Nonprofits that fundraise for the Anchorage Library say donors are balking amid uncertainty over its director

Two organizations focused on raising money for the Anchorage Public Library are alerting Mayor Dave Bronson that their donors are wavering over instability in the library’s leadership.

Leaders of the nonprofits Anchorage Library Foundation and Friends of the Library sent Bronson a letter last week outlining their concerns with the state of the city’s library system, and said that recent turnover in the library director’s office has become an obstacle to the library meeting its mission.

“The Anchorage Library Foundation has received several messages from our veteran and new donors expressing concern about the instability at the library and their hesitancy to donate to us. As our main goal is to fundraise for the long-term sustainability and vitality of the Anchorage Public Library, we need to be able to tell our donors that the library is in good hands. With now two directors in six months, it is hard to assure them of that,” the letter said.

The letter is signed by Kim Hays, president of the foundation, and Mary Rasmussen, president of Friends of the Library. Both organizations are nonprofits dedicated to supporting the library.

Since Bronson took office in July, he has appointed two different directors to the library, which is a position that must be approved by the Anchorage Assembly in a vote. The Assembly did not confirm his first appointee, Sami Graham, over concerns that she did not meet the minimum qualifications for the position because she does not hold a degree in library science. Graham is now Bronson’s chief of staff. Bronson’s second pick, Judy Norton Eledge, stepped down earlier this month, and said she wanted to avoid facing similar scrutiny from the Assembly.

However, Eledge is now the library’s deputy director, and is working as its acting library director as the administration conducts a search for a qualified library director, according to Corey Allen Young, spokesman for the mayor.

“The mayor is determined to find the most qualified (person), meeting the Assembly’s requirements, for the library director,” Young said.

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Eledge is a longtime Alaska educator but also does not hold a library sciences degree. She ran for a seat on the Anchorage School Board and lost in the April election, and is also an active participant in local conservative politics and is president of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club. During the school board race, Eledge drew scrutiny over a series of controversial social media posts.

Young said that once the mayor finds a new director, Eledge will report to that person.

Hays said that the foundation is hearing from its donors that they’re “concerned about the instability at the top of the library.”

“They may have different opinions on who is at the helm, but it seems like at this point, they just want someone to be taking that position, so that we all know where the library’s headed, where this strategic plan for the library is going,” Hays said.

The Executive Council of the Alaska Library Association sent a letter to Assembly members in September about its concerns over Eledge’s appointment and compared it to the mayor appointing a police or fire chief without any previous police or firefighting experience.

Hays said that the foundation is troubled by the library becoming “a point of controversy or chaos, because it is an institution known for being a clearinghouse for trusted knowledge.”

“This is kind of a new light for the library, and I think it makes folks uncomfortable to be in this upheaval,” Hays said.

While visitors may go to a library and see it running smoothly, others have seen reports in the news about Eledge stepping down before facing confirmation, but still being in a position running the library.

“I think there’s a little confusion there — not just concern, but also confusion that we’re working to fix,” Hays said.

The Bronson administration has also proposed moving the Anchorage Public Library to become a division of Parks and Recreation in its 2022 city budget. The Library Advisory Board opposed the move in a resolution sent to Assembly members, citing concerns that a non-librarian would then oversee the library, among other concerns.

Although the library would be overseen by the parks department, the library’s director would still be subject to Assembly confirmation, according to the mayor’s office.

Young said that the library had previously been under the Economic and Community Development Department, which is dissolved under the proposal.

Hays said the foundation does not currently have a position on the reorganization.

“As far as I’m concerned, as long as the library can continue to serve the public as it has been ... We’ll figure that out as it goes ahead. It remains to be seen how this reorganization affects how the library runs. So I’m cautiously optimistic,” Hays said.