For the last six years, on the third Wednesday of every month, you could find me at one of Anchorage’s libraries as part of the Municipality of Anchorage Library Advisory Board. October 16 marked my last meeting, the conclusion of two terms as a member of the board.
Saying goodbye is bittersweet: Being a member of the board has been incredibly rewarding and I will miss it, but boards need new energy and fresh perspective to stay healthy and it’s my turn to step down.
During my time on the board, two new libraries opened (Girdwood and Mountain View), one relocated (Eagle River), and sadly, one closed (Dimond). One director retired, and another joined the team. Important community studies and initiatives were planned and executed. Countless improvements were made to facilities, programming, and policies despite persistent budget cuts. And now, Anchorage Public Library has embarked on one of the most important projects yet: The renewal of Anchorage’s flagship library, the Loussac Library.
This project will not only address practical challenges, like the crumbling entryway and woefully inadequate design for technology, but also transform Loussac into a vibrant, fully functioning “third place” for our community, a gathering place to exchange ideas, celebrate our culture, and stretch our imaginations. This will be a definitive project for Anchorage Public Library: Not only will it result in a fully functioning (fully fantastic!) facility, but it will also gauge the support and investment of our community for the future of Anchorage’s libraries.
I picked the photo for this post because when I look at it, I don’t see names on a plaque. I see the faces of the people (some named, some not) who worked incredibly hard to bring a library back to Mountain View. That hard work resulted in a library that responds to community needs in a way that is inspiring:
- Along with digital and hard copy collections, the library has a ukulele collection – groups spontaneously gather to play and sing together.
- The library partners with the Food Bank of Alaska as a site for Summer Food Service and After-school Food programs. This means that youth who attend certain library programs have access to a full meal. Heartbreakingly, some kids load up on left-overs, especially on Fridays (the program only runs during the week), because they won’t have access to full meals at home.
- Mountain View is the most diverse census tract in the United States, and many library visitors don’t speak English well or at all. In response, librarians specially purchased Hmong, Korean, and Thai language media for them to check out. There are also ABC blocks in multiple languages for children.
- Story-time has expanded to include singing, crafts, games, and other activities.
- There’s a LEGO club. Cool.
- Family movie time is offered on Friday afternoons, complete with popcorn.
- Adult education class topics include how to care for aging parents, how to buy and sell on Craigslist, and a public forum on immigration reform.
This kind of creativity and responsiveness to community need is exactly why libraries are so important. Of course, each library should have its own flavor and focus – what works in Mountain View might not be a success at a different branch, and vice versa. But the spirit should always be the same: A place where information is free for all who enter. For curious minds, for seekers, for people in need of knowledge, of inspiration, of community, of guidance, of access, of entertainment – a library is the answer. I hope to see our libraries continue to be the answer, and am so excited for Loussac’s transformation.
Dave, David, Ted, Nancy, Sharon, Jim, Joy, Fayedra, Tanya, Elizabeth, Karen, Clare, and Mary Jo, thank you for the energy, commitment, passion, and humor that we’ve shared. I feel so lucky to know each one of you.
I can’t wait for Anchorage Public Library’s next chapter – it’s going to be a good one!