Let libraries operate independently from the BOE


POSTED: Friday, March 26, 2010

While support for an appointed Board of Education is growing, none of the current proposals to modify the BOE addresses the impact these changes would have on the state's public libraries. In fact, many do not realize our public libraries fall under the purview of the BOE. While the BOE spends the majority of its time and money focusing on efforts to make the state Department of Education work efficiently, the library system quietly continues to act as the bulwark for education within our communities.

The Department of Education struggles to educate our kids at a price of just around $2 billion dollars a year, costing each resident more than $1,500 a year, and averaging approximately $11,000 spent per student each year. The library system manages to serve the entire population at a cost of just around $25 per person, which is about the cost of a single book.

But libraries here provide so much more than just books. Patrons have access to motion picture DVDs, music CDs, electronic downloads, books on tape, newspapers, magazines, the Internet — and residents have free access to more than 100 specialty databases and indexes that are not available on the Web. At the main library, staff help native Hawaiians document their genealogy and become eligible for housing and other benefits.

As always, in difficult times, people turn to libraries for help. Our libraries now are frequently swamped with people needing computers and Internet access to conduct job searches, write resumes, find a place to eat or sleep, or other options to make ends meet.

This may the best time to allow the library system the autonomy to further excel and separate from the ongoing difficulties and inefficiencies being experienced in the DOE. Moving libraries away from the purview of the BOE and Department of Education concerns could allow the BOE to focus on the task of improving the DOE and educating students.

After all, the goals and governance of public libraries are clearly different from those of public schools. Having libraries fall under the umbrella of the BOE puts libraries at risk to many of the same problems that have come to characterize the Department of Education.

It is time that decision-makers recognize a great investment in education and reward institutions that produce results that we can be proud of.


Shelly R. Brown is president of the Librarians Association of Hawaii.