Lopez Island Library District

Interview with Lou Pray, Library Director; http://www.lopezlibrary.org

Photos by Judy Welker

Library's Historical Background

The story of the Lopez Island Library begins at the close of WWII, when Otis and Nan Perkins created Lopez Island Memorial Library in their home to honor their son, Warren, who died in the war. Later the books lodged in another island home, followed by a sojourn in the Legion Hall annex.

Our present library building dates from the late 1890’s. It served as one of the island’s four schoolhouses until 1941, when the new consolidated school was built in the center of the island and all Lopez youngsters began attending classes together for the first time. The building next housed a restaurant and then the volunteer fire department. Finally, in 1977, upon construction of a new fire station and after a great deal of island fundraising and volunteer labor, the Little Red Schoolhouse became the new home of the Lopez Library—but across the street from our present location! With the new home came our first professional librarian, Sandra Schugren, who also served as librarian for the Lopez School District.

In 1982, local supporters lobbied the Washington State Legislature to pass a unique law allowing an individual island to become a taxing district, making the Library a tax-supported institution. In1983, the Lopez Fire District transferred ownership of the Little Red Schoolhouse to the Lopez Library District, on condition that the structure be moved to another site. The schoolhouse was moved across the street to our present location at the corner of Hummel Lake and Fisherman Bay and given three new wings. The new facility opened on April 6, 1986.

In 2000 a $1.1 million remodel doubled the floor space and added a much needed computer area, to which we’ve since added other 21st century technologies such as video conferencing and e-readers, together with a well-used conference room for community meetings and a comfortable “living room” area with fireplace and serene garden views for reading and programs. In the summer of 2011, we inaugurated yet another addition, a light and airy reading room/conservatory, complete with south-facing windows, plants, plenty of comfy reading chairs, and beautiful pieces of local artwork.

At present the library is staffed by a library director, four assistants, and more than forty front desk and shelving volunteers. Last year (2010) we served more than 80,000 people who walked through our front doors and we circulated nearly 100,000 items! But we’re so much more than a brick and mortar repository. As one Lopezian so aptly put it, “The Library is the heart of our little community.”

How One Gets to an Island Library

Lopez Island is the first stop on the Washington State Ferries route from the city of Anacortes, 78 miles north of Seattle. Sailing time is approximately 45 minutes, an enjoyable meander among some of the smaller islands that make up the San Juan Islands archipelago (comprised of 175 named islands)—often in the company of bald eagles, seals, otters and even an occasional orca whale. We are located in Lopez Village, the commercial hub of the island, four miles from the ferry landing.

You can also fly to Lopez on daily scheduled flights from Seattle-Tacoma Airport or on a seaplane from Lake Union in downtown Seattle. And some people, especially many of our summer visitors, come to the island by private boat and dock at a marina and then walk the half-mile to the library.

Hours: http://www.lopezlibrary.org/contact_us.html

Lopez Island Community

At 29.5 square miles, Lopez is the smallest and most rural of the three islands served by the ferry system in the San Juans. The landscape blends woods with rolling farmlands and open spaces with shimmering marine vistas. It is also known as the friendliest of the San Juan Islands—there is a famous tradition known as the “Lopez Wave” which requires car drivers to wave at every other car.  (It’s hard to stop this practice when you reach the mainland, so we all spend the first several miles “off-island” waving at other car driver, to their great confusion!) There’s a genuine spirit of community here and a special feeling for a quiet, simple life that pervades our population of 2,200. Lopez is home to many artists, craftspeople, musicians, farmers, fisherman, nature lovers, and eccentrics. It is a family island, with a heavy emphasis on volunteerism and community service. Lopez School serves approximately 265 children, kindergarten through grade 12.

Outside Lopez Village, with its assortment of shops and galleries and the Library, lie several public beach areas that allow for long walks along the shoreline, and wooded trails through State and County Parks. Favorite haunts include Agate Beach, Shark Reef Park, Otis Perkins Park, Spencer Spit State Park, Odlin County Park, and Upright Head. Popular outdoor activities among Lopezians include boating and fishing, kayaking, golf (yes, we have our own golf course!), tennis, and cycling. Just sitting with a pair of binoculars and watching the parade of birds, deer and other wildlife works too!

What's Going on at the Library

With the generous help of our Friends of the Library group, we offer an ongoing mix of programs for children, youth and adults. For example, in November music critic and author Ritchie Unterberger will be leading us on a tour through the archives of his 400-page book, The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film. He'll be showing rare film clips and playing seldom-heard recordings featured in the book.

