A peek inside the Alaskana Vault with Michael Catoggio

Old cans of squid and tuna, labeled in Russian. Con artist Soapy Smith’s pocket watch, engraved with an elk. A catalog of Gold Rush-era ads, providing clues to what life in that fabled era was really like.

These were just some of the eclectic treasures seen by visitors who attended librarian Michael Catoggio’s insider’s tour of the Loussac Library Alaska Collection two weeks ago.

I had a scheduling conflict, but my family (husband Brian, kids Aryeh and Tziporah — thanks guys!) attended in my stead, and learned quite a bit, including the alarming fact that the Alaska collection staff, numbering 4 people a decade ago, is down to a single 2/3-time position. The library is facing cuts, but it’s still a place of wonders and insider knowledge.

Here are more items we didn’t know the Alaska Collection contained: CDs of traditional village tales, yearbooks that go back decades, city council minutes from the very first years of Anchorage’s history (items covered — teen curfews, cattle rules, laws about public curtains ???). But as important as the material is the availability of a living person — librarian Michael Catoggio — willing to answer your questions about Alaska research.

By the way, Catoggio explained that 272,000 books were published last year, of which Loussac can buy only 5,000. Part of his job is to find out about newly published Alaska books that might slip by unnoticed. 49 writers is one of the places he looks.

Thanks for the plug, Michael, and even more, thanks for helping Alaska preserve its literary heritage and its treasures, from which many more stories may yet spring.

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