The Last Frontier

By Timothy Owens, IMLS Senior Program Officer

Alaska. Denali. Glaciers. Moose. Salmon. Bears. Midnight sun. Endless wilderness. Largest state in the union. Libraries in communities with no roads to link them. Talk about rural and small libraries! Even Juneau, the capital city, has no roads connecting to the rest of the state. How do you ensure that folks living in “the last frontier” have access to the library services they need?

On a recent site visit to the Alaska State Library, I was able to see firsthand how state library staff meet their commitment to provide services and share resources so that access to information is available to all of Alaska’s citizens. The state library supports local libraries of all types across this challenging (and quite beautiful) landscape through a combination of statewide projects and sub-grants to libraries.

The state library’s Anchorage offices are about a block from the start of the Iditarod, which brings to mind dog mushing, a popular sport in Alaska. There’s even a mural of sled dogs on the building they’re in, and the theme runs throughout several initiatives supported by the Alaska State Library with IMLS funding from the LSTA Grants to States Program:

  • SLED (Statewide Library Electronic Doorway) provides information resources, for, about, and by Alaskans. SLED includes the “Alaska Digital Archives” of historical materials from libraries, museums, and archives throughout the state; and the “Digital Pipeline,” Alaska’s conduit for information from articles and selected reference sources.
  • The Ready to Read Resource Center at the Anchorage Public Library promotes early literacy by bringing books to infants and toddlers throughout Alaska. The “Iditarod Teacher on the Trail” distributed Ready to Read tote bags of board books to communities along the Iditarod Trail during the 2012 race.
  • Dog Mushing in Alaska,” a project of the University of Alaska Fairbanks – Rasmuson Library, highlights stories related to the history of dog mushing in Alaska and includes oral histories, historic films, and photos.

Just as diligent as their canine counterparts, hard-working teams of library staff at the state and local levels carry these and other projects forward to meet the diverse needs of their communities. I didn’t have a chance to ride on a dog sled behind the huskies that are at the heart of Alaskan Iditarod pride, but I enjoyed looking at the images and films, learning about Alaska, and imagining myself racing through the snow… “Hike!

Dog Mushing in Alaska Postcard

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