By Heidi Zemach for SCN –
Valarie Kingsland began working as the new Seward Community Library Museum Director August 11th. She replaced Patty Linville, who had worked as head librarian for 16 years, and who, in Kingsland’s opinion, did an excellent job running the library, and leaves behind very large shoes to fill. Yet, with her background, experience and sensibility, Kingsland thinks she’ll be able to view the new library museum with fresh eyes, and may be able to help move the facility and its programs forward as libraries, archives, museums, and the information landscape changes.
Many locals know Kingsland as the former library aide at Seward Elementary School where her husband David has been the Principal for the past 14 years. Or through The Closet, a local children’s clothing donation center she started in 2005. Or perhaps they know her as the devoted mother of Christopher, 13, Jonathan, 16, and Nathanael, 26. But Valarie is very happy to have been in a good position to assume the library museum leadership, and couldn’t be more pleased to find the job right here in Seward.
“This job has been very serendipitous, you know. It wasn’t something I had planned on. I had no master plan to take over the library,” Kingsland joked. Rather, everything she had already been working on for the past three or four years just fell into place when Linville retired, she said. Kingsland had obtained her Master of Information and Library Science degree through the Circle of Learning program, sponsored by the American Indian Library Association and the School of Information at San José State University. Prior to that she had worked as the aide at the school library since 2006, which involved learning how to manage and run a library, while also engaging children in reading.
“It was something I’ve always been interested in,” she said. “I’ve always been a tremendous reader, and loved learning, and always loved the environment that embodies that life-long learning, always. The concept that you can educate yourself- that’s pretty powerful.
Kingsland was born and raised in Alaska and is Inupiaq from the Norton Sound area. One of Kingsland’s early memories was reading Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in 3rd grade, and learning about the escaped slave who rescued herself and countless other slaves.
“I was taken with the sense of social justice in this woman who cared enough to do something, to make something right, and it really struck a chord with me. And it really changed my reading. After that, then I just started reading everything.”
Kingsland had about a year of working closely with the Seward Elementary school librarian before she retired, but for several subsequent years, when the school had no librarian on staff, Kingsland worked alone, followed by several years of working with others.
“To have that kind of experience, and to encourage that in young people I think is really an amazing opportunity,” she said.
There was a good deal of autonomy in the school library environment, pushing her to strive to learn all she could, and allowing her be inventive in finding ways to interest children in story books and literature. Being somewhat of an overachiever, compelled to do everything she does well, Kingsland felt obliged to back up each new idea with a good deal of research, and discovered that she greatly enjoyed the process. She believes she will bring the same kind of passion and energy to her new position.
Kingsland’s interest in training as a librarian was sparked in 2011 when she was awarded a national scholarship which allowed her to partake in the online master’s program from San José State University. The news of this award was followed by her first conference, the Alaska Native Archives, Libraries and Museum Summit (ANLAMS), where she met many other indigenous professionals and paraprofessionals who shared some of the same experiences and interests. It was to be one of many conferences and professional development opportunities over the next three years.
One particularly relevant topic generating much discussion these days is how best to integrate libraries, archives and museums. It’s a new, but growing trend in the U.S., and there are still more questions than answers, Valarie said, but that sort of integration is exactly what she hopes that the Seward Community Library can become better at doing. Meanwhile, she’s begun learning from the places already trying it, and has developed a supportive network of professionals to draw on for advice from, many through the annual international conferences provided by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums (ATALM).
Another trend in libraries that she’s always been focused on is community engagement and development. These days, libraries are beginning to look outward, rather than inward, Kingsland said. They’re examining their own communities to figure out some real needs that libraries can help fulfill, and then developing programs and services that they can provide.
“I think I just realized this summer that it has a lot to do with my cultural values,” Kingsland said. “The Alaska native cultures are collective and community oriented, so it just felt right, it felt good. It felt natural. That’s something from the very beginning attracted me to librarianship.”
Another trend in libraries that she strongly believes in is dealing well with the new technologies, and helping to encourage people of all ages, and all variety of skill levels to become comfortable with using it to meet their individual needs. Kingsland has built several websites, using tools that one does not have to be an expert to use. She hopes the library and museum can provide a place to learn how to use technology advantageously as well as place to share that expertise.
A major concern is that there is no professional maintenance for the new library museum building. The city contracts for basic janitorial service, such as vacuuming, and restroom cleaning, but with this building’s many complex systems, even simple things like changing light bulbs, and heating system filters can’t be done by volunteers.
The summer has been extremely busy for all her staff. In July, for example, there were more than 24 thousand visitors to the building, and almost 1700 museum visits. Meeting rooms were reserved or events scheduled 47 times, and 15 passport applications were submitted. Rachel James filled in as Acting Director from May 24th – August 10th, and Kate Rullman, the previous Collections Coordinator, was hired for the Library Museum Technician position. A new Collections Coordinator, Heather McClain, was recently hired and will begin in early September. Meanwhile the Resurrection Bay Historical Society continues to organize the joint Alaska Historical Society and Museums Alaska Conference, to take place at the Seward library museum October 1-4, and the Seward Community Library Museum Association continues to bring in authors as they prepare for their annual meeting and membership drive.