Rowen Gebler, 2, plays in a porthole in the children’s area at Sitka Public Library. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

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 (2-4-16) night.

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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 was overwhelmed at the opening, after more than a decade 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,” he said. “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,” she said. “So far I love it. It’s bright, it’s open, it’s bigger.”

The word of the night was excitement. Pretty much everyone I talked to at the opening was enthusiastic about the new space.


A patron peruses the young adult section. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

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,” Miyasato said. It’s a good book, he’s a good read. The guy is still around.”

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

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

Something else he was pleased with? The celebratory cookies.

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

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.


Residents checking out the new library. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

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,” he said.

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

The grand opening of the Sitka Public Library is slated for March 20th,  which will be the 93rd anniversary of the library as an institution in Sitka.