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Jerri Nagaruk, Head Librarian, Ernest Nylin Memorial Library
By Sara Rufner Page 1 of 2   Next ยป

The community of Elim has much to be thankful for when they see the lights of their library shining brightly, and know that Jerri is faithfully working to provide them with books and information that enrich their lives. Until the year 2000, Elim didn't boast an official library building, but thanks to the efforts of Jerri Nagaruk, Elim has found a community gathering place in its library.

Jerri Nagaruk arrived in Elim, Alaska, in 1968, as a Vista volunteer. She and her colleagues came to operate a Headstart program and foster community development in this 300-member village located 100 miles southeast of Nome. Nagaruk, a New Mexico native, fell in love with the beautiful, friendly place and a man living there who became her husband, and she never left. Today, more than thirty years later, she is Elim's librarian, offering vital and beneficial resources to her community.

Jerri Nagaruk
When the Vista volunteers settled in Elim, there was no library in town. One of the volunteer's projects was to catalog a few boxes of donated books that had arrived from the Lower 48. Several years later, in the early 1970's, Nagaruk participated in a village library project as part of a statewide initiative to promote libraries in the Bush. Two evenings a week, she went to the basement of the elementary school and set out boxes of books on makeshift tables constructed of plywood and sawhorses. People brought books to Nagaruk and swapped them for ones on the table, and slowly more books came in to the basement collection than went out.

Over the years, the roving library moved to whichever building in town had space for the growing collection of books and slow accumulation of some shelves and furniture. The problem with operating in a basement, says Nagaruk, was even if people knew where the library was located at any given time, they couldn't tell when it was open. Realizing the potential for her community, Nagaruk sought help. She credits the resources of the state library and assistance from George Smith, who told her about a one-time grant that was available. She began writing her grant proposal and, soon enough, received the funds to build a library in Elim.

Through the federal grant and local matching funds, in November 2000 the Ernest Nylin Memorial Library opened its doors to the community. The one-room, 30-by-40 foot building sits on a high point in town and has become a hub of the community. It houses 8,000 books and four public-access computers, two with Internet access. Other than the school, the library is the only point of access to the Internet in Elim. The library also hosts a children's reading program that is especially popular with local families during the summer.

Nagaruk runs the show -- she is head librarian, circulation manager, grant writer, computer technician and janitor. She is able to keep the library open a few hours every afternoon and a few evenings every week, and also works closely with the school in Elim. One of her aims is to automate the library and catalog its resources so they are more easily accessible to the public.

The library has been her pet project for many years and she says it keeps her going: "I'm delighted to spend as much time as I can here organizing books and making them available to the public."

In the summer of 2001, the city of Elim and the Elim Native Corporation, through an EDA grant, brought two graduate students to Elim to conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of building a rock quarry in town. For twelve weeks, Nagaruk hosted these two men while they practically lived in the library. Without the library's resources, their project would not have been possible.

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