The Gustavus Public Library is a small place.
A day in the life ... The librarians and the whale 031214 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly The Gustavus Public Library is a small place.

Tom Vandenberg | National Park Service

Whale educators Melissa Senac, left, and Kelly VandenBerg, center, help hoist a juvenile killer whale skeleton into place Feb. 14 at the Gustavus Library. At far right, librarian Kate Boesser watches.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Story last updated at 3/12/2014 - 2:26 pm

A day in the life ... The librarians and the whale

The Gustavus Public Library is a small place.

It is staffed by two part-time librarians, a legion of volunteers and one 12-foot juvenile killer whale.

On Feb. 14, the skeleton of the whale was hoisted into place in the library, marking the end of a nine-year preservation effort.

Almost a third of Gustavus' winter population came to the library to talk, eat black-and-white cupcakes and look at their new addition.

"We're very excited about this little orca," librarian Sylvia Martinez said.

As happy as they are about their whale, for Martinez and fellow librarian Kate Boesser, Feb. 14 was just another day on the job. Small-town libraries like Gustavus' aren't just a place to check out books. They're community centers, cybercafes, lecture halls, social galleries, video rental hubs and the focus of cultural life.

"We just love our library," Boesser said. "It's the community center of Gustavus."

Gustavus is the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. Its population balloons to 430 in summer as thousands of tourists funnel through town. This time of year, there's just over half that.

It's the library's job to keep those people occupied and connected when there's less happening. In that, the town's two librarians have been extraordinarily successful.

In February, according to the library's official records, there were 756 visits to the library - equivalent to three for every one of Gustavus' winter residents.

"We're open 25 hours a week, six days a week," Boesser said.

In addition to operating the library, Boesser and Martinez organize special events. Boesser, the author of three books of her own, also plays the piano and banjo. Music lessons and concerts frequently take place as a result.

A former teacher, Boesser also organizes kids programs. "I read to little kids every Monday, and we have anywhere from 10-15 little kids," she said.

The library is right next to Gustavus' school, so it's a popular place for parents to wait for their kids at the end of the day. "Teachers come over here, too," she added.

In the summer, visitors stop by for books, but there can be uninvited guests, too. "There's strawberries around the library, so there's often animals right around," Boesser said. "We're often reading and the moose come right up to the window. ... You sometimes have to scare them off."

With so much activity, it's no wonder the National Park Service picked the library to host a juvenile whale that washed up on a Glacier Bay beach.

"We figured if it's someplace in town that's warm, like the Gustavus Library that's a focal point for visitors and residents," Tom VandenBerg, chief of interpretation for the park, "that it just seemed like a natural opportunity."

Cleaned and posed by specialist Lee Post, the whale's skeleton is designed to be a permanent part of the library and Gustavus. If all goes as planned, it won't be the only significant addition to the library and the community this year.

On April 25, a traditional longhouse will begin construction at Bartlett Cove. Later this summer, a 45-foot humpback whale skeleton will take its place in the Glacier Bay visitor center.

In between will be plenty of music, dancing and reading at the library.

"There's no negative to working at the library," Boesser said. "It's just wonderful."