When the Homer Public Library opened in 1979, it held 8,000 volumes and served a population of about 3,000. Today, the 17,000-square-foot library serves more than 13,000 people, includes more than 70,000 items for circulation, and offers numerous programs and activities throughout the year.
Hard at work supporting library programs is a passionate group of individuals who volunteer their time, energy and enthusiasm, serving on the Board of Directors of Friends of the Homer Library (FHL).
“The board is an amazing, hands-on hard-working and motivated group of volunteers that carries out activities for literacy and learning for the library,” Cheryl Illg, FHL’s part-time coordinator and the group’s only employee, said. “The sheer list of library programs, events and fundraising we support and co-sponsor is pretty amazing.”
Formed in 1982 with board of directors Rita Ihly, Joy Griffin and Sandra Fontana, the board is today made up of 11 members, including a youth representative and Judy Gonsalves as board president.
“Libraries are an important part of any community and the Homer Public Library is a crown jewel of our town,” Gonsalves said. “We are proud of our mission to provide volunteer support for library programs and services, raise funds to enrich the library experience, promote use and enjoyment of the library, and encourage literary participation.”
Long-standing FHL programs include a weekly Knitting Club and LARP Club, monthly Book Club, Amateur Radio Club and Lunch with a Council Member gatherings September through May. FHL oversees BOB the Bookmobile, who visits local schools, parks and playgrounds, and participates in the Fourth of July parade distributing free books.
The library also manages the StoryWalk Trail on the library grounds.
The StoryWalk idea originated with Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, who developed the concept in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library. Podiums with children’s books are placed along walking and hiking trails to encourage outdoor recreation and literacy.
FHL hosts “Reading Between the Lines,” a Sunday morning program on KBBI AM 890, during which volunteers share book reviews, upcoming events and audio bibliographies.
They also host Lit Lineup, a list of curated book titles chosen by library staff. Patrons are encouraged to read 15 titles in one year, with FHL providing funding for monthly prizes. FHL also hosts Art in the Library, in which work by local artists is solicited and hung in the Fireplace Reading Lounge, and Second Sunday Shakespeare readings with Pier One Theatre and Kachemak Bay Campus.
Newer FHL programs include a weekly youth chess club; live and virtual author talks throughout the year; and Our Favorite Poems with local authors and poets reading their favorite poems during April’s National Poetry Month. They also provide stories and installation of those stories along the StoryWalk Trail on the property outside the library, with a new story installed monthly during the summer.
FHL’s community collaborations include hosting guest speakers with Homer Area Beekeepers Association, author talks and readings through the Homer Bookstore, and Summer Reading Programs in conjunction with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, Homer Council on the Arts, and Pier One Theatre.
FHL fundraisers include the Celebration of Lifelong Learning, an annual winter event that has been honoring adult and youth learners since 2009; bi-annual Book and Plant sales; year-round used book sale shelves; memberships and donations; merchandise sales; Pick. Click. Give.; BOB the Bookmobile book drives at West Homer Elementary and Homer High School; and this year, mini BOB the Bookmobile animal cracker boxes, among others.
Currently in full swing is the library’s Summer Reading Program, a reading challenge that encourages children and families to keep track of their summer reading, with approximately 200 individuals participating annually, including kids, teens and adults who can sign up individually or as families.
FHL supports some of the organizing, planning and funding of the program, solicits businesses for prizes, helps register kids at the Safe & Healthy Kids Fair, and provides food and festivities at the summer’s end celebration.
As a former educator, Gonsalves believes it is important to continue the literacy journey through the summer months.
“The Summer Reading Program is a built in family program, with everybody going at their own pace to read as much as they can,” she said.
This year’s theme is “Find Your Voice” and there are numerous activities taking place all summerlong — a youth chess club, book club and writing club, outdoor adventure partnerships, StoryWalk Trail events, and a mid-summer magic event, to name just a few.
The Western Lot Improvement Project is a long-term library project that FHL supports, with a goal of enhancing the library’s outdoor public land to foster education, cultural connections and well-being in the community.
“We want the space to be more inviting to youth and families and available for variety of community uses throughout the year,” Illg said. “StoryWalk Trail is a nice connecting trail, and we want to improve accessibility and offer local area information. We also want to create a space that extends the library mission with outdoor programs that can be used with other groups for educational purposes.”
Specific goals for this project include connecting to existing trails within the city, improving accessibility and adding signage, creating an outdoor gathering space for all ages, providing educational and interpretive signage, and conserving and providing access to the wetlands, peat lands, and natural areas on the property.
FHL September events include a Book and Plant Sale, call out for Art in the Library, and a Book Club Zoom gathering with Margaret Willson to discuss her latest book, “Woman, Captain, Rebel.” In October, John Messick will read from his book, “Compass Lines: Journeys Toward Homer” and in November, Robert Stark will share from his book, “Warflower: A True Story of Family Service and Life in Alaska.” In December, FHL hosts its annual The Book Giving Tree where community members are invited to take tags off the library’s Christmas tree and purchase the books indicated that the library wants to add to their collection.
Volunteers are always needed to help with Book and Plant Sales, the Celebration of Lifelong Learning, flyer distribution, setting up author talks and guest speakers, passing out books during the Fourth of July parade, and more. Currently, FHL is also looking for a volunteer youth chess club coordinator for the fall.
February is Love Your Library month and this past February, Illg placed blank pink-and-red paper hearts out on a table, inviting community members to write what they love about the library. Among the comments were ‘The library is a safe space”, “I’m always treated respectfully here”, “I love the diversity of the book options”, “The staff are always so helpful”, “I love the Fireplace Lounge” and “I feel welcome here.”
Displaying several of the responses near her desk, Illg, the board, and library staff are reminded of the importance and impact of the work they do.