State librarian eager to get on Web fast lane
He stuffed an empty, two-story building in Kapolei with 120,000 books and, at Waimanalo library, persuaded National Geographic to release 10 photographs to adorn the walls.
Now, if Richard Burns has his way, Hawaii Public Library Web pages will be running faster soon after Jan. 1, when he assumes oversight of the state's 51 branches and 3.7 million titles as head librarian.
The state Board of Education appointed Burns, a 51-year-old manager of Kapolei Public Library, to succeed state librarian Jo Ann Schindler, who retires at the end of the year.
Burns, a 24-year library employee who began as an assistant at Kahuku Public and School Library, stood out for his vision and record of getting things done, especially at Kapolei Public Library, said school board member Breene Harimoto.
The long-awaited $6.9 million library in West Oahu was built in 2002, but its 35,000 square feet accumulated dust for two years when funding dried up. Today, three years since opening under Burns' management, the Kapolei library has 24 workers and circulates about 39,000 items a month, second in traffic only to the Hawaii State Library on King Street.
"He did a very good job with all the challenges there," said Harimoto, who chairs the school board's library committee. "He had a wealth of experience with various jobs within the library system, and we could see that progression."
Details of Burns' contract, including pay and length, have not been finalized. Schindler made $110,000 a year under a four-year term, Harimoto said.
Burns, the husband of a mail carrier, has two teenage daughters and is an avid sports fan who shot a 75 golf round "many years ago," he says. He got a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California-Los Angeles and master's degrees in political science and library science from the University of Hawaii.
Burns said sluggish Internet connections at libraries statewide lead many of Hawaii's estimated 850,000 cardholders to give up on their searches. He has not set a time line to boost speed, saying customers should expect to notice improvements gradually.
"We have lots and lots of tremendous material, both print and digitally, that a lot of people don't know about," he said. "We have the materials now. It's just that they are underutilized because it takes more time than people would like to get to the documents they are looking for."
Another top challenge for the $27 million, four-county library system is some 70 vacancies among more than 500 positions, including hard-to-fill neighbor island vacancies, Burns said. He said he would wait to take office to study ways to reduce turnover and quickly fill jobs left open by retirees -- a task that his former co-workers have no doubt he will accomplish.
"He is wonderful at delegating," said Nina O'Donnell, who worked under Burns for four years as children's librarian at Waimanalo library, where he was named Librarian of the Year in 2003. "He is very good at talking to people. He's a big-picture guy."
It was also while at Waimanalo library that Burns persuaded National Geographic to donate a photo essay depicting life in the sleepy town -- shots of people, paddlers and hula that were later framed in koa by a Waimanalo artist through a grant from the Friends of Waimanalo Library.
"He just stayed on it and made several phone calls and kept getting passed up the line, and finally they said OK," O'Donnell said.