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Unalaska’s public library reopens Sunday, with community celebration to mark long-awaited expansion

Unalaskans form a human chain to help move books into the newly renovated Unalaska Public Library on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.
Laura Kraegel
Unalaskans form a human chain to help move books into the newly renovated Unalaska Public Library on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

The Unalaska Public Library will reopen this weekend, more than a year after the 24-year-old building closed for a long-awaited renovation and expansion.

The library will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening celebration Sunday, April 30, from 1 to 3 p.m., to welcome the community to the new space.

But the party really began last Wednesday, when Unalaskans came out in droves to help move the collection’s final 500 books from the temporary library at the Burma Road Chapel back into the permanent building at 64 Eleanor Street.

The mood was raucous as volunteers spaced out and formed a line between the two locations, passing children’s chapter and picture books one by one until they’d arrived at their new home.

Laura Kraegel
Unalaska kids pass library books, one by one, from the Burma Road Chapel to the newly renovated Unalaska Public Library on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

Local students powered much of the effort. Elementary school kids danced with excitement, broke out into song and cheers, and occasionally made trick passes over their heads.

“This library is theirs,” said fourth grade teacher Mary Heimes, who brought her class to the book chain so they could be involved in the reopening.

“There were lots of screams of joy when they found out this what we were doing today,” she said. “They’re very excited for the new library, and it’s just a really great way for them to get introduced to this new space that’s theirs.”

High school students were also excited to help, including 16-year-old Jenelle May Blanco Remolino. She said she likes doing homework at the library and checking out graphic novels and movies.

“I saw a little sneak peek behind the scenes, and I think it looks amazing,” said Blanco Remolino. “I think they’ve done a really good job remodeling it. And yeah, I’m really excited to study in there and do whatever … I feel like I’m going to go there every day.”

Library Assistant Katie Huling anchored the end of the book chain, and she was thrilled with the turnout and response. She said the renovation and reopening are huge achievements, especially after the last few years.

“It’s something that I know a lot of us who work here, now and over the years, just feel very strongly about — that what we’re doing here is for the community,” said Huling. “COVID was rough because it was hard to serve the community, and there were some things that we just couldn’t do. And then Burma was hard because within the first week, we had three people come in and ask for books that were in storage.

“So having our full collection, as well as the new books we’re bringing in, and being able to have spaces for people who didn’t have their own specific space before … it’s just taking everything that we love to do and want to do, and being able to do it better,” she said. “More than a new building or how nice everything looks, is the fact that we know we can do what we want to do better now. We can serve the community better.”

Following the roughly $9 million renovation, funded by the City of Unalaska and a Rasmuson Foundation grant, the library now has a dedicated room for teens, where they’ll be able to study while talking with friends. Huling said there are other enclosed study spaces, as well, where people can work in groups, attend remote classes, or take phone calls.

The library has also added a fireplace, more seating options, and a large gathering room equipped to host lectures, community events, and parties.

“Five-year-old me would have been so excited to get to have a birthday party in the library,” said Huling. “And if you have a 5-year-old who wants to have a birthday party in the library, you can do that now.”

The children’s room and the area for public computers are both bigger, with a new puppet theater and new monitors, respectively. There’s also more shelf space, artwork, and natural light thanks to new windows.

Huling said she hopes Unalaskans and visitors to the community will turn out for the grand opening. In addition to the new building, she said the library will unveil new books and other items to the collection. And attendees will have the chance to sign the same guest book used for the library’s original opening more than 20 years ago.

“People who come in for the grand opening of this building will get to sign the same guest book that people signed back in 1999,” said Huling. “We’re bringing it out again and skipping a few pages to start afresh, and people will get to sign the exact same original library guest book.

“So if people want to want to put their name down in a little piece of library history, come out for the grand opening,” she said. “We are very excited.”

Following the celebration, the library will hold regular hours Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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