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New librarian finds long trail leads to Sitka

November 24, 2018

In this Oct. 8, 2018, photo Sitka Public Library Director Kathryn Hurtley smiles at a Sitka Assembly meeting in Sitka, Alaska. Huntley's career has included working for nonprofit organizations and libraries while living in Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Washington and other Alaska cities. (James Poulson//The Daily Sitka Sentinel via AP)

SITKA, Alaska (AP) — The new director of Sitka Public Library has learned a number of things about Sitka - and the library - since taking the helm on October 1.

“They love their library, and want a director that understands they love it,” said Kathryn Hurtley, whose time in Alaska has included work for a museum and a tribal organization. “Everyone’s been very friendly, the community has been very welcome. People make an effort to introduce themselves and tell me how much they love their library.”

Hurtley’s work experience is varied, and has included 20 years in the nonprofit world, eight working for libraries, and time as a teacher, working at a bilingual elementary school in Mexico. She has also lived in Colorado, Montana and Washington, but she and her husband decided it was time to move to Sitka, even before she was offered the library director job.

“My husband loves Sitka,” she said. Her husband, Kevin, is the internet network administrator for CoastAlaska, the network of community radio stations around Southeast, including KCAW. ”

Hurtley grew up in Montana, and earned her degree in elementary education from the University of Montana in 1980. She then moved to Torreon, Mexico, to teach fourth grade. It was a challenging year, but it helped her become a better communicator and teacher.

“Don’t assume everyone knows what you’re talking about or what you’re trying to explain,” she said.

After a year in Mexico, she filled in for a year teaching outside Great Falls, Montana, then moved to Seattle where she met her husband. She gave up teaching, studied graphic design at Everett Community College, and worked as a commercial photographer for a Bellingham, Washington, catalog company.

While she was going to school in Everett, she got her first library job at the Mt. Vernon public library at the circulation desk. She took a similar job when the couple moved to Telluride, Colorado, where a bond campaign for a $9 million library expansion was under way. Hurtley served as assistant to the director during the bond campaign.

“I was able to help with that,” she said, of the bond initiative, which passed by two votes.

Hurtley has always loved libraries, but found they weren’t always the welcoming place they are today, at least in her experience. The Telluride library was different.

“I thought, this is what a community library is like,” she said. “It felt warm, it felt like home. ... People can interact with people they don’t normally interact with. Here you might run into someone, have a conversation. You can all mix at a library in ways you don’t experience elsewhere. I love that. I love the whole concept of a library. I always have.”

During her time in Colorado, Hurtley ran a nonprofit arts council and learned skills that would be helpful to her later.

Their Alaskan adventure began when Hurtley was hired as the museum director in Valdez, a position she held from 2005-2010.

“That’s when I fell in love with Alaska,” she said.

Their next move was to Juneau, where Kevin worked in IT at the UAS Juneau campus, and later for CoastAlaska. Kathryn took a job with Huna Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Huna Totem Corporation for Hoonah, where she worked with elders and coordinated clan workshops. In 2014, while living in Juneau, she earned a master’s degree in public administration from UAS, which gave her tools that would be valuable in managing nonprofits and the library.

“Fiscal management, how to work with a board, administrative law, human resources ...” she said. “It cemented my confidence in leading an organization.”

Kevin’s regional IT director position allows the Hurtleys to choose where in Southeast they will reside, and they decided the time was right for the move to Sitka.

Her first weeks in Sitka have been spent getting her “sea legs,” she said. She’s been enjoying getting to know the staff, and the community.

“Now it’s time to start talking about the future of the library: what kind of library do we want this to be in 5-10 years,” Hurtley said.

She said she likes Sitka for its beauty, the good mix of people, the broad spectrum of people, the history and, of course, the library, she said.

“It’s a lovely library, it’s a lovely size, with a great collection,” she said. “We want to keep it fresh and current. It’s has the best view of a library, in the world. I think Sitka’s got it going.”

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Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, http://www.sitkasentinel.com/

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