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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 2, 2001

UH's Hamilton Library enjoys long-awaited facelift

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

At the University of Hawai'i's Hamilton Library, a temporary entrance near three trash Dumpsters and a Dewey decimal system stretched to the limit are good signs.

The $37 million renovation of the University of Hawai'i's Hamilton Library will add more space for study and books.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

With a $37 million renovation and addition under way — the first improvements since 1978 — students now wend their way into the state's largest library through a service entrance and, once inside, dodge workers moving carts of books.

More than 1 million volumes have been wheeled out of the way of construction workers and, by the end of the project, more than 3 million volumes will be shuffled to permanent locations.

The addition includes more than 81,000 square feet of space, computer workstations, wiring for laptop computers, additional seating and an air-conditioning system that should help protect the collection from decay. Renovation to the existing library will include asbestos removal and new air-conditioning.

Expected to be completed by fall 2002, Hamilton Library's facelift should help solve a severe storage problem for the university's collection and give students more study space.

But it also signifies what could be the first sign of hope in years for the library, which suffered tremendously during the university's financial crisis of the 1990s, when administrators found it was the easiest place on campus to cut spending.

When purchasing slowed to a crawl and departing staff members were not replaced, Hawai'i's ranking by the Association of Research Libraries fell steadily. The rankings measure libraries in the United States and Canada by their total volumes, number of periodical subscriptions and spending and staff numbers, among other considerations.

While the UH library held the No. 40 overall ranking out of 111 university research libraries in North America in 1992, it had fallen to 64th by 1998, the latest year for which data is available. At one point in 1995, it dipped as low as 78th.

While the Manoa campus ranked in the middle range of North American libraries in the early 1990s on all measures, its most recent rankings put the library at 101st in spending on materials, 94th in the number of staff members and 88th in total expenditures.

The library is still down about 22 positions from what it had in the early 1990s, said Jean Ehrhorn, interim university librarian.

"We lost staff," she said. "There was the funding crisis in '94-'95 and in '95-'96. We took a big hit. We were the only place where they could find unencumbered money. It was one of the only places that didn't have money tied up in faculty."

A total of 117 subscriptions to academic journals were cut. New subscriptions could not be added to the library without others being canceled. And library committee members were forced to return to their academic departments and ask faculty members to help them come up with a list of things that could be let go.

"The hard part was adding new things," said Jonathan Morse, an English professor and a longtime member of the Manoa library committee. "There's a relatively new journal in my field and it took forever to get. Now it's easier."

While the university usually acquires 40,000 new books each year, in the 1995 school year it purchased only 9,000 and in 1996 it purchased 19,000.

"At that point we were trying to protect our journal subscriptions," Ehrhorn said. Once canceled, the missing journals cannot be replaced without tremendous cost, and the value of that collection deteriorates, she said.

David Stegenga, a math professor and member of the Manoa Library Committee, remembers pressing his colleagues in the math department to give up their periodicals. "It was not very pleasant," he said. "People in the math department are very protective of their journals. It's their prime source of research, and they like to be able to go back decades. I had to make my recommendations to the library about what to cut. We were taking 20 percent budget cuts."

The library's budget has remained virtually unchanged in a decade. While UH dedicated $11.8 million to the Manoa library in 1992, it allocated $12.1 million this year.

While they are glad to see the much-awaited renovation, faculty members are cautious about the future of the collection.

"We had a little bit of improvement last year and that was the good news," Stegenga said. "We seem to be through the worst. At least I hope so."

The new addition is also a long-promised construction project for the campus. Planning started in 1980 with a target date of 1985. An architect wasn't even hired until 1989.

Then, in 1992, officials debated the "paperless society" and whether the new space was even needed. In the meantime, to make space in Hamilton for new books and periodicals, the Undergraduate Collection at Sinclair Library was closed, and 350,000 older bound periodicals were moved from Hamilton to an un-air-conditioned area of Sinclair. "The place was bulging at the seams," Stegenga said. "Clearly there was no room."