Sitka residents celebrate grand reopening of library

The renovated and enlarged Sitka Public Library is now open for business, with thousands of books having been moved back from temporary quarters on the Sheldon Jackson campus. Residents showed up in force to check out the new digs Thursday  night.

Librarian Brooke Schafer begins unpacking reference books. (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW - Sitka)
Librarian Brooke Schafer begins unpacking reference books. (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka)

Before the new Sitka Public Library opened its doors it was just a big building full of books.  A beautiful building, but still just a building. It didn’t actually become a *library* until after the ceremonial ribbon cutting, when eager Sitkans streamed into the facility to get their first peek.

Kids made beelines to the new children’s area to check out puzzles and play in a see-through porthole.  An elderly man found an atlas and a seat, pulling out his magnifying glass to get a better look. And people of all kinds lined up to check out books for the first time in a month.

Library director Robb Farmer recived congratulations at the opening.  Farmer was overwhelmed after more than adecade of planning, $6 million and a year of construction.

“This really shows what a library can be for a community,” Farmer said. “Because everyone has a different need that we want to try and fill.”

And the new library really focuses on that. There’s a teen lab with a digital fabrication area, electric guitar and recording equipment. Nearby is a tween coloring corner. There’s also a big computer lab, a children’s play area, and lots of comfy couches for browsing.

That’s something Frank Barnes looks forward to.

“I’m looking at my spot,” says Barnes. “This is where I’ll be because I can sit here and read my magazines and look out over the water that’s what the old library had and that’s what the new library has.”

Elisabeth Schafer was also perusing books nearby.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to get in here and see what it looks like I’m quite excited about seeing it. So far I love it,” Schafer says. “It’s bright, it’s open, it’s bigger.”

The word of the night was excitement. Pretty much everyone I talked to at th opening was enthusiastic about the new space. Assembly member Ben Miyasato checked out the first books at the new library. He was pretty proud of this milestone. So, what’s he reading?

“’Life’ by Keith Richards,” Miyasoto confirmed. “It’s a good book, he’s a good read. The guy is still around.”

His second choice was less rock and roll — a biographical volume about Winston Churchill.

“It’s not light reading,” says Miyasoto. “This book is 800 pages almost.”

Something else he was excited about? The celebratory cookies.

“For today on this grand reopening we get to eat in the library,” says Miyasoto.

Other patrons were getting their literary fixes, too, either returning overdue books or finding new ones to check out at the busy opening. Here’s Khalil McCormick, Courtney MacArthur, and Bill Davis:

“Pete the Cat. ’Shades of Grey,’ not to be confused with 50 Shades of Grey, by Jasper Ford. “Are you going to be checking anything out tonight? Not tonight, no. I’ll check out my wife if I can find her.”

Library director Farmer seemed to be basking in all the craziness of the event, leading one customer to the paperback section, and fielding lots of questions. Some people may say libraries are dying, he says, but they’re not. They’re just evolving to fit into the increasingly digital world.

“Libraries are for the exchange of information of all different kinds.” says Farmer.

And in that sense, with the backdrop of excited conversations, the bustling circulation counter, the Sitka Public Library is more alive than ever.