By Aly De Angelus –
For 25 years, Julene Brown has perfected the art of juggling administrative chores at her computer and performing the daily intricacies of a bookkeeping, advice-giving hostess to the town’s literary oasis — Skagway Library. Brown is the only full-time librarian in Skagway, a chapter that will close April 30.
On the morning of Dr. Suess’ birthday, Brown sat at the computer table, sharing colorful moments and personal achievements during her quarter-decade career while proctoring a city exam for a resident. She looked comfortable and at peace in the sanctuary she had created, reminiscing about the days when the library still operated on computers without graphics.
The collection of books was in its humble beginnings back then and fiction books have since towered over the reference books, now outdated tools for tech-savvy millennials.
Brown always loved reading, though she felt her literacy was lacking in high school. Once she received a degree in English, Brown planned to teach students better reading skills. However, when a librarian assistant position opened in 1992, Brown eagerly jumped at the opportunity.
“I guess I found that this quiet space is better for me than a classroom of crazy kids,” Brown said. “People come to the library because they want to be at the library, so I thought I would be more effective here.”
Three years later, Brown became the library’s full-time operator and watched her two young daughters play and grow together in their second home. Her efforts to extend service hours and stay open daily, particularly for residents with hectic work schedules and poor housing situations, was an important mission during her career.
“I think that libraries are great equalizers, ” Brown said. “Everything’s there that anyone could want and everybody has access to it. In that way it’s so demonstrative of what a democracy needs to be, should be.”
When Brown first began working at the library, reading programs were focused on early elementary school students and only took place during the summer. Now the library holds weekly activities for all age levels and has a designated kids corner and teen room.
Brown’s numerous improvements for the library include separating quiet areas from the computer tables, expanding the library’s space by applying for a capital renovation project with the state, bringing in musical performances and other local events, providing passport-acceptance services to fill a town need and more.
But her favorite task of all was to help someone find the perfect book. Brown said the token trait of a librarian is service.
“They need to have something when they leave,” Brown said. ”They need to have something more than they came in.”
Brown is leaving at age 58, a year and a half earlier than anticipated, to look after her parents and spend more time with her eight grandchildren. Though Brown is not looking for any full-time jobs, she will remain owner of You Say Tomato, a natural goods store on 21st Street and State Street.
As a third-generation Skagway resident, Brown said she is lucky to have her family close by. Her father’s volunteer work with the school board and her mother’s leadership with the church is ultimately what led her to become a community-minded individual.
Post-retirement, Brown is hoping to convince her husband to get a dog and she would like to learn how to play the guitar. She also plans on paying homage to the library every once and awhile with the sole agenda to read for fun in her ideal place.
Throughout the morning, Brown scanned the walls, pointing out a memory as if it were still there, visible for the human eye to see. On the rug, she saw herself squished in between a sea of children, reading the youngsters a book for storytime. She then let out a laugh thinking about a book she once had in her collection on dog obedience with the cover nearly evaporated by the bite marks of a rebel dog. It was evident that Brown existed in partnership with Skagway Library.
What will she miss most? Brown’s big blue eyes turned teary-eyed, overflowing with love.
“There’s a lot to miss,” she said. “I couldn’t pick just one.”