At Thorne Bay’s new library, it’s not just about the books

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A collection of books at the Thorne Bay Library (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

The town of Thorne Bay has rallied to bring their new library to life. It officially opened this summer, and now has one full-time employee and a squad of more than a dozen regular volunteers working to keep the doors open.

The Thorne Bay Library opened its doors in a new building earlier this summer.  Thorne Bay didn’t have a library until 1999. The first library was set up in an old Ketchikan Pulp Mill office building, and then it moved to a trailer once used as a schoolhouse in the community of Naukati.

(KRBD photo by Raegan Miller)

Now, four months later, it’s a peaceful spot, decked out with Halloween decorations, like paper pumpkin garlands in the cozy children’s room and fake paper slime taped to the stacks. 

A reading area in the children’s room at the Thorne Bay Library (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

There are four public computers, an Alaskana literature room, shelves of movies, a space to sit and read, and a covered porch. 

And Caitlyn Sawyer, the library’s director, is the only full-time employee. 

Caitlyn Sawyer, Thorne Bay’s library director, stands with her son Henry at the library’s circulation desk on Oct. 14 (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

“And right now for me, for my vision, it’s making events and programs happen,” Sawyer told KRBD during an interview at the library last week.

This month brings a murder-mystery themed scavenger hunt, a short story night and preschool storytimes. Sawyer said events like these help kids and parents beat boredom as fall and winter take hold on the town of 300. 

A calendar of events happening in October at the Thorne Bay Library is seen at Thorne Bay’s city hall on Oct. 14 (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

“There’s not really anyone who does anything, (or) puts on events or programs,” Sawyer explained. “I mean, we have a school, we have a store. And we have a gas station. So the library is really a good place for the community to meet and do things.”

And Sawyer said she knows that the library is a safe haven for the town’s youngest residents. 

Holly Sawyer, 5, and Adalynn Sawyer, 3, spend time in the children’s room at the Thorne Bay Library (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

“I see a lot of kids just wandering, which isn’t necessarily bad — get their exercise, you know, get their air in,” she explained. “But keep them keeping them engaged and learning new things or experiencing new things, especially in a small town. I think it’s important.”

Sawyer’s been surprised at how steady visitors to the library have been since she took on the job.

“It’s been about three weeks,” she said. “But since I’ve been here, the usage and attendance has been fairly good. I was actually surprised at how many patrons walked through the door during the week day.”

And the most popular items in the library collection? 

“Movies, definitely movies,” Sawyer said.

Shelves of movies on display at the Thorne Bay Library (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

Internet and streaming services are often unreliable in Thorne Bay, especially for residents on the south side of the town.

“The internet — it’s getting better, with the addition of StarLink, but you can’t really stream anything unless you pay for better internet,” she said.

Two of the four public computers at the library (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

Without the ability to keep up with movies and TV during slow winter — when the town’s businesses and lodges are winding down and tourists have taken their leave — Sawyer isn’t sure what they’d do.

“Maybe fix up their houses?” she laughed. “I’m not really sure.”

The library is unique — it was shipped to Thorne Bay via barge in pieces. Locals worked together to put the final touches on construction. It’s got a squad of more than a dozen volunteers who watch the desk while Sawyer is away. And it was completely paid for by grants and the community.

The Thorne Bay Library (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

“I think a lot of people who don’t volunteer now really gave a lot for the library to be what it is now,” Sawyer said. “And so we need to use that to show that we appreciate it.”

Books on display at the Thorne Bay Library. Library Director Caitlyn Sawyer said that many books have been donated to the library (KRBD photo by Raegan Miller).

The library is open Monday through Saturday. The library is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturdays.

Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at KRBD.org/donate.

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