Blogs: Sno-Isle Blog

Remembering Karen Alessi, library booster supreme

Posted: January 26, 2015

By Debra Vaughn
For Sno-Isle Libraries

Karen Alessi

Karen Alessi

When Karen Alessi was young, she sat on the end of a dock at Lake Stevens and sketched plans for a new city downtown.

Years later, Alessi helped shape Lake Stevens as a volunteer and a civic leader. She died Sept. 24 at age 75 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. But her legacy lives on anytime someone visits Lake Stevens Library.

“Karen was one of those bedrock members of the community,” said Eric Spencer, who managed the library from 2000-2003. “She was a planner and visionary for the future of the community and believed the library was essential to its success. She also represented the quintessential library customer whose high expectations we were striving to meet.”

It was Alessi who, in 1984, led the charge for a library to replace the one that was shoehorned into an old post office building. For years city leaders knew the growing community needed a larger library, but finding the money to expand proved difficult.

Alessi was a member of the Friends of the Library and a co-director of the project. She helped gather support and donations to turn a pharmacy into a 2,400-square-foot library, tripling the size of the previous location. The library was built with donated labor, materials and cash. Alessi, who had connections with Hewlett-Packard, talked the company into kicking in $5,000 for the project.

At the time, Alessi told the Lake Stevens Journal, “It’s been a wonderful experience. It’s been lovely to see all the contributions. We’ve had some interesting methods of donation.”

An avid reader and ‘professional volunteer’

Her husband, Art Alessi, described his late wife as a frequent library patron and avid reader, who devoured sometimes four or five books a week. She liked fiction and non-fiction – whatever struck her fancy.

“She was a big reader all her life,” he said. “She could read fast and retain just about everything she read.”

Alessi was born Karen Johnson in Seattle. Most of her childhood her family lived in Everett, but the family spent every summer in a cabin on Lake Stevens. As a young woman, she liked to water ski and swim.

She met Art Alessi as a student at the University of Washington. He was her next-door neighbor. She moved to Hawaii before graduation and Art followed. They moved back to the area in 1968. The pair were married 50 years when Karen Alessi died. They have one daughter, Allison Alessi.

Karen Alessi was by all accounts a vivacious people-person who loved to entertain and tell stories. Her husband described her as a “professional volunteer,” always ready to start a new project.

“When Karen set her mind to do something, there was nothing you could do to stop her,” Alessi said. He described himself as “a tag-along husband.”

Her determination extended to her personal life. She always wanted to finish her degree and not just anywhere, but at Smith College. So at age 49, Alessi packed up the car and moved to Northampton, Mass., by herself to finish her degree. She graduated in 1992.

Her commitment to the community expanded beyond the library. Alessi served as president of the Lake Stevens City Council and the Rotary Club. She revitalized Aquafest and brought a rowing club, regattas and major athletic events to town that brought dollars and exposure to Lake Stevens. She served on the Arts Commission, helped start a music at the park program and encouraged the city to display the work of local artists at City Hall. She worked to get a bigger, better Senior Center, too.

Forward-thinking, positive

She was an active Chamber of Commerce member and the Chamber made her an inaugural Lake Stevens Hall of Fame inductee in 2009.

“Karen was pivotal in bringing so much to Lake Stevens,” said Tonya Christoffersen, a long-time member of the Chamber of Commerce. “She was vivacious, very outgoing, full of energy, always doing things for the community. She was always forward thinking.”

Today the library needs another champion like Karen Alessi. The library again is popping its stitches. In the past 15 years, the city of Lake Stevens has expanded its boundaries and grown from 6,000 people to 30,000.

The Lake Stevens Library covers the same service area as the Lake Stevens School District and serves 40,000 people. City leaders have talked about a new library for years. Those plans were shelved when the economy tanked. Now that the economy is improving, city leaders are again talking about a bond measure in the next few years.

Karen Alessi remained cheerful, even in her final years as Alzheimer’s robbed her mind. Her husband cared for her at their home as long as he could. Then he would visit her at the nursing home, Bethany at Silver Lake, nearly daily. He’d take her for a ride and every Friday they’d go to the Senior Center for lunch, where her old friends still would stop by and see her.

