Group rallies to keep libraries open


POSTED: Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kurtis Kamakea said reducing the hours of operation at Kalihi-Palama Public Library could cut off opportunities for students at three nearby schools to complete homework assignments because many use its computers to conduct Internet research.

“;The schools are right there, and these young kids use the library,”; said Kamakea, a Kalihi resident.

As the state looks at reducing library hours and perhaps even closing libraries temporarily due to the poor economy, some residents are worried about the impact it might have upon patrons, including children.

The state Board of Education is scheduled Thursday to consider a proposal that would close 51 libraries statewide two days a month and give authorization to the state librarian to impose closures of up to four days, if needed.

The public meeting on the library proposal starts at 7 p.m. at the board's conference room at the Queen Liliuokalani Building in Honolulu.

State Librarian Richard Burns has warned with the elimination of most temporary hires to meet budget restrictions, some 28 state libraries face reduced hours and intermittent closures.

Library officials note the proposed cuts are occurring when library use is increasing statewide and more unemployed adults are using Internet services to find jobs and stay in contact with relatives and friends.

State officials estimated library circulation increased nearly 3 percent and Internet use by 3 to 5 percent from July 2008 to June 2009, compared with the prior fiscal year.

Officials said the percentage would have been higher if the Hilo Public Library had not been closed for renovation for about 2 1/2 months this year.

Susan Nakata, a manager with the Library Development Services Section, said libraries have been saying they are seeing many adults using the Internet to search for jobs.

“;There is also a lot of folks who, because of the economy, have had to let go of home Internet use,”; Nakata said. “;They're using the Internet at the library to keep in contact with their relatives.”;

Byrde Cestare, executive director of the nonprofit group Friends of the Library of Hawaii, said closing libraries is the worst of possible scenarios.

Cestare said her group, with 28 affiliates statewide, is launching a campaign called “;Keep The Doors Open”; to raise money for the libraries.

“;It's an extraordinary campaign. We've never done anything like this before,”; she said.

The campaign is asking residents to contribute $3 each to raise some $3 million to prevent a reduction in library days.

“;This is an opportunity for residents to say, 'My library is important, and of course I can give $3,'”; she said.

Cestare said the group doesn't intend to make the fundraising a continuing effort and hopes funding will return once the economy improves.

Keith Fujio, the library system's administrative services officer, said his office has already gone through reducing its budget by 10 percent as a result of the state budget passed by the 2009 Legislature.

Fujio said his office is looking at eliminating a large portion of temporary hires, which cost about $1.27 million.

“;We didn't have anything else to cut,”; Fujio said.

Fujio said the library system is down to 50 to 60 temporary hires statewide and is expected to make further cuts, leaving dozens of libraries vulnerable to reduced hours and intermittent closings.

At the Kalihi Public Library, the staff has left two vacancies unfilled and has a staff of five full-time employees and a janitor.

Fujio said the library at Kalihi has barely enough staff to be open six days a week and may need to scale back the number of days of operation.

Kalihi library branch manager Marcia Nakama said adults have found the use of the Internet important because a lot of employers have been posting job openings online.

“;So a lot of people have been posting their resumes online,”; she said.

“;It's asinine,”; said businesswoman Rebecca Biter of the proposal to reduce hours and have intermittent closures.

Biter, who operates a computer consultant business, said she has patronized the library for 10 years and uses it for research and entertainment.

Natlie Noa-Mokiao said she takes her children to the Kalihi Public Library every Friday to borrow books. She said it provides a safe, quiet and air-conditioned place for her children to receive an education outside the classroom.

“;It's a nice place to come to get an education and to learn,”; said Noa-Mokiao, a Mililani resident whose husband works in Honolulu.

Kamakea, whose 18-year-old son is attending the University of Hawaii, said the Kalihi library serves as the sole Internet resource for afterschool homework for many students at Farrington High, Kalakaua Elementary and Kapalama Elementary schools.

“;Lots of my relatives come here and access the computers,”; Kamakea said.