Longtime library employee curates pared-down Alaskana reading room
When history buff and writer Ray Hudson moved to Unalaska in the 1960s and became a teacher, he started collecting books about the region. That collection grew to become the island’s largest collection of books about Alaska.
Hudson eventually donated the collection to the public library, where it grew, and is now housed in a reading room named after him: the Ray Hudson Room.
Even though Hudson started the collection, if you ask people around the library today who to thank, there’s a different name you’ll hear.
“Peat, our wonderful library assistant is the master of that collection in the public library today,” said librarian Karen Kresh.
The Unalaska Public Library moved into its temporary location at the Burma Road Chapel in early April. And while some things are new and some are missed, lovers of Alaska history will be happy to know they can still hang out and read about the Aleutians.
Peat has worked at the library for around 17 years, acquiring a vast knowledge of everything Alaska and Aleutians — from Alaska statehood and the Valdez oil spill to shipping in Alaska and Russian exploration.
“He’s the person I refer anyone to when they have questions about Alaskana stuff,” said library assistant Katie Huling. “His knowledge of the history of this island is just phenomenal.”
In many ways, Peat’s the perfect guy to curate the Alaskana books. He’s about as local as you can get, and he knows his history.
“Well, I was born here in 1949 and pretty much lived here all my life,” Peat said. “My dad is from Makushin, a village kind of southwest of us. And my mother's from here, and my family's been here for thousands of years.”
Back in the library’s main building, the Ray Hudson Room had nearly 70 shelves, plus maps, newspapers, and other bits of Alaska history. But in the Burma Road Chapel, Peat said he had to pare down the collection to only nine shelves.
“I tried to do a little bit on every subject,” he said. “It’s an amazing little collection.”
Peat said he’s learned a lot while curating the collection, and that it’s hard not to be swept away by the vast history.
“People aren't familiar with the Aleutian Islands. They come here for fishing industry jobs, basically. And take a look around; people fall in love with it and want to know more about the community,” he said.
In another life, Peat worked at one of Unalaska’s other institutions: the Elbow Room bar.
“When I was getting ready to quit my bartending job, I told everybody, ‘I'm tired of this, I'm gonna go become a librarian,’” Peat said. “But of course, here I am years later and loving every minute of it."