KETCHIKAN — Judith McQuerry was the first person through the doors of the just-opened Ketchikan Public Library on Wednesday.
McQuerry, who was library director from 1990 to November 2011, said she’s thrilled with the results of the $12-million project.
“I’m ecstatic that the bottom (book) stack is not full — that there’s some expansion space there,” she said. “That was really part of the goal, to have enough space, and I think we have enough space. We don’t have a ton of space, but we have enough space.”
Doors opened at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, but the library’s grand opening won’t be until Jan. 19. An opening party will last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and include door prizes, activities for children and an opening ceremony with local officials, according to Library Director Linda Gens.
Until then, the new site at 1110 Copper Ridge Lane will be open for use. Along with 16,250 square feet of space, the new, single-story site has more common-area seating with a propane fireplace, a teen room, a partitioned children’s library and free WiFi in hour increments.
A fabric, kaleidoscopic tree dominates the children’s library, and is a product of Ketchikan arists Deb Turnbull, Sherry Henrickson, Jackie Keizer and Anne Carlson.
Gens said it’s a “fantasy tree,” meant to excite children and inspire them to read.
“It’s very touchable,” she said.
The library also has lighted book shelves — McQuerry said that’s one of her favorite changes — floor-to-ceiling windows facing Deer Mountain, study and meetings rooms and a large, enclosed area for author visits and other events.
The rooms can be reserved by local groups wanting to meet in the library.
Lisa Pearson, adult technical services librarian, said the new library is more of a “community living room” than its predecessor.
“The old building was so small and so stacked with shelves that it was almost like a drive-up restaurant,” Pearson said. “People would come in, grab their books and leave.”
The new library is “a community center where people can come in and spend some time relaxing and seeing all the things we have to offer,” she said.
Pearson said some of the computers have yet to be set up, including a computer with text-enlargement and print-to-audio software for residents with disabilities.
The new library will, in the coming weeks, have video conference equipment through Online With Libraries, a state program aimed at improving computer technology in Alaska libraries, according to Pearson.
The technology will allow the library to schedule conferences with authors or other speakers who normally would be unavailable to Ketchikan, she said.
“It’s very hard to bring someone in,” Pearson said. “It’s very expensive. Normally we have to fly someone in.”
Eventually, she added, library staff hopes to offer videoconferencing sessions for certifications and licensing for local workers.
The new library has a smaller, but updated, cache of materials to offer.
Gens said she had to cut the library’s volume by 10 percent to fit in the new space, but focused on slow-moving material like VHS tapes and older, well-worn books.
She added that the library trims its collection regularly.
“We do it all year long, but with this move we had to be more aggressive,” Gens said. “It’s just an ebb and flow. We get rid of things and we bring things in.”
It takes approximately a third of a year for the library to cycle through 10 percent of its material at a regular pace, according to Gens.
Assistant City Manager Dave Martin said the city estimates the energy cost of powering the new site will be comparable to the entire Centennial Building, which the library shared with the Tongass Historical Museum.
The Centennial Building was 15,308 square feet, but the library occupied only 8,602 square feet of the building, according to Martin.
Energy costs will be higher than they were compared to rates at Dock Street, according to Martin, but the increase reflects the library’s nearly doubling in size.
Library fees remain unchanged. Library cards are still free to residents and require a $30 deposit for seasonal workers, with $20 returned at the end of the season. Late fees still stand at 10 cents per day late for books and 50 cents per day for other media.
Gens, who moved to Ketchikan from Oklahoma in 2011 to become director in part because of the new library, said about 200 people had visited the library by early Wednesday evening, and that she expects the public’s reaction to be positive.
“I think that people are really going to be happy with this space,” she said. “Stuff like this is not happening in the Lower 48, I’ll tell ya.”