NASELLE — Michelle Zilli shares part of her life story with unselfconscious pleasure.
“Being a librarian is the best spontaneous decision I made in my life!”
She is happy to explain. Waitressing in Arizona, having earned an English degree, she was destined for teaching until someone intervened.
“A friend said, ‘You should be a librarian — you like books.’ I said, ‘How do you do it?’ ‘Well, you need a master’s degree.’” Once that was earned from the University of Washington, she first worked the shelves in Ocean Park then, as the millennium dawned, started managing the Naselle branch.
The reward is joy. “I love interacting with the public. It’s such fun to talk with all the people who come in here,” she said.
“At a small library, you are responsible for such a whole range of things…. I love the variety. No single day is the same.”
Now, as much of the world emerges from covid shutdowns, she is eager to resume work on her goal of making the Naselle Timberland Library a hub of the community.
Getting back to in-person
The pandemic forced adaptations. Online gatherings of patrons on Zoom for talks and book clubs; similar sessions of learning and stories for children instead of in-person visits to places like the Naselle Kindergarten class.
In normal times, Zilli also helps lead story times and programs for very young children at preschools and childcare centers, in Naselle and the Long Beach Peninsula.
Twenty-minute online Zoom links aren’t entirely satisfying. “For story times, I think it’s fun, but in-person is still my preferred thing because you have a lot more immediate reaction. I’m impatient to get back to visiting the kids in person.”
Two success stories with adult Zoom “gatherings” were when Naselle hosted a talk by internationally known Grays River butterfly educator Robert Michael Pyle. “Deep River, a novel by Karl Marlantes featuring characters inspired by the region, was discussed by a book club.
For Pyle, the audience was broader than prior in-person talks. “In that Zoom room we had 45 people from across the country,” said Zilli, who admitted her nervousness about hosting online for the first time. “It really felt intimate and didn’t feel that we were a bunch of black squares. It was a really great experience.”
Projects dreamed up during the pandemic continue. “Pop-up” library visits at the Chinook Food Bank on the first and third Thursdays offer the opportunity for people to check out materials or learn more about library services, for example.
Foot traffic declines
Technology has driven library work for years. Zilli’s staff have been engaging patrons with 15-second informational videos on TikTok, accessible through the library’s Facebook presence.
Much promotional work continues online, but Zilli wants to remind residents that the library at 4 Parpala Road is open for in-person visits for research and to take out materials including books, DVDs and CDs.
“We have been working steadily to make this a community center. It has been my goal for this place for 10 years — to have people come in and do projects, and pick up materials and hang out, use the computers,” the library manager said.
“We have been doing really great, but the pandemic put us back.”
The building is open four days a week, with hours extending into the evenings Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Masks are required for everyone over age 5; staff are somewhat protected by clear screens. “Foot traffic is not as high. On Saturdays, it is cut by half,” she said. “People are understandably hesitant.”
One attraction that might lure more is the Lucky Day Collection, a shelf of popular new books and movies that cannot be reserved and must be picked up in person. If you see something appealing, “it’s your lucky day,” Zilli explained with a laugh.
During the summer, Naselle, Ilwaco and Ocean Park branches linked up with Pacific County’s other two libraries in Raymond and South Bend for a young people’s art lab series. The project, supported by the Willapa Heritage Foundation, which predominantly works in North County, featured several disciplines, including print making, collage and scratchboard art. Periodic Take-and-Make craft projects continue at all three South County branches.
Another link has been with the Big Brother, Big Sister program which offers programs for younger children using older teens as mentors. It will continue with a “trick-or-read” Halloween-themed book program in Long Beach Oct. 30.
These partnerships appeal. “We are trying to get them back up and rolling,” she said.
Zilli has other goals, including engaging two important demographics. “We would like to see more of our Spanish-speaking members of the community come in and have access to our collection of books, movies and magazines,” she said. “I want to talk to families to learn about their needs. We are happy to take recommendations.”
Another group excites. “I would like to get community teens in a discussion about what we do at the library for their age group,” she added.
Her other recent project has been serving the five-county library network on a committee to bring back bookmobiles. Two vehicles are on order for the Timberland network, though likely not until very late 2022 or during 2023.
“We are looking at the best places to start,” she said. “Other library districts have had bookmobiles for years — they really meet a need.”
The 27-library network based in Tumwater was founded in 1968. In the years leading up to that, library system pioneers operated a bookmobile in Centralia and elsewhere. Naselle Library was built in 1991 and its involvement in the regional network gives patrons access to more than 1.6 million books, DVDs and CDs, as well as downloadable eBooks and audio.
One of many fans
Though in-person visits have diminished, diehard users continue to delight in the array of free materials to check out. On a recent weekday, Randy Evans of Naselle parked his bicycle outside. The friendly first-name greeting from staff was perhaps quieter than Norm arriving at “Cheers,” but similarly affectionate.
Evans had the 12,000-book collection to himself and, after dutifully depositing his returned materials, had soon scooped up some fresh DVDs and one book.
“I like crime TV shows and cookbooks,” he said, adding he has to be cautious with recipes because of a family member’s gluten-free diagnosis.
His endorsement of the library was unprompted. “The staff are nice and it’s always very clean,” Evans said. “They have a great collection.”