Caribou Library director resigns for move to Alaska this summer

3 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou Library Director Hope Shafer recently announced her resignation and plans to relocate to Alaska with her husband, who moved there after accepting a nursing informatics position at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital in late March. 

According to Shafer, her husband left for Alaska in late April. She has since resigned, with her last day on the job being Aug. 2, so she can move there with him later this year.

She is both excited and saddened by the move, as she will miss the community and also now needs to sell off her farm and home in Woodland, a place she had once hoped to retire. 

“It’s really sad, but I love adventure, and this is the epitome of adventure,” she said. “I’m totally sad to lose the farm. I’ve sold off almost all of my stock, and that has probably been the hardest thing I’ve done, but I’ve been incredibly thankful that while I’m leaving the people here, I’m not truly leaving them. We’ll still stay in touch.”

Shafer first started at the Caribou Public Library in January 2018 as a circulation assistant, but was appointed director in August, less than a year later.

“It was a huge promotion, and I was terrified,” she said. “But the staff and patrons and [City Manager Dennis Marker] helped, and all of the other department heads helped me through my questions. Any time I question popped up, they were there to help, and Anastasia [Weigle], the previous director, has always been there for me. I definitely leaned on everybody until I got my feet under me, and I still lean on them.”
Shafer, who has been library director for nearly three years, said she loves the job.

“This is my home away from home,” she said. “This is my happy place. My experience here has been nothing but good.”

Shafer has served as director throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the library hard last March. 

“We had built up our in-person programming so much,” she said. “There was a massive number of in-person things going on and all of a sudden, it just stopped.”

Their first major move was to switch to virtual programming, including online projects and regularly posting videos of Childrens’ Librarian Erin Albers reading stories for local youth. But Shafer said virtual programming serves only a small part of the community.

“Most people don’t have computers or home devices. A lot of our patrons do, but not everybody,” she said. “So as soon as they let us open for curbside pickup, it was a major deal.”

Sometimes patrons would meet librarians at the door and ask if they could make a copy of something, or fax a document. Shafer said that while nobody was allowed in the building at that time, she and other librarians could take the documents into the library and attend to these requests.

“We started to have a little bit of contact with our patrons,” she said. “Even if it was just curbside pickup, they would usually wave to us. We could feel useful again. It was very hard to not feel useful.”

In July, the library opened for in-person guests, allowing five in at a time with masks and requiring them to use hand sanitizer at the door. Each patron was allowed to browse or use the facilities for 30 minutes. 

“It was amazing to have people back in the library again, and to be available for all of our patrons,” she said. “It wasn’t so bad once we could get people back in the library.”

And even when looking back at the beginning of the lockdown, Shafer focused on the positive.

“We were able to get a lot of cleaning done when people weren’t here,” she said. “We cleaned all of our shelves.”

When asked what she would miss most about Caribou, she immediately said the people and the community.

“Everybody is so friendly,” she said. “If I have a question I can stop somebody on the street and ask for directions, and they won’t just keep walking. Caribou is the epitome of a good small town. They aren’t cliquey. We have people from all walks of life, and we see all of them at the library.”

Looking ahead, Shafer plans on taking a year off once arriving in Alaska so she can spend some time with her youngest daughter.

“She’s homeschooled and I have about another year and a half left with her at home, so I really want to take a good year off to spend time with her, get our bearings, travel, sightsee, and all of those great things. Then I’m hoping to get plugged into the library system. I will be a patron, but I hope to get a job, probably not as the director, but to help in any way I can.”

Shafer thanked everyone for their support over the years, from the library patrons, the staff and board of trustees, to Dennis Marker and the city council, and said she has been delighted to work with them, adding that she hopes to leave the staff and future director in good hands, just as she was when she first took the position.

“I have no complaints, and I am happy to tell the person who comes next ‘Don’t be afraid. Just be yourself, and it will be okay,’” she said.