Library celebrates a century as a place to get lost in a book

For lovers of the written word, one might argue that walking into a library is like a family reunion, of the senses at least. The smell of paper and ink pulls memories of curling up with a book, no phone to check or competition for attention.

Last Thursday, it felt like a reunion of the senses and also a library family reunion.

November marks 100 years since the library opened its doors on Oct. 31, 1921.

And before the cake could be cut and whittled down, former library director Kay Jabusch shared memories under the eaves of a building that did the opposite of shrink its size or offerings.

From 802 books in 1921, the library has grown to house thousands of books, plus movies and music, computer access, printing, an online library catalog, and access to the Alaska Digital Library collection of digital and audiobooks.

Jabusch served as library director until retiring in 2014. She recalled conscripting kids at the library into action to dismantle and move the library's computers out of the way of a roof leak, (the children jumped to it, probably better acquainted with dismantling computers than most adults), and her pleasant incredulity at librarian Irene Ingle hiring her in 1980 when she was several months pregnant. At the time, Jabusch thought, who would hire someone who will have to quit?

But then Jabusch stayed a long time. At this library, "people tend to," she said.

The library has grown, and with it, the services it offers.

The library's first summer reading program she headed in 1981 had 16 participants, Jabusch said. By her retirement, approximately 125 children were taking part every summer.

As for her hopes on the next 100 years, Jabusch said, that's up to the community and how much of a need they put on the library. Her hope includes the continuity of a strong, sustainable staff and adequate funding, bolstered by the progress she's seen since her days as library director.

"Since I retired, I see more and more improvements," Jabusch said.

Among the attendees at Thursday's birthday party were Carol Rushmore, president of Friends of the Library, the nonprofit created to promote the library as a cultural, educational and recreational asset to the borough. And an expert cake cutter, as she doled out slices from the two cakes commissioned from Sweet Tides Bakery for the event, one chocolate and one vanilla, with "100" emblazoned on both.

Ginny Helgeson, assistant librarian from 1981 to 1989, sat and chatted with Alice Rooney, retired social worker.

"Kay and I catalogued the entire 30,000-book collection," Helgeson said of her time working at the library. Helgeson's daughter, Sarah Scambler, is the current assistant librarian.

Sarah Whittlesey-Merritt, of the library staff, manned the party favors table and recited, from memory, the library card rules.

Among the favors were bookmarks designed to look like library due-date cards, the ones that used to be found in the lending pocket in the back of a book, playfully "issued to our favorite patrons" at the party. "Satchels of Hershey's Kisses almond candies, with circular stickers attached to the flat bottom, some with text that had the name of the library, "100-year anniversary celebration", or a photo of the library itself, sat in a bowl on the table.

There was also a sign-in sheet made to look like stacks of books, with blank spines. Each attendee wrote their name in the spine of a book.

Mayor Steve Prysunka attended the birthday, and Jabusch recalled Prysunka once told her that when he and his wife were mulling the move to Wrangell, the library sold the deal.


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