“She had a great sense of humor,” Art Alessi said. “She found life funny. She was very positive. She could find the most positive thing in everything that happened. She loved people. She just had a great love for life.”


Lights! Camera! YOU!

Posted: January 8, 2015


Dawn Rutherford, teen services coordinator


Would you like to have a starring role in a new video for Sno-Isle Libraries? We’re looking for two energetic actors who can communicate the exciting non-traditional products and services offered by our libraries, from video downloads to online practice SAT exams.

• Female, 16 to 18 years old, any ethnicity, know-it-all teen who schools her dad on the value of libraries, several lines
• Male, 40 to 55 years, any ethnicity, lovable but clueless father of a teenage daughter, several lines

PROJECT TITLE: “Library That!”

PROJECT SUMMARY: Non-union, 90-second promotional video for Sno-Isle Libraries to be used primarily on the Internet

SHOOTING DATE: To be determined. End of January, one day for up to six hours

LOCATION: Snohomish


SUBMISSIONS TO INCLUDE: Headshot (snapshot ok), resume, link to demo reel if you have one



DIRECTOR: Deborah Tahara, marketing specialist, Sno-Isle Libraries, 360-651-7032

Selected actors will be asked to audition. Previous acting experience preferred but not required. A talent agent is not required to submit for this project. The actors hired should be legal to work in the U.S. and provide their own transportation. Minors (those under 18 years of age) will need to have a parent or legal guardian’s consent.

Contact Deborah at with any questions.

Coming up: DVD loan period change

Posted: November 20, 2014

 Popular moviesBy Nancy Messenger
Collection Development Manager

Beginning Jan. 1, the Sno-Isle Libraries loan period for movies on DVD will change to seven days, down from three weeks. If that makes you sad, here’s the happy news: The change is expected to shorten waiting lines for those popular movies you’re so eager to watch.

We will continue to check out television series, educational DVDs, and children’s DVDs for 21 days. If you download a movie through our Hoopla service, the checkout period remains three days.

Why change now? Because use of the entertainment DVD collection has grown as brick-and-mortar rental stores have closed their doors. In 2014, we are spending more than half of our DVD budget adding copies of popular titles. While we want to continue to meet the demand of customers in our hold queues, we would like to spend less on a few titles and increase the variety of titles we can offer the public.

We’re hardly alone in this approach. Seven-day check-out for DVDs is standard practice for many libraries, according to neighboring districts and our DVD supplier.

If you have questions about the change, please contact me or your library manager.

Meanwhile, go to our catalog to browse for a movie … and keep passing the popcorn.

Friends of the Library keep on giving

Posted: October 15, 2014

By Nancy Patton
Volunteer Program Administrator

Nancy Patton

Nancy Patton works closely with Friends of the Library

Have you ever thought about who is behind those amazing book sales in your community library, the ones where you often can find a treasure for a dollar or less? Who put that book on the shelf, who keeps the sale fresh and inviting, and where does your dollar go?

Sno-Isle Libraries is extremely lucky to have 21 Friends of the Library groups, one for each community library. These groups are made up of people who come together to help support the programs and services of their local library. Each group is a 501c3, non-profit organization with its own board of directors, bylaws and decision-making members. As different as they are, it is the mission of all of our Friends groups to be library advocates. That advocacy includes raising money to support community library needs.

In 2013 our Friends raised over $255,000! While most of the funds were raised through the hard work of annual and on-going book sales, our Friends also reached out more to the community through grants, direct requests and partnerships.

What makes strong, vital community libraries is not the amount of money raised, it is what is given back. In 2013 our Friends gave back over $247,000. This extraordinary amount included more than $110,000 for programming. Friends support children’s, teen, and adult programming in our libraries, as well as provide all of those ‘extras’ which make our libraries more inviting.

For example, the Lynnwood Friends recently purchased tables and chairs for the children’s and teen areas and eight computer work stations in the adult section. In Clinton, the Friends purchased two new self-check kiosks. “This allowed us to have two check outs of varying heights,” said Debby Colfer, Clinton Library manager. They are much more attractive than what we had before, making the library a more welcoming space.”

