 p.m. by accessing www.kcls.org).
   There's also Answer Line, a telephone system for quick answers to questions.
   Julian opened Woodinville Library in 1993 after managing Lake Hills Library, serving as assistant manager and head of reference at Bellevue Library and working as a children's librarian at the Federal Way Library. His interest in library science stemmed from a love of books and an enjoyment in working with people, particularly children. While a student at the UW, he worked for a local paperback company and had much contact with librarians and teachers.
   "I would help them when they came in looking for books to use with children. I read many of the books and would make recommendations to them. I enjoyed children's literature most of all. When I was midway through college, I knew I wanted to continue my education and pursue graduate work in library science."
   Julian completed his masters at the UW and since 1974, he has devoted himself to his career.
   Opening the Woodinville Library was very exciting to him and provided him with an opportunity to help create a new community public facility, one of Woodinville's first since it became a city.
   "There was so much excitement here about a library," explains Julian. "Woodinville hadn't had a library in so many years. There was an old one-room building in the 40s that served as a library, but it closed a long time ago. People were so happy about building a new library to help establish the community and there was much energy devoted to this project from the start."
   When Julian hired and subsequently trained his staff, he made sure that they understood his fundamental philosophy regarding the treatment of patrons.
   "I wanted them to treat everyone like they're 20-year patrons," explains Julian. "I wanted the librarians to look at the patrons as old friends, not customers or clients. If people are customers or clients, there's a real distance set up in the relationship. When the relationship is one of friendship, the whole atmosphere of the library is different. It's a warm, welcoming feeling. We want the library to be a place where people can come and feel comfortable and totally accepted."
   Julian has tried to give the community a sense of ownership with the library through various projects. Several Boy Scout troops have helped create a network of trails around the building, built outside benches and birdhouses and constructed a story circle off the parking lot. Future plans include a nature trail in the woods and a performance gazebo west of the parking lot in the open fields. Inside the library, the children's area will be looked at to determine ways to make it more appealing and suit the needs of the population it serves.
   "Woodinville Library will be a part of the Kid Friendly Place Project that is being done in a few other libraries," explains Julian. "Our children's area is relatively small for this size library and over the years, I have collected comments and suggestions on how to better organize the space. Improvements are definitely needed."
   The library will also look at moving to an electronic reference system, a trend in libraries all over the country.
   With the high usage of home computers, one might expect the numbers of people who use the library to decline. According to Julian, the numbers contradict this expectation.
   He says, "Actually we are getting higher door counts, but declining numbers in circulation (materials checked out). More people are coming in to use the library's computers and online services, often because there is faster access and more technical assistance provided. Our children's programs have a strong attendance, too, as this is a family community with a high elementary- aged population."
   ºWoodinville Library is also working with the Senior Center in offering various classes and programs suited to this population. In addition, programs for adults and teens are also offered at the library. The latter have not been as successful in terms of numbers, according to Julian.
   He comments, "We just haven't seen much interest in teens for our programs and I think it's because kids are very busy with other activities and just don't have the time. With our adult programs and classes, there is definitely interest.
   "We just want to keep a high visibility in the community and remain relevant," says Julian. "This means adjusting our services to the changing needs of the community."