Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Observatory Books Juneau

There are a few unwritten posts waiting to eventually go up.  This one is a must.  Observatory Books begs to be entered.  So I did one evening.


And once inside, it's like being in someone's long lost attic.  Well, it is organized by topics and all, but there are books and maps and portfolios that you won't find at Barnes and Noble.

The specialty is Alaska.  You can double click any picture to see it bigger.  Here is the General Arctic section:

Around here you can find gems like these:



Or this classic Alaska anthropologists' work.

All this is watched over by Dee Longebaugh who started the first 
Observatory Books in Sitka in  1977 and moved it to Juneau in 1992.
She'll find what you need and tell you tales about the books
and about the authors, many of whom she knows.  And she'll 
share her stories. 

This is a place where it's easy to get lost in other worlds.

A place where you wonder whose fingers touched the books you're holding in your hands.  People you'll only know because your fingerprints overlapped on the pages of this book. 

Maps are a big part of this collection.  Did I say collection?  It's more like the back room of a museum than a bookstore. 

Fortunately, all these treasures are well protected by the charming guard dog.


Just before we left Anchorage, there was a story on NPR about the closing of the last bookstore in Laredo, Texas.
B. Dalton is set to close its store in Laredo, Texas, and that has ignited a debate in the border town. Kids have written letters to keep the store open. Groups have held rallies to pressure the company. Laredo could soon become the largest U.S. city without a bookstore. But with libraries, online stores and overnight delivery, is a bookstore really necessary?
Wikipedia reports:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laredo,_Texas
According to the 2007 census estimate, the city population was 233,152.[5] Laredo is part of the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo Metropolitan Area with an estimate population of 718,073.[6]
If that's right, the city is a little smaller than Anchorage, but the metropolitan area has more people than the state of Alaska.  At the time, as I was counting the bookstores in Anchorage - Barnes and Noble, Metro books, Title Wave, Borders, and probably a couple more - and thinking that we're pretty lucky. 

But Juneau, with a population of about 30,000, has three book stores I know of just in the tiny downtown.  There's so much to like here.  And this is probably a good time to post this because tonight my Anchorage book club is gathering to discuss The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read enough of it it to write about it here. 


  1. I personally rate a city a number of ways, and certainly one is the character and quality of its specialty bookstores. These quirky, deeply-conceived stores tell you something of the people who would be your neighbors. Wasilla, for instance, has a good number of speciality Christian(ist) bookstores. Right, point made.

    Steve, you're finding one more good reason for you to up and leave Anchorage for the small city of Juneau! We'd love to visit you there.

  2. My son spends hours in that store every time he visits Juneau. When we were in Juneau at Christmas we left him at the book store and came back for him three hours later. I went in to get him, got talking to Dee. There went another hour. She loves maps and has taken some wonderful trips trying to find the places on five hundred year old maps. What fun it is to talk to her.

  3. When I first visited Britain in 1979, Dee was still living in Sitka, and her store was already famous. I was interested in collecting early Alaskan maps and prints, which were much easier to find in London & Edinburgh in those days (and much cheaper, too!).

    Every time I walked into a British antiquarian book or map store and asked for "Cook? Vancouver? Dixon? Alaska maps and prints?" the proprietor would ask if I knew Dee. She was already known then as the leading authority on early Russian maps of North America.

    She travels to Europe every year for international antiquarian map and book meetings, where she lectures frequently. She is the only Alaskan Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society (hence the FRGS on her business cards).

    She is a treasure which I try to share with our visitors as much as possible.

    And her book reviews on KTOO and her letters to the editor are great, too! Juneau loves her!


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