So the next time you are browsing the book sale shelves, remember the hard-working folks who tend the sale. If fact, you may want to consider joining your local Friends group. New members are always welcome!

To learn more about your local Friends of the Library group visit

Book a librarian and open new worlds

Posted: September 23, 2014


Librarian Shannon Dye helps Monroe Library customers

By Phil Spirito
Monroe Library Manager

You probably know that you are welcome to approach any Sno-Isle Libraries staff member and ask for help. But did you know you can schedule an appointment and get free, personal help on a wide range of topics? We call this service Book-a-Librarian.

Maybe you need help downloading an e-book. Or you’re starting a difficult research project. Or you want to brush up on your computer skills. Or you need to know where you can get your resume reviewed. Or you want recommendations on the books and videos to suit your interests.

If so, just call your community library and make an appointment to get help on almost any topic at the time that works best for you. The day of your appointment, a staff person will sit down with you for a free 30- to 60-minute session of personalized help.

A library staff member will give you undivided attention, providing assistance on topics such as starting an email account, browsing the library’s catalog, downloading e-books and audiobooks, and using electronic databases through the Sno-Isle website.

If a staff member with expertise in your area of interest is not available at your preferred community library, we will find a staff member in another Sno-Isle community to help you. If the topic you need help with is outside of Sno-Isle’s area of expertise, we will refer you to a resource where you can get the help you need.

So next time you need help, don’t call a phone support line or visit some genius at a store. Contact your local Sno-Isle library to make an appointment with an information professional. You’re sure to find that library staff are patient and sensitive. Excellent customer service is our No. 1 objective.

Celebrate freedom during Banned Books Week

Posted: September 19, 2014

By Lisa Castrogiovanni
Edmonds Teen/Adult Services Librarian

Banned Books Week, Sept. 21-27, highlights past and current attempts to remove or restrict materials available in libraries and schools. According to the American Library Association (ALA), in 2013 there were 307 reported challenges to books. They ranged from “50 Shades of Grey” to “The Hunger Games.”

Edmonds Library banned books display

Edmonds Library banned books display

No. 1 on the Top 10 challenged list? “Captain Underpants,” a children’s novel series.

Banned Books Week not only calls attention to these threats to free speech, but celebrates all those who stand up to censorship. At the Edmonds Library, we knew we wanted to join in the celebration and decided to create a lobby display.

With inspiration from Pinterest, I covered the display case window with black paper and large red letters spelling “censored.” Then I cut a few holes in the paper, so people could still take a peek.

Behind the concealed glass are copies of the covers of books that have been challenged. Paper flames “engulf” the book covers. The stark black wall with ominous lettering is an eye-catching curiosity that ensures a second look or an attempt to snoop through the holes in the covered window.

Inside the library we have a complementary display of challenged books that people are encouraged to check out. Those books have been flying off the shelves.

The displays are getting people to think about censorship and to wonder what it might be like to have access to their favorite stories restricted. I have heard some funny and illuminating comments whispered from patron to patron:

“Why are they banning these books?”

“Banned Books! Why do they have those here?”

“I didn’t think anyone banned books anymore.”

And a bit of wisdom from one of your younger patrons: “If someone doesn’t like a book, they just shouldn’t read it.”

The most frequent reaction is simply “Why was this book banned?”

I love books, I love libraries, I love reading and I love having the freedom to choose what I want to read. Celebrate with us and check out your favorite banned book today.

Travel planning? Start here!

Posted: August 29, 2014

Librarian Kathy Bullene kayaking in Kauai

Librarian Kathy Bullene kayaking in Kauai

If Kathy Bullene isn’t on the road, she’s talking about her latest adventure or planning the next one. So it’s no wonder her Sno-Isle Libraries colleagues asked Kathy, assistant managing librarian at the Oak Harbor Library, to serve as a library district travel specialist. We asked her how to get the most of library travel resources.

Who can benefit from library travel resources? The person thinking of a weekend getaway, or working on a bucket list, or hitting the road in retirement … Really, anyone who wants to make the most of an adventure should make Sno-Isle Libraries the first stop. Start at our travel web page, which you can find from the research link on our home page. Then go looking for books, DVDs and more in our catalog and on the shelves of your community library.

