Parents and children catching flights at the Kenai Municipal Airport now have the chance to make waiting time into story time. On Friday afternoon the Kenai airport opened a room for families featuring a shelf of donated children’s and young adult books.
Though the airport’s ticket counter area previously had children’s activity tables, the new room — a long-vacant terminal lease once occupied by a travel agent’s office — is the first space the Kenai airport has dedicated to the use and entertainment of traveling families, said Kenai Muncipal Airport administrative assistant Erica Shinn.
The idea for the bookshelf came from Anchorage travel writer Erin Kirkland, who in 2016 brought her family’s collection of used children’s books to a shelf in Anchorage’s Ted Stevens International Airport and started “Read on the Fly,” an effort to distribute donated children’s books in Alaskan airports. Kirkland, who recorded her own family travel experiences in her book “Alaska on the Go: Exploring the 49th State with Children,” said there are now fourteen Read on the Fly book shelfs in seven airports, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Valdez, Bethel, Ketchikan, and Juneau.
A Soldotna High School shop class built the new shelf in the Kenai airport, and a group of local volunteers led by Shinn will keep it maintained and stocked. Shinn said those wanting to donate books can bring them to her office in the Kenai airport, where she’ll check them for appropriate content and approve them with a sticker on the spine before placing them on the shelf.
The books presently on the shelf come from the Kenai Community Library’s discarded stock and from the collection of donated books that the Friends of the Kenai library keeps for its fundraising book sales. If the program works as intended, though, they won’t stay on the shelf long. Kirkland said Read on the Fly isn’t a lending library — the point is that children passing through the airport will be able to fly away with the books that strike their fancy, without the need to return them.
“We have a lot of expectations of ‘take a book, leave a book,’ or ‘borrow and return,’ but this is about giving books to kids,” Kirkland said.