Thursday, July 22, 1999

State librarian wary of
proposed Kapolei branch

By Pat Omandam


State Librarian Virginia Lowell plays hardball when it comes to the proposed Kapolei Community Library: If you build it, she won't come.

Lowell, in a Star-Bulletin editorial board meeting, said yesterday unless the state Legislature entirely funds the building and operation of the new Kapolei library, the state is better off not building it at all. She said it makes no sense to build one that size without the money to also pay for staff, book collections, computers and maintenance.

State plans for the new library are ready but the Legislature this past session did not fund enough money to complete the first phase of the project. That piecemeal approach worries her.

"Nor did the Legislature then, and I'm quite sure they won't in the supplemental year, vote us money to staff and provide services in that building. So I have become Grinchy and I have said, 'If you build it, I won't come,' " Lowell said.

"If they're not going to give us that support, I don't see any reason to build a building."

After nearly a year on the job, Lowell outlined the significant changes in the state public libraries since she replaced Bart Kane as state librarian Aug. 13.

Foremost is the lack of funding to support the libraries.

The library system has a $19 million annual operating budget. Still, Lowell said Hawaii public libraries receive about half of the national per capita funding for libraries, about $16 per capita than the national $32 average. That low amount is fifth from the bottom of the 50 states, she said.

That funding shortage has meant Lowell had to change how the libraries prioritize services. Core services such as the reference desks, collections, Internet access and library projects take precedence over enhanced services, such as personal e-mail access, specialized research, the latter which should pay for themselves in fees, she said.

About 800,000 people have state library cards.

The system also has not received any money over the past three years to buy new books. Today, money for new books comes from those raised by the Friends of the Library book sales, library auctions, fines and fees.

Last year, the library system had $1.8 million for new collections. Lowell expects to have only $1.2 million this year.

Staffing is also another problem. The library lost 20 percent of its staff in 1994-1995. The reduction meant a loss of most of the system's midlevel management positions, and therefore administrative oversight over the library districts, she said.

To cope, Lowell has increased training among staff, as well as boosted staff support. She's also begun a series of brown bag lunches so librarians can share with her not just the day-to-day problems but important issues facing librarians. Such as how to limit access to pornography on the Internet.

And book selections are now being done entirely by librarians.

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