Lawmakers fret
over libraries

Neighbor island senators
say the new Kapolei Library
will hurt their facilities

By Helen Altonn

A proposed $1 million emergency appropriation measure to begin operating the new Kapolei Public Library has advanced to the Senate floor but neighbor island legislators aren't happy about it.

Legislature 2003

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They're afraid some of their libraries might have to be closed to support the newly built Kapolei Library, which remains empty until funding is provided for staff, equipment and books.

The executive budget also requests $1.7 million for each of the next two fiscal years to support 19 positions and operate the Kapolei Library.

Public Librarian Virginia Lowell believes legislators "have built up a scenario that we are going to take away public library services from poor rural underserved areas" because of the system's strategies to respond budget restrictions.

Plans are to reduce open hours, take bookmobiles off the road and cut the library materials budget to meet a $526,000 restriction this fiscal year, she said.

"I never said anything about closing libraries. The strategies are designed to not have to close libraries. And at least in the short term, we're not going to have to lay anybody off."

Still, Sens. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai), Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) and Shan Tsutsui (D, Wailuku-Kahului) expressed "grave concerns" before the Ways and Means Committee approved the emergency Kapolei bill last week.

English said Neighbor Island legislators told the librarian and the Board of Education chairman, "We won't support the idea that Neighbor Island libraries have to suffer to get Kapolei open."

The Legislature last year appropriated $3 million to expand the Makawao Library which serves all of upcountry Maui, he said. "She's not willing to move ahead with it."

Hooser also said, "I don't believe the state librarian is responsive to Neighbor Island needs. Rural libraries are begging for funds and the response has not been sufficient."

The lawmakers believe some libraries on Neighbor Islands would be closed and replaced with a kiosk in a shopping center where people could go online for library services, English said.

"The way the public librarian is portraying this is repulsive to me personally," he said. "We're also concerned abut the librarian ignoring legislative direction."

Another issue, the senators said, is the proposed separation of 12 combined public and school libraries.

That is part of the long-term planning, Lowell said, citing school difficulties in supporting the libraries and concerns about security because of public access. Public and school library needs also are different, she said.

If they are separated, she said, public library services would be replaced by some form of access.

"Some people don't want to contemplate Internet kiosks but there are a lot of examples of Internet kiosks in rural areas on the mainland that are very successful."

Lowell and English agree on one thing. "I'd much rather curl up with a book than go on the Internet any day of the week," she said.

"As a kid," English said, "I enjoyed going through the stacks as part of discovery." He discovered "The Silver Crown" in the sixth grade and still has the novel.

But Lowell said Hawaii's library system is the worst funded in the country for those of its size, according to a consultants' report. "We're at $19 per capita, where peer library systems are at $29 per capita. ... There is no way we can keep doing what we're doing if we continue to have 5 percent cuts."

It would be irresponsible, for example, to go ahead with things like the Makawao Library expansion without money to staff and operate it, she said.

She said the library system must be open to new ways of providing access to library services to address continued budget reductions.

"Generations of kids do all their homework now on the Internet. All we're suggesting is public libraries have to recognize the whole environment is changing, the social milieu is changing, economics are changing. ... We're trying to bridge all generations that use our libraries."

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