LA GRANDE — Cook Memorial Library in La Grande remains closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but its staff continues opening new literary worlds for readers.

The library is getting materials to patrons with the help of creative new services, such as subscription book boxes.

The free program, which Cook Memorial started in December, proved popular, with openings filling up in little more time than it takes to read a page-turning Stephen King thriller.

Just ask Celine Vandervlugt, the teen services librarian at Cook Memorial. She said the response surprised her when library patrons had their first opportunity to register online in December.

“I could not believe how fast people signed up. All of our openings were filled within 24 hours,” she said.

Vandervlugt is in charge of the teen portion of the subscription book box program. The teen and adult divisions each have room for 12 participants, just like the children’s division, which is the program’s newest offering.

Everyone registering must first fill out a questionnaire that helps library staff members determine what books will be included. The questionnaire asks readers to choose the genres they like and to name at least three books and authors they enjoy reading, topics they want to read about and more.

The library staff provide adults and teens age 13-18 one or two books to read in two separate months. Readers in the children’s category will receive additional books because they take less time to read. All books must be returned within three weeks, just like any volume the library loans out, said Rose Peacock, who is the director of Cook Memorial’s book box program for adults.

Staff place the volumes in boxes along with an assortment of items that include trinkets, tea, play dough and rubber stress balls.

“We call it swag,” Vandervlugt said.

Readers get to keep the boxes and their swag, but they must return all of the books.

Vandervlugt said the subscription book box program is an extension of what the library’s staff has been doing for years before COVID-19 pandemic closed the library to public entry.

“Finding books people enjoy is what we normally get to do in person,” Vandervlugt said.

The written responses from participants in the program has been encouraging. Vandervlugt recalled one book box recipient who said the new book they were introduced to was now one of their “all time favorite books.”

The next book box sign-up for teens and adults begins April 1. Everyone selected to receive a book box in April will be new, Vandervlugt said. The library will announce the next sign-up period for children later.

Carrie Bushman, children’s services librarian, said the book box program also is a great way for the library’s staff to keep its connections with loyal patrons.

“We don’t want them to forget we are here,” she said.

Bushman has been with the library for two decades and noted her position has allowed her to see children grow up in the community while coming regularly to the library.

Everyone must have a Cook Memorial Library card to be eligible for a book box.

Additional information on the program is available at www.cookmemoriallibrary.org/Pages/Index/182862/subscription-boxes.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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