Friends bring books to eager community


POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2009

Librarians are accustomed to speaking softly and maintaining a calm environment to benefit readers. I'm a Friend of the Libraries of Hawaii who is figuratively raising his voice in advocacy. I'm one of 400 volunteers who support and promote the public libraries in Hawaii, making services possible that - even in the best of times - aren't in the state library budget.

Last summer's five-week reading program is a case in point. It involved 21 of the state's 51 libraries:

» 15,957 children read 249,175 books,

» 3,293 teenagers read 25,044 books,

» 1,486 adults read 7,773 books,

» Grand total - 281,992 books.

Three times more adults participated than were expected - imagine the total if all libraries within the state system were involved! Well, there's always this year.

The Friends provide free books to more than three dozen nonprofit groups including hospitals, military groups, prisons, community centers and literary programs. We make it possible to place free books into the hands of people who might never have owned one. We help to make low-cost textbooks available - and in this way also are the friends of earnest, cost-conscious teachers.

“;We're not in competition with bookstores,”; says our executive director, Byrde Cestare. “;An executive of a major book chain commented when giving us some of their leftovers, 'We work together to create readers.'”;

The Friends yearly donate and sell more than 420,000 leftover books given by readers such as you as IRS-approved tax deductions. They are received at the Friends' downtown Honolulu warehouse (call 536-4174).

Volunteers examine and price them for the yearly weeklong book sale at McKinley High School. The Friends raise more than $300,000 net by this and other activities. This helps Hawaii's libraries extend services not covered by their state-legislated budget.

The recent 10 percent cut in library funding makes the Friends feel even more resolute, for funding has been cut at a time when libraries are more vital than ever!

Mainland newspapers report items such as these: library closings in some areas; queues of people waiting to use library computers for online applications and research materials to apply for jobs; and library CDs and DVDs rising in demand for low-cost home entertainment.

We want to raise a lot more money to help libraries and are willing to do it the old way: by hard work and being bright.

Avid reader Bill Harper's estate donated an old bookmobile, now next to our warehouse at 690 Pohukaina St. in Kakaako. Open 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, its shelves hold about 2,500 books in the $2 range. Some are almost new. A bag full of romance novels sold for $5 as a Valentine promotion.

Books instead of sweets for Valentine's Day? Well, the Friends are beginning to think like marketers - and by the way, a book of love poems could've been picked up for less than a buck.

We wonder, how much more money might we raise if we could put more books on display - not once a year, but almost every day? What kinds of Friends think this way?

Sadako Tengan grew up three blocks away from our warehouse. After McKinley High School,she spent 32 years at the Laboratory School at Chicago (the school President Obama's girls attended). She sorts and shelves “;Fiction”; in the warehouse, organizing the donated books into subgroups (e.g., popular, historical), prices them at about $3 each and boxes them for our yearly sale. A real hot item goes outside for immediate sale in the bookmobile.

She has the same reason for volunteering as all of us: “;You're apt to meet interesting people when you're around books.”;

Mary Julia Stacy Judd spends two days a week in the warehouse. “;We are the ohana of all the libraries,”; she said. “;I love books and the learning they bring to the community. As soon as you can read you can do anything in life - books tell you how.”;

Duane and Sarah Preble are art book experts (their own book on art forms is considered a classic). They examine and price each art book and identify the collectibles. “;There is a gold mine here,”; Duane said. An artist and university professor, Duane is in great demand as a board member. He'd rather be here working with Sarah, a retired art librarian. It's kind of touching to hear their joy when they find a special book.

Janet Zisk told me, “;One of the features of life in Hawaii that appealed to (husband) Stan and me - that made us feel comfortable about moving here - was the excellent state library system. ... A library is a community's essence.

“;Stan browsed through the science, fiction and art shelves. I found a satisfactory range of historical materials and new publications. One of the best features was a patron's ability to visit any state library branch, borrow materials there and return them to any convenient branch.”;

I'm speaking up loudly and clearly to tell you three things you need to do:

» donate books you've been ignoring (receiving a slip for your tax filing);

» go to the bookmobile for reading entertainment; and

» attend this summer's weeklong book sale at McKinley High School - it's a hoolaulea! Don't know what that means? Then buy a Hawaiian dictionary while you're there.

Your local library is the place for information and enjoyment and is part of the only statewide library system in the country. In local vernacular: “;Lucky you live Hawaii!”;


J. Arthur Rath, a writer, lives in Honolulu. Reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)