Libraries becoming more important in filling community role

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2006

For whatever reasons (diminishing budgets?), use, maintenance and staffing of many Alaska public school libraries are waning. The Kenai Peninsula College (KPC) libraries differ from public libraries, as they are utilized primarily for reference and research to support students.

This leaves the city public libraries, such as in Homer, Kenai, Seward and Soldotna, as one of the primary Kenai Peninsula sources of adult and K-12 student education, aside from KPC, the various city Community Schools and vocational schools.

As the vitality of public school libraries wanes, the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library in Soldotna is observing more and more students in attendance at the library on a daily basis. Demand is growing for more diverse reference, reading and audio books, educational video and DVD collections for all age groups, as well as demand for more Internet computers and library space.

We are sure all the peninsula city public libraries are realizing this growth in demand for more diversity in their community services. Homer is in the planning stages of a new library and Kenai is planning an expansion of its library. Both of these developments are due, in large part, to their successful Friends of the Library community organizations.

In 2005, the Haines Library was named Best of the Best of small public community libraries in the entire United States, with some 300-plus community events held in its library annually. The success of the Haines model would be a very lofty goal for all of our community libraries. The Haines Library also has a very active Friends organization.

The Soldotna Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library is in the final stages of obtaining federal tax-exempt status for its new Friends of the Library nonprofit corporation, patterned after the successes of Homer, Kenai, Haines, et al.

In addition to fund raising, social events and grant solicitations to supplement its many library community services, various fine arts events are being planned to be held in the library, to increase library interest and utilization even more.

There are also plans to increase the number of scholarships for deserving, needy high school students to advance their education. The library currently provides for 14,000-pus local patrons in its service area, and for many more visitors from May through September.

All of our Kenai Peninsula libraries are increasing in asset value to their community service areas, and are among the elite, along with the food banks, CARTS, shelters for disadvantaged people, senior centers, various charities, et al, as free public service providers.

As such, they are truly earning community support from the more affluent individuals and business owners, who can afford to help through donations, gifts, grants and-or, through the giving of valuable personal time as a volunteer. The entire peninsula is the beneficiary of these community public libraries, and all of us should be very appreciative and avail ourselves of their vital social and educational services.

Richard Hahn is the chairman of the Soldotna Public Library board, which has assisted in forming the Friends of Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library organization. He is active, with his wife, Loretta, in many other state and area volunteer community service advisory boards.

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