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Students rediscover free online resources from Washington libraries

Free tutoring, customized lessons, personalized searches. Librarians are helping students, parents and teachers adapt to their new kitchen table classrooms.

SEATTLE — Washington librarians, who are working from home, are finding innovative ways to help students, parents, and teachers adapt to their new kitchen table “classrooms.”

“Compared to last year, we’ve had a 440% increase in E-card signups,” said Lisa Rosenblum, executive director of the King County Library System.

With classrooms closed to students through the end of the year in response to the coroanvirus pandemic, Rosenblum said many families are rediscovering the remote services their local libraries offer.

KCLS recently expanded access to tutor.com, which connects students with expert teachers online. It’s free for anyone with a library card. Use of that site is up 22%, Rosenblum said.

RELATED: King County Libraries offering free events, classes to help pass the time at home

The Seattle Public Library is working with teachers to assemble digital media learning kits with music, videos, and articles, personalized to a student’s interests, like aviation or sports.

“We realized having the learning be teacher-driven is not as successful in an online environment,” said Josie Watanabe, youth and family learning services manager for the Seattle Public Library.

Stumped by a question? Ask a librarian. They can be your personal search engine.

“They’ll try, they’re tough, they will dig and dig and dig,” Rosenblum said.

Seattle Public Library offers an online chat system connecting users with librarians. We tested it out, asking when the flu vaccine was invented.

A librarian found an answer in a few minutes: “According to the Centers for Disease Control, it was invented in 1942 and licensed for civilian use in 1945.”

“You can Google and get lots of things, but you don’t know if they’re actually valid,” Watanabe said.

Librarians, too, are adapting, and say an ongoing challenge is to try to find ways to reach families who don’t have fast internet, iPads, or computers.

One idea is to launch an on-demand curbside book service. It could be like Instacart for books, Rosenblum said.

The Seattle Public Library said it was considering including books in the meal boxes schools continue to provide to students.

“As one principal put it, we’re building the plane while we’re flying it,” said Carrie Bowman, a KCLS teen librarian.

RELATED: Washington schools shift to remote learning for the rest of the school year in coronavirus response