This spring, the Ninilchik community library brought its number of paid staff up to… one. It hired a new director at 15 hours per week. Like many small libraries around the state is has a minuscule budget and relies primarily on volunteers to keep it running.
The Ninilchik Community Library is a small building with a single room divided into sections packed full of kids’ books, Alaskana, science and history.
“I think that every child should have the opportunity to find out what a glorious thing a book can be and what a wide world is out there,” says Victoria Steik.
She lived in Ninilchik for about 20 years and that was about 15 years ago. She wanted to move back but needed to find the perfect job. And she did as the new library director. She says it’s a wonderful feeling to help bring the rest of the world to her community through books.
“Living in a village this small and this remote – I mean it doesn’t seem remote to us, but relatively speaking we are remote – and those children may not have the opportunity to go to Boston and see where Paul Revere rode or go to California and learn about the gold rush. But all the books we have can take them there,” says Steik.
And there are a lot of books- so many, in fact, that finding the space to house them is an issue. But it’s a good problem to have says Steik. The library is always looking for new and interesting volumes to add to its collection. For that, like most things here, they rely on the generosity of community members. The library has purchased about half the books it has. The rest were donated.
“Our budget is very small, painfully small. In fact, I’m not totally sure, but I know it’s less than $25,000,” says Steik. “The difficulty that we have is our funding. We have no municipality, we don’t have a city, to help us with our expenses. So, it’s truly a community library. We are having fundraisers all the time and doing things to try to supplement the very small grant we get from the state.”
But the village have stepped up to support them, says Jeff Smith, president of the library board.
“The gas hookup that we just had last year, that was done with volunteer effort and that was very nice. We have our garbage taken out by volunteers. Most of our computer work is done by volunteers,” says Smith. “Of course, the board is all volunteer effort is volunteer effort too and several of the board members volunteer time at the library to keep it open.”
As the years pass and technology and information sharing evolves, Smith says the library has tried to stay relevant by diversifying what it offers.
“We have some GED testing, we have some meetings that go on here. We would really like to expand to have our book club coming back,” says Smith. “And of course in the summer time, when you have a lot of older tourists here, this is a place that they come to access the internet.”
Steik says for permanent residents, it’s the entertainment hub for the town. There’s no dedicated movie theater and many residents don’t have access high speed internet or television.
“And in order to get TV, you almost have to have cable,” says Steik. “And we’re kind of a low-income community so a lot of people come here for videos. As a consequence of coming into the library to get videos, they’ve discovered all the wonderful books we have. So, there’s a lot more reading going on in our town because we have a lot of people who use that as entertainment.”
She says as library director, she wants to make sure the library stays attractive for younger generations. She plans to build up the collection of teen and young adult literature as well as add graphic novels and perhaps even graphic art books that students can come in and use.
She also wants to offer more storytime and activities for young children, especially in the summer when the preschool is closed and school is out of session.
But while looking to the future, she says it also does its best to remember the past. She takes pride in its large collection of old Alaskana, calling it the jewel of the library.
“In addition to a lot of the things that have been donated to us by residents who have been here for 40 or 50 [years], and of course, our native residents have been here forever, so there are a lot of cool artifacts and photographs of our community. Our community is very old and we have a lot of that history here in the library,” says Steik.
And that’s what makes libraries like these so special, says Steik. They’re more than just buildings for books. They’re special spaces made by the community, for the community, to learn and explore the whole world.