By Heidi Zemach for SCN
An estimated 500 people visited the new Seward Community Library Museum on Sixth Avenue for the official dedication of the new building Saturday, January 12th, 2013. They completely filled the lobby during the opening ceremony. A line stretched outside and turned the corner, and reached all the way down the block along the old library building, until folks outside were brought inside, into the spacious conference room for some tea, coffee and cookies. Once speeches were made by the mayor, manager, building committee members, and the Alaska Flag Song performed by the Seward Singers, a group that forms for such occasions, the children were gathered near the base of the stairs. They took hold of a colorful paper chain, made by the Boys and Girls Club—each of the 50 links depicting a child’s favorite book. At the command, the children burst the chain into the air as the singers struck up a hearty rendition of the Seward Song, by Dot Bardarson, which continued to extoll the virtues of Seward as smiling residents streamed up the stairs into the new $10 million library.
“It’s beautiful! It’s beautiful! Top notch!” said retired Kindergarten teacher Katie Turnbull, who stood at the historical exhibit case at top of the stairs. No matter how many people streamed into the library, there was still plenty of room for all. “It’s big!” said Karl Pfeiffenberger, who sat around a tall table in the Young People’s Room with his brother Max, Sophie Dow, and Ryan Miller. “I really like the chairs, and I really like the outside,” said Dow. “All the colors are cool.” “It looks like the Northern Lights outside, said Max. “I like the upstairs. It’s awesome,” said Miller.
Some children noticed things anew that were actually in the old library, buy that they may not have noticed before. Serena Knox was busy browsing the shelves of the Young People’s Room. “I like it. I think it’s very big and has computers!” she said. “All the book series I wanted and have been asking for over and over—they got them!” said Anna Storle, who especially likes the Japanese graphic novel series ‘Manga.’ “I can’t wait to check out books!” The library is still awaiting its new computers, and there were several empty shelves still awaiting the arrival of newly-purchased books.
“I’ll probably come here to do homework,” said Selma Casagranda, who said she really liked the large downstairs room, with adjacent kitchen that will be available for community activities and meetings. Faces from historic Seward photographs, printed onto thin screens peered into the room from its many windows, adding a somewhat surreal touch blending the past with the present, while still letting in the light.
Shannon Wolf, an architecture junkie, explored the perimeters of the library upstairs and noted its many windows where seats and tables encourage people to sit and work, or gather together in groups to talk. “I’m really surprised that the windows open,” Wolf said. “That’s kind of nice… to have fresh breezes blowing inside. In most modern buildings that’s not the case.” She also admired the exposed beams. “It’s very modern to do things like this, and of course it has the southern facing view of the bay.”
The smallest children and their parents headed for the Children’s Room, which has sound-proof panes of glass to allow them to read and play freely without bothering other patrons. Noted author Nancy White Carlstrom read two of her “Jesse Bear” books, as the children sat in a semi-circle on the carpet, while their younger brothers and sisters did puzzles and games at a round wooden table nearby.
“It’s been a long term project that the people of Seward should be proud of,” said former Seward Mayor and UAA journalism professor Edgar Blatchford, catching his first glimpse of the building’s inside. A project like this takes good, strong leadership, and visionaries, he said. Keith Campbell, Kerry Martin and Mary Tougas, and many other volunteers spent countless days, hours, years and decades trying to get this done, he said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
He compared their vision and tenacity bringing the 2003 Seward Centennial building proposal to fruition to the settlers who first came to Seward to discover a protected bay in which to establish homesteads, and to those who established the Alaska Railroad and Historic Iditarod sled dog trail, all of which are lasting legacies to their vision. “In this day of the Internet, people think libraries are dead,” Blatchford said. “They are not.” On every campus, libraries are still filled with students, he noted. Blatchford also stressed the importance of the new museum on the first floor, which opened temporarily for a special exhibit called, “My Favorite Things” Saturday, but which opens officially in May. “What’s the best way to colonize a people? Take away their history. That’s why this museum is so important,” he said. The museum, while about the same size as the old museum, has a better flow to it, and more separated spaces for people to enjoy different aspects of our history. It still has the friendly old wooden table around which visitors and historical society members enjoy socializing, and the old rocking chair. A new ornamental rug is on order. The library opens for business Monday. Everyone is invited to come in and enjoy their new gift.