Wrangell Library Services Director Sarah Scambler.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Wrangell Island’s public library has been a staple of the community for more than a century. And after the retirement of its previous long-time librarian, it’s got a new director, Sarah Scambler. 

Listen to the audio version of this story here.

Sarah Scambler has been working as Wrangell’s assistant librarian since 2015, but her history at the Irene Ingle Public Library goes back much further.

“My mom actually worked at this library when I was a child, she worked the night I was born,” Scambler says with a laugh, “So I spent some time in this library growing up. It’s just always been a safe spot for me, and I think it’s a really great asset for our community. I’m proud to have been able to work here and to now take the helm, so to speak.”

Scambler was raised in Wrangell and moved away for college, where she majored in Hispanic Studies, and lived in Mexico for a year. 

After moving with her young family back to Wrangell in the 2010s, Scambler says she feels lucky to have got the timing right to take over as assistant librarian. 

Wrangell’s Public Library hasn’t been a place with much turnover in its long history. There have been only three directors since 1951, and Scambler says she feels like that adds a little pressure now she’s been hired as head librarian. Her first day was June 26.

“This place has been run very, very well, over the past 100 years we’ve had a library in Wrangell, and it’s had a huge amount of support from the community,” Scambler says, “So I just really want to make sure that I maintain that level of support in the community and make sure that I am guiding the library in such a way that people feel welcome here and people feel like they can utilize the facility. I think that’s probably the most daunting thing is just making sure to continue the high level of service that we provide for the community.”

Scambler says she deeply believes in the mission of libraries. 

“It’s important for people to have free access to information,” she says. “Our main mission at the library is to make sure that people have access to whatever information they need or want at any given time. And if we don’t have that, then to provide it to them in some other way.”

If the library can’t get people access to the information they want or need, she says there are other ways to help, like requesting books from other libraries, or connecting people with outside resources to answer questions. But that’s not all a library is good for. 

“[A] close secondary function is to provide a space for people to meet – a free space,” Scambler says. “We get a lot of kids after school and then during the summer, we get a ton of kids in here, who maybe don’t really have anywhere else to go. And we’re just a place that they can come and uses the computers use our print materials, talk to somebody, see other kids, it’s a meeting place. 

She continues: “A lot of times, we’ll have a huge group of kids coming in and they’re milling around and they meet up and then go to the park, and then they come back, it’s just a really, that’s important for them to know that we’re here providing that space for them.”

Although Scambler has been working and helping run the library for nearly eight years, she’ll now oversee the department’s book collection, budget and be the final arbiter of programs. She says she’s not too worried – previous librarian Margaret Villarma always made program development and library operations a collaborative process. 

What Scambler hopes to do with the library rests on the backbone of years-worth of well-known library activities and programs. 

“We already have some really awesome established programs like the summer reading program and our storytime,” Scambler says, “And I think one of the reasons those are so well-established is because they’ve followed a very similar format over lots and lots of years, so people in the community can count on them.”

But she does have ideas for new programs. Scambler says that while there are well-established programs for toddlers and school-aged kids, she really wants to develop programming that can reach high-school kids and adults, even if the activities happen once a year or are focused around holidays when people are home. 

That could include craft nights, a book club, video game nights, or even a summer reading program for adults.  

“Every time we run the summer reading program, we get comments from adults, like, ‘Wow, I wish we had something like this for adults!,’” she says, “And I’m like, ‘Well, why not? Why don’t we do that?’ I think that’d be really cool.”

Scambler says she’s also keeping new tech in mind when thinking about how to grow and guide the library through the coming years. 

“One of the main challenges that libraries are facing today is making sure that we are staying current and the technology that we provide to the community,” she explains. “We’ve always been a place where people can come and experience new technologies in this community. And I really want to make sure that we are staying on top of that, so people can come here and experience that when maybe they can’t have access to those things at home.”

That means keeping track of a lot of new developments: “[…] Some things that I’m going to keep an eye on are virtual reality, AI, for sure. Artificial Intelligence is huge right now. It’s really kind of exciting to see how that’s going to play out in our everyday lives,” Scambler says. “Maybe 3D printing, I mean – we do have a space constraint in this area, in our building. But I think that there’s lots of cool stuff that we can make sure that we’re providing for the community.”

And as Wrangell’s new head librarian, Scambler says she hopes community members will ask for what they need from the library. 

“This facility belongs to Wrangell,” she says. “It belongs to the people here and if there’s anything that people want to see happen here, I’d love to hear about it. Because we’re here for you.”

Scambler says she loves being able to work in a place that’s open to everyone and there to help. 

“I really appreciate being able to work in a place like this, where our main function is to help people and to be there for people and to provide anything really anything that they need in terms of information,” Scambler says. “People come in who don’t know how to set up their Kindles, and we help them do that. We help them get their Alaska Digital Library set up on there, so they can read their e-books. We will pretty much do whatever we can to help somebody when they come in with whatever they need. So that’s an honor to be able to do that.”

And beyond anything else, Scambler says she hopes to help others enjoy Wrangell’s library for years to come. 

Get in touch with KSTK at news@kstk.org or (907) 874-2345.