LIBRARY HOURS BEING RESTORED
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Pearl City Public Library recently increased its hours, to the delight of users like Chaesten Chon, left, and his mother, Johnelle Chon; and Pua and Calvin Kaneshiro, with their son Kalai and daughter Kalei. Also on track to add hours are the Kalihi-Palama library, in January, and the main library, on King Street, in March.
Lack of staff persistent cause of library closures
While budget cuts have eased, a labor shortage keeps many branches from daily service
THE state public library system has restored half of the service hours that were cut three years ago due to tight budgets, but recouping the other half seems a distant prospect because of difficulty in recruiting necessary staff.
The system's 2,038 total hours of operation were reduced by 200 hours in 2003 as most of the state's libraries were reduced to 40-hour weeks to cope with a budget cut and temporary hiring freeze imposed by Gov. Linda Lingle.
Budgetary pressures have eased since then, allowing libraries to gradually increase hours.
The Pearl City Public Library's addition of four hours of Friday service this month brings the statewide total to 1,938 hours, 100 short of the original number.
"We've made great progress, and it's due to everybody working extremely hard to get to this point," State Librarian Jo Ann Schindler said yesterday.
Some libraries have been able to add entire days to their opening hours.
Wanda Chen, who lives within walking distance of the Kalihi-Palama branch, has visited the library nearly every weekend with her 5-year-old son, Jeffrey, since it added a full day of Saturday service in January. She now reads to him about three times as often as she did before that.
"It used to be closed all weekend, so we never came," said Chang, who works during the week.
"We check out books all the time now. We used to buy some before, but it gets expensive. Now if he wants another, we just say, 'OK, it's free.'"
The extra hours are a direct outgrowth of slow but steady progress in filling staff vacancies, which had ballooned to 135 positions across the 51-branch system by 2004. Now they are down to just 69 -- one less than before the 2003 cuts, Schindler said, thanks to the filling of 259 vacancies since April 2003 -- another milestone.
Filling that many vacancies amid a statewide labor shortage has required more aggressive recruitment efforts, said Florence Yee, head librarian of the state's main branch, on King Street.
"Finally we had a staff meeting and just made a commitment to make a concerted effort to fill all of our positions," she said.
The efforts paid off in March, allowing the branch to add a full day of Monday service, leaving Sunday as the only day it is closed.
However, several openings remain, and new ones appear constantly in what Yee calls a "revolving door."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mai Pruitt, 7, read at the Pearl City Public Library yesterday where her father, Terry, came to do research for his job as a financial services representative.
"It has to do with the baby boomers hitting retirement age, but that's not the only thing. We fill one vacancy, then another opens because somebody retired, got promoted or got transferred," Yee said.
The Pearl City library used to be open seven days a week. Despite tough times, it "never gave up" its Sunday hours, knowing that doing so would leave Oahu with just two other branches -- Kaneohe and Kaimuki -- open on that day, said branch librarian Floriana Cofman.
But it took more than a year -- with the library often losing out to other branches for scarce recruits -- for Cofman to fill the last position she needed to reopen on Fridays for just four hours.
The library remains closed on Saturdays despite community requests for a return to seven-day service.
"I don't see that happening again for some time," Cofman said.
Schindler said the library plans to look at more automation and at increasing its online offerings to mitigate the need for more staff.
A "self-checkout" pilot project will soon be launched at the Kapolei Public Library and expanded if it goes well, she said. The library system also offers a range of e-books and other online resources now that can be accessed from home via the Internet, with more likely in the future, she said.
"Many librarians are asking for more library assistants, but because that's proven difficult, we need to look at other ways of doing things," Schindler said.
Library officials would prefer decentralized, district system
Library officials want to decentralize much of the system's management by setting up a number of district offices, in a statewide realignment expected to result in better service to patrons.
Officials hope that the closer attention district heads will be able to pay to libraries under their supervision will result in improved professional development and training of library staff and better management of libraries.
If eventually approved by the Legislature, the change would remedy a situation in which the head librarians of 49 of the state's 51 branches all report directly to a single person in the state office.
"If you got one person overseeing that many libraries, it's hard for them to pay enough attention to each one," said Claire Ikehara, special assistant to state Librarian Jo Ann Schindler.
Schindler's office tentatively envisions one district office each for Kauai, Maui and the Big Island, each staffed by three people with salaries totaling $131,000. Oahu could have either three district offices or one large office, Schindler said. The total cost, including equipment, office space and other issues, remains to be worked out.