Patrons and politicians plead to keep libraries open


POSTED: Friday, July 17, 2009

Library patrons and elected officials asked the state Board of Education to look at an across-the-board reduction in library hours rather than shut down five branches as proposed by the state librarian.

“;Plain and simple, the idea to close any library in the state of Hawaii is a bad idea,”; state Sen. Will Espero said.

More than 50 people attended a board meeting last night for a public hearing of the state librarian's proposal and other budget items.

The board didn't take a vote on closing libraries, but asked state Librarian Richard Burns to take another look at the budget.

The libraries targeted are the Ewa Beach Public and School Library on Oahu, the Hana Public and School Library on Maui and the Holualoa Public Library, Kealakekua Public Library and Pahala Public and School Library on the Big Island.

A number of residents testified against the closure of Ewa Beach Public and School Library, in a fast-growing area where children are meeting their grandparents to work on their studies.

“;The library is a safe haven for many children,”; Ewa Beach resident Sam Fisk said. “;If the library is no longer funded, where are they going to go?”;

State Rep. Mele Carroll and state Sen. Kalani English said they opposed the closure of Hana Public and School Library in rural East Maui, where the next closest library is a 2 1/2 -hour drive away.

“;If you close this resource, they have none,”; Carroll said. “;It would be devastating to this community.”;

State Rep. Kimberly Marcos Pine, who opposes the Ewa Beach library closure, said her constituents are opposed to raising the general excise tax by a half-percentage point to raise money for education at a time when many people have lost their jobs.

But Pine said she supports the idea of borrowing against the $185 million state Hurricane Fund to assist the libraries, because of the economic slump.

“;I see this budget deficit as a hurricane,”; she said.

Burns delivered a report on July 9 recommending the closure of five libraries, including the one in Ewa Beach.

Burns warned that the Hawaii Public Library System would run out of money this fall if it maintains the same service hours at all 51 branches.

Burns said the five branches were selected based on staff vacancies, circulation of books, proximity to neighboring libraries, repair and maintenance costs, and rising operating costs.

The report said the library system has to consolidate staff to maintain quality at the remaining sites and preserve the rest of the system.

Under the plan, librarians at closed libraries would be transferred to other libraries, and the library buildings would be turned over to the public schools.