SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Ketchikan's new community library can't wait
By Heidi Ekstrand and Susan Fisher


July 02, 2008

If all the stacks of books in the Ketchikan Public Library were spread apart so a person in a wheelchair could get up the aisles, and upper shelves were removed for a safe height, we'd need double the present space just for what we have - nothing new.

More than a dozen Alaska communities are at work planning new libraries, and several others recently have built new libraries. For most, the public library is decades old, shoehorned into space that's
too small to handle modern uses.

The Ketchikan City Council and Gateway Borough Assembly will come together July 9 to talk about this important capital project. The library is a city department, but city and borough taxes pay to operate it. It is our community's public library, no matter where it sits on this island or who manages it.

Here's the good news: for every dollar of local money, we stand to gain three or four from the state, potential foundation funding, and private tax-deductible donations. Such a deal! That new facility becomes part of our infrastructure for a lot less than if we had to fund it all locally. We get to own it and we can get help to fund it.

Now is the time. There is a new state funding vehicle to match local library project costs, and state oil revenues are mounting. We have to be ready to move ahead.

The Council has decided on the old Main School property site. The Council also appears to support a new four-level parking garage on adjacent property at Main and Grant. What isn't decided is the library size, design, and cost.

Making a design decision on a project that will cost millions and has to last for several decades is a real challenge. We've lost people and jobs, and it's natural to cringe. But this is no frill. This is infrastructure. This is a legitimate government function.

Linked to this project are possibilities: freeing space in the Centennial Building for the Tongass Historical Museum to grow; and parking that benefits businesses, shoppers, downtown workers, taxpayers needing to get to City Hall and those called to jury duty.

The library is integral to continuing education and community literacy. The public library is part of a consortium with the University of Alaska and public schools. The library is a place children go to learn and citizens go for information.

The library is a resource for businesses and organizations. The library enhances our quality of life. The library opens its doors to residents, visitors and tourists.

The library has maps, tapes, audio books, large-print books, periodicals, and newspapers from around the state. The library has historical books and important references. The library staff is trained to help with research. The library has computers for those who do not own them, and magazines for those who cannot afford to subscribe.

Family activities at our library have drawn such crowds that people have been turned away. There are times it is elbow-to-elbow in reading areas. There is little privacy.

The local collection does not meet national library standards because there is no room.

Do we want too much for Ketchikan? No. The Friends of the Ketchikan Public Library invite you to examine other Alaska communities in terms of population and library size (example: Ketchikan is Alaska's fourth largest city; we are Number 18 in library size). Consider our earlier point - there is money available to help get this project done well and cost effectively.

The Friends group is asking the Rasmuson Foundation and the Foraker Group to help us move to a review necessary to assure that all critical questions have been addressed, including operating costs. This is an important step in securing funding from state and private sources. The first question they will ask is whether our community supports this project.

Please let our officials know that you support this project. Sign our support petition. Encourage groups and organizations to formally adopt resolutions or to write letters. The time is now.

Ketchikan, AK

About: "Heidi Ekstrand is president and Susan Fisher is a board member and past-president of Friends of the Ketchikan Public Library, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and advocating for the library and its programs."


Received July 02, 2008 - Published July 02, 2008, 2008


Related Information:

Planning for Tomorrow's Future: New Library Building


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Ketchikan, Alaska