In December, we'll be presenting author Thor Hansen of the non-fiction book Feathers, and, in January, poet and performer Elizabeth Austen. February’s programs include musician and teacher Joe Reilly and the popular Carter Family Marionettes who will be performing a puppet version of the Odyssey, and in March we will have author Brian Doyle of Mink River fame.

Every Wednesday at 11am the Library offers “Storytimes” for toddlers and pre-schoolers, and during the year we feature guest storytellers. Every Friday at 10am is our Computer Drop-in Clinic and every Saturday at 1pm patrons can come by for an informal introduction to downloadable audiobooks. At 2pm on Saturday's it’s free Saturday Matinee on the BIG SCREEN, and every third Tuesday, we host a literary salon – a no-pressure reading group that meets to share and review books currently on their bedside tables.

Services the Library Offers

We constantly strive to find new ways to fulfill  the promises of our Mission Statement, which are to provide resources and services for the enrichment of our cultural and recreational lives, to provide information needed for daily living and decision-making, and to promote the love of reading and of lifelong learning. Last year we initiated our Musical Instrument Check-Out Program which allows patrons to check out a violin, electronic keyboard, ukulele or guitar! The library also has four Kindles and a Nook available for check-out, as well as Ipods, MP3 players, digital projectors and three Dell laptops. Other services above and beyond circulation include:

  • Outreach to the Lopez School to support projects such as the Lopez Island History Book, funded by the Paul Allen Foundation, through library databases.
  • Free Wi-Fi available in the library building, parking lot and grounds, 24/7.
  • Free scanning service – patrons can convert their old photos for easily sharing on the Web.
  • Free home delivery. (Home sick? We'll deliver specific items or pull together something we think you'd like.)
  • Read aloud service and one-on-one computer instruction at The Hamlet, our senior housing complex.
  • Events and presentations. We are glad to appear at booths or fairs to highlight books, films and magazines on the topic of the event.  We’ve done Health Fairs,  Sheep-and-Spinning events,  Farm-to-Table nights, and more.
  • Ask-A-Librarian, a 24/7 electronic reference service available through collaboration with libraries worldwide.

Challenges to Being an Island Library?

Getting good IT help in a timely fashion! There are few IT professionals available on Lopez Island and those are mostly booked up.  Having a good working relationship with the other island libraries is an incredible asset as they have been willing to share IT staff in the past and the walk-aboard ferry service (when you don’t bring a vehicle) between islands is free of charge.  But new technologies have also helped.  Once when our network went down, our ILS creator, Willem Scholten, was able to fix it remotely through his iPhone while on vacation with his family in a remote part of the Cascades on the mainland.  Amazing! 

Keeping Updated on the Lopez Island Library

Our Library Web page showcases upcoming events, recent acquisitions, information on data bases accessible from home computers and much more, in addition to all the important contact information for the Library and staff. Patrons can also download podcasts of my weekly radio show, “Lou’s News & Reviews” which airs on local Lopez KLOI radio102.9! I review new books, including audiobooks, and music CD’s, and talk about upcoming programming and other Library news. It’s tremendous fun for me and a great way to keep in touch.

Download podcasts of the Library's Directors local weekly radio show, airs every Wednesday and Thursday http://www.lopezlibrary.org/current-news.html                                                            

What Makes an Island Library So Grand

Recent arrivals to the island sometimes wonder: How come tiny Lopez Island has such a great library? It was the vision of some and the efforts of many over a great number of years that resulted in what we have today. Volunteering on a grand scale made it possible. The Lopez Library was planned by volunteers, and originally staffed by volunteers. While we now have an excellent budget for a small library, supported by property taxes, it was through the love of libraries and books by a devoted band of island volunteers that it was once imagined as it is today.  I also can’t say enough good things about our Friends of the Library group. Through their tireless fund-raising efforts, we have extra money to bring in interesting authors and speakers; fund the annual Teddy Bear picnic, musical events, creative workshops, Yoga for Kids, Read to a Dog, the Book Bucks for the summer reading program and more.  We also have the support of so many volunteers who are proud of their island library and offer their time and expertise to keep it looking spiffy, both inside and out.  It is a real lovefest here!

Here is a great quote by a former library board member that sums it up:


“Next time you visit Lopez Library, reflect a moment. You’ll

enter through a doorway modified from the Little Red

Schoolhouse: the first four windows on your left were part of

the original structure; overhead is the original second story,

complete with its jaunty cupola—hallmark of days past

blended with the present. And all around you, feel the love

and devotion of countless island residents—

many still living,

some now gone—whose legacy is our library.”

Ann Behan, Feb. 24, 2004, The Islands’ Weekly

For additional information about the Lopez Library, contact the Library Director Lou Pray at librarian@lopezlibrary.org.