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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 7, 2002

UH library resumes full service

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

After four years, $37 million and two roofs, the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Hamilton Library is finally ready for full operations again, even though plastic sheeting still covers special collections on the fifth floor while the roof is being completed.

"Our staff is very happy to get it blessed again. It's a closure thing and an end to some of the chaos," said associate librarian Jean Ehrhorn, referring to rededication ceremonies yesterday that signaled a near-end to the project.

Though the library has undergone asbestos removal, expansion into an annex building, an air-conditioning upgrade, improvements in lighting and a doubling of its computer capabilities, along with installation of both wireless and wired Internet access, it was the roof that created the longest delays.

Begun in January, the roof project was halted in May after officials discovered construction flaws requiring removal and replacement — at the contractor's expense. Today, the roof is two-thirds complete.

"We expect in two weeks the roof will be finished," university librarian Diane Perushek said. "We've had a lot of rain. We've got our fingers crossed it will be finished by the end of the month."

The first improvements on the library since 1978 were intended to help solve a severe storage problem for the university's collection and give students more study space. But the work has also signaled a turnaround for the library, which suffered during the university's financial crisis of the 1990s, when administrators found it was the easiest place to cut spending. Though the library work began four years ago, it meshes with UH President Evan Dobelle's plans to upgrade the Manoa campus across the board, from academics to living arrangements.

Because the Hawaiian and Pacific and Asian collections have been under sheeting during the roofing work, there has been limited access by the public. Only a few weeks ago did the sections become available to the public, between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays. The rest of the time, because of access problems, librarians have located the materials needed.

The renovations have covered 200,000 square feet of space and also involved knocking out walls, relocating departments, adding shelving, relocating and enlarging the circulation desk and installing a new reference desk. There also has been much more space added for computers, doubling the number of work stations to 164.

"We put wireless access in some parts of the library also," Perushek said. "It's a little box, very innocuous, and works like a television satellite and picks up radio waves."

The wireless areas can serve about 75 people with laptops, as long as the students have a wireless access card.

The wireless access reaches beyond the renovated front door and as far away as the outside seating area next to the nearby Paradise Palms cafeteria.

"We're going to do it gradually," said Perushek of the continuing addition to the wireless technology that universities are beginning to employ on the Mainland to save them from wiring their buildings. Already 10 classroom buildings employ wireless technology at UH, she said.

"It's such a new technology that when we were designing the project it didn't exist."

An additional 30 computers are still on tap as part of the renovations, said Perushek, who expects they'll be in place by the end of the academic year.

During the work the library's normal usage of 6,000 to 7,500 people daily fell drastically, but is beginning to climb again, Ehrhorn said.

"It fell about 85 percent. People were doing a lot of things online and not even coming to the building," she said. "Now the place is full again and it's really good."

With usage increasing, the library has expanded its hours, opening at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8 Monday through Friday and closing at 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 p.m. Saturday. Closing time has been extended to 7 p.m. Fridays and 11 p.m. Sundays.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.