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Libraries must remain open


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POSTED: Monday, July 20, 2009

Hawaii's Board of Education is pausing before deciding whether to approve the state librarian's proposal to close five branches, and residents of the affected areas are rightly angry about the plan. Libraries provide the strongest foundation for learning by small children and adults, and elimination of any library would be devastating to the surrounding community. Cutting open hours system-wide would be preferable.

Librarian Richard Burns told the school board earlier this month that the state's public library system will run out of money in the fall if it maintains the same service for all 51 branches. The board held another hearing last Thursday but again deferred a decision.

“;Closing any public library has always been an absolute last resort but we were forced to take these unprecedented actions to preserve the rest of our system,”; Burns reported to the board.

Burns targeted for closure the Ewa Beach Public and School Library on Oahu, the Hana Public and School Library on Maui, and Holualoa Public Library, Kealakekua Public Library and Pahala Public and School Library on the Big Island. Ewa Beach residents who attended the meetings on Oahu were understandably furious.

The librarian essentially crunched numbers to arrive at his recommendation to close the five small libraries: staff vacancies, low circulation or usage of books, proximity to nearby libraries, repair and maintenance costs and rising operating costs.

“;We can provide the best services for the most people by this plan,”; Burns said. Unfortunately, the desire and need for a library in a community is not part of his formula. He reported that his office had “;struggled to maintain our public service hours with no new hires.”;

“;That would be horrifying,”; Nancy Ashley, 79, a retired University of Hawaii teacher and author, said of closing the Ewa Beach library. “;I get withdrawal symptoms if I run out of books ... It's like an addiction.”; Traffic congestion makes driving from Ewa Beach to the Kapolei library difficult.

State Sen. Will Espero, who represents the Ewa Beach area, and Rep. Mele Carroll and Sen. Kalani English of Maui voiced their concern. “;Plain and simple, the idea to close any library in the state of Hawaii is a bad idea,”; Espero said.

Instead of compiling numbers in a formula that fails to take into account the important need of a nearby library, the school board should find a way to keep all libraries open, even if that means reducing hours they are open to the public.