Unalaska celebrates opening of newly expanded public library

Unalaska's city librarian
City Librarian Karen Kresh and other officials hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the grand opening of the Unalaska Public Library. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Crowds of Unalaskans gathered Sunday to celebrate the grand opening of the newly expanded Unalaska Public Library.

The renovation was decades in the making, and community members poured into the revamped building after library staffers and city leaders held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the front doors.

“This project represents an investment in all of the people — from babies to elders — who live or work in Unalaska, and even in those who are just passing through,” said M. Lynne Crane, chair of the Unalaska Public Library Advisory Committee. “Not only people who are here now, but those who will be here for decades to come.”

Unalaska's city library
nalaskans watch the ribbon-cutting ceremony before heading in to check out the renovated Unalaska Public Library. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Inside the building, little kids explored the library’s expanded children’s room. High school students hung out in the brand-new teen space. And people of all stripes strolled along the shelves, checking out new materials that were unveiled for the grand opening, as well as old favorites that were stored away during the long construction closure.

Cristina Bivol, 14, perused bestsellers by the new fireplace, looking for books she’s seen recommended on social media.

“The incredibly large range of books that they have here is absolutely incredible,” said Bivol. “I also think the large amount of movies, CDs, and TV series that they have is incredible. And I think the language range that they have is incredible, because I noticed there are books in Spanish, Japanese, and there’s Korean dramas. I think it’s really nice that they have stuff like this here.”

Her friend Cyanna Bereskin, 15, agreed.

“It gives the library a very intellectual look,” she said. “And it reminds me a lot of Anchorage, which gives me good vibes, actually.”

Unalaska's library
Unalaskans check out the renovated Unalaska library’s stacks. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Although the new-look library struck Bereskin as something she’d find in a bigger community, City Librarian Karen Kresh said it was dreamed up and designed specifically for Unalaska.

She said former librarian Dan Masoni realized that the island was evolving during his long tenure at the library — and that it needed more space for children, teenagers, locals, and visitors looking for a place to relax and learn.

“It’s an investment by the community in itself, really,” said Kresh. “And a statement of confidence in the future of this community — that we’re still going to be here for the next 25 years. And libraries are going to be important. And we’re going to value literacy and a public place that’s open to everybody, no matter who you are. Just the potential of lifelong learning and a sense of wonder at the world.”

Kresh said it’s amazing to see the roughly $9 million project finished after so many years of planning by so many people, and several stops and starts related to funding and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It feels so good. I can’t explain how happy I am to see this building full of people,” she said. “It also is a little bit surreal. Because I look around, and I can see the skeleton of the building underneath. I can see all the decisions that we made along the way, and all of the disagreements and challenges.

“To see it now — it’s like seeing a story in front of my eyes,” she said. “And to see all these people, all these kids, all these community members excited to be here is so joyful.”

With the completion of the renovation, funded by the City of Unalaska and a Rasmuson Foundation grant, Kresh said the library is back to its regular schedule and operations.

In addition to lending books, board games, movies, and other materials, the library offers passport and notary services, and it’s available for gatherings, classes, and other community programs.

Regular hours run Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

Laura Kraegel covers Unalaska and the Aleutian Islands for KUCB . Originally from Chicago, she first came to Alaska to work at KNOM, reporting on Nome and the Bering Strait Region. (laura@kucb.org / 907.581.6700)

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