How the Alaska State Library & Museum in Juneau Preserves & Celebrates Alaskan Culture

How the Alaska State Library & Museum in Juneau Preserves & Celebrates Alaskan Culture

Tuesday, 8 September, 2020

Perched on the waterline near the entrance to downtown Juneau, you’ll find the majestic Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museum. Its mission is to preserve, protect, and share Alaska’s artifacts and documents.

Serving as a functioning library, a research archive, and a museum, there’s always a lot going on inside its stunning glass, terra cotta, and wood structures.

The library features reading and research rooms that hold more than 60,000 books and documents. It’s also designed to be a place for community gathering with classrooms and conference rooms, a café (with breathtaking views of the nearby mountains), a children’s craft and play area, and an auditorium.

Photo courtesy of Hacker Architects.

Completed in 2016 by Hacker Architects, the building was designed to reflect Alaskan history and the surrounding landscape. Enormous windows frame views of five nearby mountain peaks and seen from the outside, the soaring roof represents the wings of a bird taking flight. The design won both the AIA Alaska People’s Choice Award and the ENR Northwest Award for Best Government / Public Building in 2017.

Dividing the state library from the state archives is an installation by Alaskan artist Evon Zerbetz. Entitled We are Written in the Layers of the Earth, the glass mural depicts story makers and story collectors, the ‘mark-makers,’ as Zerbetz calls them.

Photo courtesy of Evon Zerbetz.

The 65-foot-long mural depicts scenes from life in Alaska, past and present, real and mythological: a figure flying alongside birds with a paintbrush clutched in his hand, drawing a red mark across the sky. A native woman cutting the fabric of the earth with a pair of scissors. A whale breaching and splashing as it plays in the ocean.

One panel depicts a kayaker under a starry sky, using a paddle-sized pencil to navigate the waves. He floats among the fishes and a seal, leaving a trail of phosphorescence in his wake.

Photo courtesy of Evon Zerbetz.

The museum areas of the building showcase artifacts from Alaskan artists and native peoples in exhibits of handicrafts, photography, illustration, textiles, fine art, solo artist shows, and more.

Photo courtesy of Hacker Architects.

You can also take a virtual trip to the Alaska State Museum via their extensive online exhibitions that showcase photography, paintings, and printed materials representing Alaskan history and contemporary art.

Three recent online exhibits celebrate the spirit of Alaskan women:

  • Alaska’s Suffrage Star turns the spotlight on women who were pioneers in giving women the right to vote.
  • Women of Vision is a collection of art by Alaskan women that spans more than 100 years.
  • Women of Alaska is a curated collection of vintage photos from the archives that depict women how have ‘not only survived, but thrived in times of hardship and discrimination, paving the way for future generations.’
black and white photo of a young woman fueling a vintage airplane
Photo courtesy of Alaska State Library Historical Collections.


If you go…

The info above describes the Library and Museum in Juneau; there is also a State Museum in Sitka. For hours and other visiting info for both locations, see the Alaska State Library and Museum website.

  • Alaska State Library, Archive & Museum
  • 395 Whittier Street
  • Juneau, AK 99801

Top image courtesy of Gillfoto/Flickr.

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