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Libraries grow louder as mission expands

Libraries used to be quiet as mausoleums, with people shuffling quietly from the card catalog, to the stacks, to a straight-backed wooden chair at a table to read under harsh fluorescent lights. Stern librarians would peer over their glasses and give a “shush” at any sound.

Not so much any more.

“Libraries are not quiet any more. And there are some people who are kinda upset about that sometimes,” says Kenai Library Director Mary Jo Joiner. 

She and her contemporary in Soldotna, Rachel Nash, were on KDLL’s Kenai Conversation last week. 

Nash agreed that libraries are not quiet any more, but there is a reason for that. 

“The beauty of it is we do have something for everyone. So we have the quiet places if they need it to be quiet, but the majority of people would like to be able to talk freely,” she said. “And like we’re talking about before, that’s a very important thing in our culture, that we need to be able to share ideas with one another.”

And people can make noise — or rather, “share ideas” — with one another during cooking classes or while in costume at Harry Potter Night, which was just last week.

“There’s this idea of a third place that’s not home, it’s not work, it’s somewhere you can just be,” Nash said. “And in America in particular, we really need these places that are neutral zones, that are safe for everybody.”

Joiner agreed, saying libraries do have an expanded purpose, especially in the digital age. Applying for the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend is largely done online, as are taxes, and the libraries have both computers and high speed connections to help patrons.

“For a lot of our people, particularly in this area, they may or may not have access to a good internet connection. And even if they have access, they may not be able to afford it. So, we are their window on the world in the sense that they can come there. And the Kenai library also loans out laptop in-house, so they can go sit anywhere that’s comfortable and access the internet. We get used a lot for that,” Joiner said. “There are so many things that people can only do online now. Jobs have to be applied for online, so we provide a place for people to access the internet that they don’t have at home — they either can’t afford it or don’t have the equipment.”

There are also movie nights, Lego clubs, chess clubs, preschool story time and, really, enough activities every day to fill the KDLL community calendar online, which you can find here.