Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska

Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska - plaque

In July 2010, I went on a cruise. It was to Alaska, a state I’d wanted to visit since I was a little kid. Being the book nerd that I am, my goal was to visit the library and one bookstore in each port. Although I didn’t have much time to explore the libraries or bookstores that I visited, it was fun to find them and have at least a few minutes to look around.

Our first stop after leaving Seattle was Juneau. Below is a picture from the deck of the ship as we’re docking. I didn’t realize that we were docking right next to the library! I had read online about the library’s beautiful stained glass windows, so I was assuming the library was some quaint old building. Well, we all know what can happen when we assume.

Juneau Public Library - mural
This mural on the sea-side of library’s wall is by Dan DeRoux. It is based on a historic photograph from 1887 when the steamship Ancon arrived in Juneau.  The faces in the painting are those of real-life Juneau pioneers.

When I got off the ship I asked the guide on the dock if she could point me to the library. She raised her arm and pointed to the top of the parking garage next to us. The guide explained that when it was time to build the new library, the locals insisted on a parking garage because parking space is so hard to find in Juneau. The town itself has a huge land mass, but the actual town area is squeezed in between the shoreline and the steep mountains. There are actually three public libraries in Juneau.  The one I visited is the downtown branch.

Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska - Express to Library
Express to the Library, yes please!

As you walk into the entrance of the parking garage/library you are met by two elevators. The one on the right is the express to the library, which I thought was pretty cool. 

A young woman waiting for the elevator explained that although both elevators go to the top floor — to the library — she recommends taking the express because it can be creepy at night in the other elevator the doors open on the parking floors.

Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska - entry hall

I didn’t know what to expect from a library that’s on top of a parking garage. My first thought, I admit, was on the skeptical side. However, when the elevator doors opened I was greeted by the inviting, curvy path pictured above that draws patrons into the heart of the library. The gentle curve creates an instant feeling of tranquility. After the hustle and bustle of getting off the ship and walking through the crowd of fellow tourists, a feeling of calm came over me when greeted by this sight.

When you step off the elevator, to the right is the stunning stained glass window that I had read about. It was created by Bruce Elliot and the library’s pamphlet describes it as expressing, “the metamorphosis of migrating salmon into a totemic salmon design.” 

Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska - stained glass by Bruce Elliot
“Transfiguration” by Bruce Elliot

It’s a huge window that looks beautiful whether the sun is out or not. In the bottom panes you can see the top of a building and the side of the mountain, the top shrouded by fog. The photo below gives you a better sense of its size.

Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska - Juneau Empire photo of Bruce Elliot's "Transfiguration"
This photo is from the Juneau Empire newspaper [source]. All other photos by yours truly.

That saying about the weather in Alaska changing from minute to minute is true. I’ve heard many states claim that saying, but it is actually true in Alaska. Below are two closeups of the stained glass:

Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska - stained glass salmon detail
The top of the window.
Juneau through the Library's Stained Glass
Juneau through the stained glass.

The heart of the library was very calm and quiet, with a number of people using the resources as you can see from the picture below. The backside of the library, the side that faces the sea, is all window.  There’s a large outdoor balcony with benches. As our ship was docking there were some family members on the balcony waving to a Holland America employee who was returning home to Juneau.

Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska - inside the library
Inside the library. That’s my mother-in-law and wife walking in front of me.

Below is a picture of our ship that I took from the balcony.  I imagine it would be delightful to sit on the balcony and read a book on a warm summer’s day when there’s not a big cruise ship blocking your view of the sea.

Library Visit: Juneau, Alaska - ms Rotterdam Holland America in port
Our ship was the MS Rotterdam of Holland America

The last picture is of the metal sculpture on the wall of the library that faces the street (opposite the side with the mural at the beginning of this post). The artist is Ray Peck, Jr.

Juneau Public Library metal mural
Metal mural by Ray Peck, Jr.

The Juneau library is wonderful — full of light, art, and serenity. I was thrilled to visit. I only wish that I’d had more time to look around at their holdings. Click here to view more images on the library’s website.

Juneau Public Library – Downtown Branch
292 Marine Way
Juneau, AK 99801

Built: 1988
Cost: $3.8 million
Size: 18,000 square feet
Holdings: 70,000 volumes
Annual users: 300,000

Post updated May 10, 2020
All photos copyright Chris Wolak unless otherwise attributed.


  1. Of course, you visited libraries and bookstores! Thanks for sharing this — what a beautiful place. I love the stained glass window. Looking forward to hearing more about your Alaskan adventure.

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