Here at North End Metro, we have sought to make women’s stories a regular part of our publication through our “Wonder Woman” column, which honors the achievements and contributions of women in leadership roles throughout Snohomish County. This issue we are pleased to expand that column into a special feature article, which highlights the ways five local women are making a difference. They are accomplished community leaders who actively work to help others reach their potential. We applaud their efforts, as well as the efforts of many other women like them who make Snohomish County a better place.
Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory Executive Director, Sno-Isle Libraries
Sno-Isle Libraries is one of the largest library systems in Washington State in terms of customers served and annual operating budget. It serves more than 700,000 residents by operating 21 libraries throughout Snohomish and Island counties. Casting the vision for “a forward-thinking, financially stable library district” is Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory, executive director. She managed the library system so that it maintained financial stability throughout the recession without cutting services or reducing staff, and is committed to ensuring that Sno-Isle Libraries remains relevant in the Information Age by delivering vital community services.
“I do love to read, but I don’t think that’s what drove me to become a librarian,” Woolf-Ivory said. “I believe that people deserve information in a variety of formats that are readily accessible, regardless of whether they can afford to buy them, regardless of background, economic status, or neighborhood.”
Woolf-Ivory was hired as the managing librarian at Marysville Public Library in 1985, and a year later was promoted to assistant director of Sno-Isle Libraries. At the time, Sno-Isle Libraries was a much smaller organization, one with just over 180 employees. She served as assistant director for 15 years before she was appointed executive director in March 2002. Today, under her leadership, Sno-Isle Libraries is a multimillion-dollar organization with about 500 staff members and an annual operating budget of more than $51 million.
A tour of the Sno-Isle Libraries Administrative and Services Center revealed the organization’s tremendous impact. Remarkably, for a large organization, Woolf-Ivory knows her employees by name and paused to honor their accomplishments throughout the tour. For example, a visit with Nancy Pursel, volunteer program administrator, turned into an occasion for celebration.
“Last year we had 654 volunteer give over 23,000 hours.” said Pursel, volunteer program administrator. “They are wonderful people. They really generously give us their time.”
While walking through the IT headquarters, Woolf-Ivory pointed out the computers and electronic equipment that were sent to the Service Center for repairs or to be repurposed for other use, as well as the new equipment being prepared for installation. Currently the library system makes available more than 500 computers for public use, free of charge, which can make all the difference in helping community members cross the digital divide, learn to use technology, search for and apply to jobs or college, and access online information—all regardless of income.
Shelved materials await the book mobile, or “Library On Wheels” program, which brings requested items and other materials to homebound individuals, nursing homes, senior residents, and remote communities, making more than 5,400 stops each year. A special section of board books, picture books, and educational activities supplies the story time the book mobile delivers to preschools and daycare centers. They receive a box of materials for the month and free continuing education for childcare providers.
During a stop in the cataloging and processing department, Woolf-Ivory said that Sno-Isle Libraries will process more than $6 million worth of books, DVDs, electronic equipment, and other materials in 2016. This is in addition to the more than 1.06 million books, CDs, DVDs, and e-books already in circulation. Last year, customers borrowed more than 6.7 million library items.
In addition to making information accessible, WoolfIvory’s vision for Sno-Isle Libraries includes fostering opportunities for civic engagement. A function of the public library is to bring people together to talk about important ideas. As a result, Sno-Isle Libraries launched the Issues that Matter series of events, which brings together a panel of experts representing diverse perspective to host community conversations about important, sometimes contentious, issues. Similarly, last year’s TEDx-Sno-Isle event brought 23 speakers together to share ideas.
Woolf-Ivory said, “There are millions of ideas out there. Some ideas I think are wonderful; some ideas I think other people would think are wonderful. But a major value of public libraries is that we all deserve the right to access information, regardless of who thinks the ideas are wonderful.”