Public libraries
to trim hours

A $500,000 budget cut forces the
move, the state librarian says

By Janis L. Magin
Associated Press

Hawaii's 50 public libraries will open no more than 40 hours a week starting as soon as the end of the month because of cuts in an already lean budget, the state librarian says.

State of Hawaii As local governments around the country face budget deficits and reduced revenue, libraries are often among the services to suffer.

"Our situation here in Hawaii is not unusual," state librarian Virginia Lowell said.

Nonetheless, the move could have a far-reaching impact in a state where 800,000 of the 1.2 million residents have library cards.

"We are one of the most library-carded states in the United States," Lowell said. "Our people circulate more books on average per year than any other state."

Lowell said if the state could afford it, libraries would be open longer. As with the education system, Hawaii has the country's only statewide library system.

Some smaller rural libraries already are open 40 hours or fewer. Holualoa Public Library on the Big Island is open only 12 hours a week.

But many city libraries have been staying open longer hours, including the Hawaii State Library in downtown Honolulu, which is currently open 53 hours per week.

"Based on our budget restrictions, we have required the libraries ... to open a maximum five days a week, one shift per day schedule," said Lowell, who has run Hawaii's public libraries since 1998. The move is designed solely to meet savings required under the budget cuts, she said.

It will avoid having to lay off library workers or close any library altogether, she said.

Lowell said the initial 5 percent cut Gov. Linda Lingle ordered for all state departments was pared down to 2.5 percent for the library system, or about $500,000. The cuts are expected to remain in place for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"At the 5 percent level, we were going to have to close libraries," she said.

The new hours will be up to each library and the two unions -- the Hawaii Government Employees Union and the United Public Workers. Lowell said the libraries are required to be open at least some evening and weekend hours, when working people and families tend to use the libraries.

To do this, they would have to open later one or two days a week.

"We have to consult and confer with the unions so that they can understand that we are doing this so we can save people's jobs," Lowell said.

Hawaii's library system is already running with one of the lowest per-capita funding levels in the nation. According to a report by the National Center for Education Studies released in July, the average per-capita funding for libraries in the 50 states and the District of Columbia was $28.92.

Hawaii libraries received $19.10 per capita, before the budget cuts. This includes funding from all sources, including private donations.

"We're probably down close to $18 now with the restrictions," Lowell said. "Of the library systems of comparable size, we're just about the bottom."

The state with the lowest per-capita library funding in 2000 was Mississippi with $13.10. Ohio, at $59.93, had the highest per-capita funding, according to the report.

Hawaii's system placed third-lowest in the nation in the percentage of its expenditures going to its collection of books and other materials -- just $1.77 per capita. Only Mississippi, at $1.75 and Tennessee, at $1.74, were lower, according to the report.

Most of the money spent by Hawaii libraries -- 87 percent -- goes to pay staff, Lowell said.

The report said Hawaii in 2000 spent the largest percentage of its operating income on staff -- 73.8 percent -- and the lowest percentage on its collection -- 9.4 percent -- followed by Washington, D.C., which spent 73.4 percent on staff and 9.5 percent on its collection. Mississippi spent 63 percent of its funding on staff and 14.5 percent on its collection.

Nationally, libraries spent 64.2 percent on staff and 15.2 on collections.

"In a perfect world, libraries would be open six days a week for the medium- to large-size libraries, and the largest ones, like the Hawaii State Library, would be open seven days a week," Lowell said.

"That hasn't been happening for several years," she said. "Not even at the academic libraries."

The state's system includes 13 libraries on the Big Island, six on Kauai, one on Lanai, six on Maui, one on Molokai and 24 on Oahu.

Hawaii State Public Library System

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