How do you personally use the digital travel resources?  I generally go to the catalog for our  main collection and order the most current edition of a travel guide for my destination. I like the Lonely Planet guides, National Geographic Guides, and the DK publications.  I’ll also go for anything that is a back-road or off-the-beaten-track type of book. However, since we’ve added the National Geographic Virtual Library, I will likely go in there and check as well.

What do you like about the National Geographic library? For one thing, it means I no longer have to hoard back issues in the attic. The National Geographic Virtual Library  is now available from anywhere I have Wi-Fi and my Sno-Isle library card. It includes not only the famous yellow-framed magazines, but also National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic Kids, and books published by National Geographic. A topic searNational Geographic logoch for “pink dolphins” retrieves the article “River Spirits: Amazon Dolphins,” with color photos handy for school assignments. A search for “tea” retrieves articles, books, and videos; when narrowed to “England” within the results is an article about five great getaways by train from London. Who knew you could go for cream tea and croquet at Mompesson House after visiting the Salisbury Cathedral? Or that Elm Hill, a medieval street in Norwich, offers an afternoon repast at the Tea House?

What are some popular in-library materials or requests?  The Rick Steves books and DVDs.  Beyond that, it’s generally just an up-to-date guidebook. I don’t think customers know about the digital resources, which is why I tried to promote those. And they pack so well!

What about help languages? Does Sno-Isle offer anything for travelers who would like to learn a few words or dig deep into vocabulary and syntax? Definitely. Check out Mango Languages, which offers mangoreal-life situations and actual conversations to teach 45 languages from Arabic to Yiddish. Want to find out how to say new words in Icelandic? Mango can help. If you would prefer to download an audio ebook to your tablet or phone and take it with you, check out the Language Learning section of OverDrive for a range of options from “on the go” books to full language courses.

What do you offer a foodie who likes to travel? CultureGrams! Clicking on the “Eating” link in a CultureGram entry for Morocco tells you that lunch is the main meal of the day there, and you’ll want to be sure not to finish eating before your host, as that might imply that the food did not taste good. In Italy, however, it’s important not to leave the table before everyone is finished. And if you want to try making that great Moroccan mint tea or Italian tiramisu when you return home, CultureGrams has a recipe.

What’s the best thing about using the library to plan your travels? It saves time and money. The print collection includes hundreds of volumes and dvds on destinations as near as your backyard or as far as another continent. Once your bags are packed, digital materials travel free of charge. Both can help make your journey personal and memorable.

Where can customers go for more information? Feel free to contact me or the reference staff at your local Sno-Isle library.

Building a photo archive that’s fun, useful and meaningful

Posted: August 19, 2014

By Erin Vonnahme

Erin  Vonnahme for web

Erin Vonnahme wearing gloves to handle historical photos

This summer,  I got a look at Granite Falls Baseball Team’s 1910 lineup, laughed with women cleaning the windows at Darrington Community Hall, and traveled alongside miles and miles (and miles) of riverbank.

Yet most days, I never left the Acquisitions & Cataloging section here at the Service Center. Instead, I was immersed in Digitize Our Community History, a collaborative project between Sno-Isle Libraries, area historical societies and the Everett Herald. It is an online historical photo archive of more than 600 images from Snohomish and Island counties.

I’m entering my second year of the University of Washington’s Master of Library and Information Science program. As part of my studies, I have the chance to do fieldwork to develop the skills I’ve been learning in class. A project like Digitize Our Community History was an obvious choice. I wanted to learn more about digital asset management, which is the practice of wrangling and making useful all the non-print items a library holds. Much as I love the printed word in bound form, I recognize how much digital content from e-books to photography archives will continue to shape library collections.

window washers

Happy window washers (Courtesy Everett Herald)

I also wanted to learn more about cataloging, the organizational practice that allows librarians to make collections as easy to access and navigate as possible for library users. Is a town festival a “fair” or a “carnival”? What would a lifelong resident of Granite Falls call it? How about someone from Edmonds (but by way of the East Coast)? Cataloging underpins the whole library collection. Like any other skill, cataloging takes practice. The goal is to make information easy to find.

