A map of Alaska with the Southeast region highlighted.
Organization: Haines Borough Public Library , Friends of the Haines Borough Public Library
City: Haines
Region: Southeast
Program Area: Arts, Culture, Humanities \ Library
Grants Received:
2010: $15,000  2003: $25,000
2007: $18,800  2000: $250,000
2004: $32,952

Haines library becomes symbol of community

Mission Statement
Haines Library

The mission of the library is to be responsive to community needs by assembling, preserving and administering materials and providing access to information via telecommunications where appropriate.
The Friends of the Library began preparing for the first annual "Lighting of the Library" for the holidays in August. All fall children in Haines and Klukwan made decorations for the tree, the rest of us unwound lights, glue gunned silk flowers on green garlands, tied bows, climbed ladders and at the last minute vacuumed carpet and polished the door handles.

The evening after Thanksgiving, all the regular lights in the new Haines Borough Public Library will go out and the white holiday lights will come on, one section at a time. The very last one- the star on top of the 25 foot spruce tree, will be plugged in by a petite Tlingit
grandmother that's married to the mayor. In the program Pauline Case is honored as "the First Lady of Haines."

A photo of the grand entrance of the new Haines Borough Public Library.Spacer ImageOrganizer Frankie Jones, the Foursquare Cornerstone Gospel Church song leader, says the lighting will be "better than the Governor's house- better than the White House- heck, it will be better than Rockefeller Center."

I can't wait to see it. But right now, I'm looking at the swirling snow as we surf down the middle of the road at ten miles an hour. I feel awful for Frankie-surely no one will be out tonight. My husband says "you'd be surprised."

The place is packed. Some of us are dressed up and have brought good shoes; others remain in boots and snow pants. Pushing gently through the crowd I smell woodstove smoke and perfume.

A photo of children enjoying the new Haines library.Spacer ImageWhile we wait for the "Grand Lighting" Jim, a fireman and real estate agent, reads a Robert Frost poem wearing a plaid wool coat and a hat made out of a dead fox. He stands on a chair so we can see him. "The woods are lovely dark and deep" he booms "but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

I knew that we had kept a promise nearly ten years in the making. We said we would build a new library that the whole community would be proud of- a center for culture, learning and even socializing- a place where even the poorest of our children could sit in a lovely chair and read a great story or just look out the big windows and day dream about what they might be when they grow up.

I thought about that while Mary Jean and Nelle, the owner and grocery manager from Mountain Market sang carols and while Dr. Len Feldman and artist Rob Goldberg played old Jewish tunes on the concertina and guitar.

Then all the lights went out, and we stood in the darkness, shoulder to shoulder, a few leaned on walkers, others bounced babies in backpacks, until Frankie and her crew plugged in the holiday lights. It was suddenly so beautiful I couldn't breathe. Then one person started clapping and another and another and whole place erupted in pride and good cheer.

Everything got blurry. I leaned against a sturdy bookshelf and thought of Thoreau's observation that his firewood warmed him twice- once in the cutting and once in the burning. This library has warmed us all over and over again- in the planning, in the building, in the holiday lighting, and every single time we check out a book, surf the internet, read a child a story- or simply say "let's meet at the library."

Heather Lende serves on the Haines Borough Public Library Board of Trustees, is a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, a commentator for NPR's Morning Edition and her first book about life in Haines "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name" will be published in spring 2005 by Algonquin Books.