Nonprofits form Homer’s heart, but need individual support to help all thrive

Since 1940 there has been a library in our community. Before 1978, the Homer Public Library was run by various community organizations, after that it was a city department and in 1979 a true library facility was built.

As the population kept growing, so did the collection of the library, until it no longer neatly fit in the building. I worked in that old library in 2000, when the first tourists began to come in and check their email on six public computers, story-hour was crammed in a little half-circle about 12 feet from the circulation desk, and every nook and cranny was filled to capacity.

In May 2002, a coalition of the Library Advisory Board, the Friends of the Library, and city staff started a capital campaign to build a new and larger library. The foundation of the campaign was cooperation, seeking funds and input from the local business community, individual “pioneer level” donors, private foundations and government sources. There were plenty of community fundraisers where people could learn more about the project and donate what they felt they could to it. 

On Sept. 16, 2006, the Homer community celebrated the opening of the new library building on the corner of Heath Street and Hazel Avenue. 

The new 15,850-square-foot library serves more than 13,000 people and includes more than 45,147 books, videos and audiobooks for circulation, not counting the thousands of e- and audiobooks available through ListenAlaska.

The building includes a separate children’s room with ample space for books, computer stations specifically designed for children, Story Hour (now offered three times per week), and numerous arts and literacy programs for kids; a 16-seat conference room that can be utilized by community groups for small meetings during open hours; a reading “lounge” that also provides meeting space for author visits and other programs; four private study rooms; space for 35 public-use computers as well as wireless “hot spots” to allow additional computer use in study rooms and elsewhere; and greatly expanded employee-volunteer work space. 

My favorite set of pictures in the Friends of the Library photo archive is of that opening day in 2006: the multiple ribbon cutters, the high school band, the smiles of the speakers, and the mob of people who just couldn’t wait to see their new library.

And now, every month members of the community come together not just to take out books, music and movies, but use all of the resources that the library contains, physical and human. There are amazing reference librarians, a book club, free technology help, a genealogy club, a HAM radio class and invariably meetings of all stripes. 

The programming at the library is fluid; needs come up, such as a series to support entrepreneurs or seminars on preserving vegetables from Homer’s myriad high tunnels. The best part of most of these programs is that they originate from members of our community and are coordinated by them. 

When we had The Big Read in Homer in 2013, the events brought together the skills and talents (all volunteer) of  the local public radio station, Pier One Theatre, the Kachemak Bay Campus, Homer High School, Homer Flex School, local artists, local musicians and scores of folks who came together to read and react to one book. In 2015, we’re going to do it again with  a different book — Fahrenheit 451 — and we’ll be pulling in folks from every part of our community to start conversations that go beyond the book. Because conversations make community.

The Friends of the Homer Public Library are getting ready to dive into another new project that we hope will bring together many different stakeholders to make our city safer and the trail on the Western Lot reflect the mission of the library. Again we are working on forming community coalitions with folks as diverse as The Kachemak Bay Land Trust, Colors of Homer, the art community and more. The community of Homer built our library, and we want the community to be part of the library (and its grounds) evolution.

I sign every letter that I send out in my role as coordinator of the Friends of the Homer Public Library with the words “The Homer Public Library is the heart and hearth of our community,” because in many ways it is. 

But it’s not the only heart. Every nonprofit in this community is here to serve each of us, but the trick is that every individual must help serve the nonprofits that are part of their lives. Become members. Help with FHL book sales, or pitching at KBBI, or building a playground, a water trail, a community that you want to be part of. 

Remember to give back to the organizations that impact all of our lives. I’m so grateful to be part of the Homer Public Library community. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell is the coordinator for the Friends of the Homer Public Library, assists with the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, teaches at the Kachemak Bay Campus and does occasional contract web design. However, if you ask her what her profession is, she’ll answer poet. She has lived in Alaska for the last 14 years.