This summer, my job was to scan prints and negatives and add those new pictures to the archive along with information that the casual viewer or ardent researcher would find useful. It was satisfying to help create a meaningful, personal, and long-lasting resource.  The images donated to this project celebrate our region, revealing the people, locations, and celebrations that make Snohomish and Island counties unique.

Digitize Our Community History is an example of what libraries can do best: work with their communities to support learning and to showcase history while looking toward the future. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Scavenganza sparks teen summer fun

Posted: July 8, 2014

Super Summer Scavenganza

By Dawn Rutherford
Teen Services Coordinator

Ah, the perfect teen summer:  no homework, no alarm clocks. Just the freedom to do absolutely nothing at all.

Of course, the reality is rarely as blissful as the fantasy. Many teens spend their summer days searching for the elusive job, babysitting, and sometimes being bored. We at Sno-Isle Libraries are committed to helping teens have a summer that is both fun and fulfilling. Each of our 21 libraries has an assigned a Teen Contact available to make personalized book recommendations. We host engaging summer activities. Plus we have an annual Teen Summer Reading book review contest to help fight the dreaded Summer Slump. The contest gives teens a chance to both share opinions on books and win prizes.

This year we are piloting something extra special. We’re in the midst of a two-month, Internet-based scavenger hunt we called the Sno-Isle Super Summer Scavenganza!  Teens can enlist their friends and family members (of all ages) to join up with them in teams of 2-6 players, to compete against other teams for a grand prize. Each group takes part in a wide variety of challenges, from serious library exploration to wacky group antics. Photos and videos are reported on private Flickr accounts to be shared with our judges for scoring.

At the end of the summer, the team with the most points will win a private after-hours pizza party at the Sno-Isle library of their choice with up to 20 of their closest friends, sponsored by the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation.

To find out more, and see the first 10 Scavenganza challenges, click here. And watch our Teen Blog for clues.

Let the games begin!

Clever Elf helps manage library loans

Posted: July 1, 2014

By Charles Diede
Integrated Library System Coordinator

Library Elf reader

Dad relies on Library Elf to track her book loans

Let me introduce you to Library Elf, a clever creature who is especially handy if you:

  • Check out so many books, DVDs and CDs that you have trouble keeping track of your library loans;
  • borrow materials from more than one library system (such as Sno-Isle Libraries and the King County Library System),
  • need to track materials checked out by children (such as my own favorite little reader),
  • really dislike overdue notices.

Library Elf is a free service that Sno-Isle and many other library systems offer to assist customers in tracking their checkouts. Instead of having to check each system’s notifications/records, Library Elf pulls all of that information together, and provides email and/or text message alerts when materials are due.

Thanks to an exciting new Library Elf feature, you can automatically renew your items a few days before they are due. The number of days will depend on your account setting.

For example, if you have your pre-due notice set for three days advance notice, Elf will try to renew the items three days before they are due. If Elf is unsuccessful in renewing the items then your normal pre-due notice will be sent and the items will be tagged “could not renew.” Otherwise, the items will be tagged “renewed.” If all of the pre-due items are renewed, Elf will not send any pre-due notice. If an item is overdue,  Elf will try renewing it up to one week after the due date.

Note that these tags will not be displayed if you run “Check My Cards” from your web browser. They show up only in your email notice from Library Elf.

You can activate Auto Renew by signing into your Elf account, clicking My Account, then click Options. Look for the Auto Renew checkbox and click it. Please note that if you have multiple libraries in your Elf account, this feature only applies to the Sno-Isle Libraries.

Finally, one other use for Library Elf is for those small minority of patrons who have problems with the Sno-Isle notification system. Sometimes Library Elf notifications have “gotten through” when other communication methods have been stymied.

Want to try the Elf for yourself? Just create an account. Want to learn about other ways to track your library materials? Click here.

  • Sno-Isle Libraries serves residents in Washington’s Snohomish and Island counties through 21 community libraries, online services, and Library on Wheels. If you have library news or thoughts you'd like to share, drop us a note.

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