Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Library cutbacks announced

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

After years of belt tightening, the state's public library system on March 30 will close the book for good on some much-loved services in a move that portends further changes.

Douglas Higa has driven the Pearl City Bookmobile for 15 years. Higa says that after the mobile libraries are cut from the state library system, he will probably do deliveries between O'ahu libraries.

Marvi Lacar • Special to The Advertiser

The four Bookmobiles — on O'ahu, the Big Island, Maui and Moloka'i — will cease their longtime traveling library operations. All libraries will be restricted to operating no more than 40 hours per week, causing some of the larger libraries to cut 10 or 20 hours from their schedules.

To trim electricity, security and other costs, no library will be open for more than five days per week.

And the state librarian said she doesn't expect to have enough money to lift those restrictions when the new budget year starts in July.

"It's never again going to be business as usual," Virginia Lowell said. "We kept asking for money to be made whole. It's never going to happen. We have to look outside ourselves. Traditional libraries, while lovingly held, are not the direction we are headed. We have to be open to other ways of providing services."

With the cost of library materials increasing about 11 percent per year, the state's library system has seen budget setbacks for years that have resulted in fewer books on the shelves and fewer employees on staff. Budget restrictions also are expected the next two fiscal years.

"We've been on a steady diet," said Floriana Cofman, branch manager at the Pearl City Public Library.

Now, Lowell is working with the Hawai'i Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers on the anticipated upheaval that the 40-hour, five-day-per-week plan will bring. It takes three to six weeks to impose schedule changes under current union contracts, she said. Also, the drop in library operating hours means some workers will have to move to different branches, which has to be negotiated through the unions.

The changes should be in place by March 30, she said.

To cope in the future, though, Lowell said the library system needs to think of different ways to reach patrons or bring in more revenue. She wants to look at providing Internet kiosks in long-term care facilities, prisons and shopping malls, which are cheaper than opening new branches.

The system also should look into a debit-card system to charge for things such as computer printouts or telephone reference desk help. Fax machines are not available for the public, but could be a new source of revenue, she said.

More than 800,000 library-card holders have access to 50 libraries throughout the state.

A recent study commissioned by the Hawai'i State Library System showed that it has kept pace with other large library systems in terms of services and hours. Lowell said librarians have been stretched thin, but have tried to maintain the same level of service they had when there were more employees.

"It's never again going to be business as usual," said Virginia Lowell, the state librarian.

Advertiser library photo

But Lowell said they can't do it anymore.

Since 1996, the number of books on Hawai'i library shelves has dropped from about 3.5 million to 3.2 million. Full-time positions have gone from 623 to 512. Hawai'i libraries were ranked in the bottom tier in 2002 — 35th best in the nation — by Thomas Hennen's national library rating system, published in American Libraries magazine.

And the budget forecast looks grim.

The state library system has already cut its budget by $424,504, or 2 percent, over the 2001-02 fiscal year. An additional $500,000 reduction of the $23.4 million budget has brought about the plan to close the Bookmobiles and cut operating hours. The library system also cut its budget 4.5 percent in the 2002-03 fiscal year

In the 2003-04 budget year, the library faces a possible 5 percent reduction. In 2004-05, it is looking at 5 percent more.

Cofman, at the Pearl City Public Library, said her staff fought long and hard to reach the point where they could be open seven days a week, a total of 52 hours. It's a point of pride for the employees.

"In a bedroom community, it's important to have those extended hours," Cofman said. "People come by on their way home from work at 5:30, they come on the weekends. We're very excited because we're open seven days a week. We'd like to keep it that way."

The Bookmobile provides direct library services to prisoners and to people in rural areas. But for the cost, even branch librarians who stock the shelves say it isn't the most efficient way to deliver library services.

In November, patrons checked out 452 books from the O'ahu Bookmobile; in December they checked out 225 books.

Douglas Higa, who has driven a Bookmobile for 15 years and loves to answer children's questions about why books don't fly onto the floor while he's driving (it's the tilted shelves), said he will likely do deliveries between O'ahu libraries once the Bookmobile closes.

O'ahu used to have two Bookmobiles, one out of the Kane'ohe library and one out of Pearl City. But the Kane'ohe-based Bookmobile lost its financing, and the Pearl City-based Bookmobile went from having three employees to one — Higa.

Lowell's plan has caused some hard feelings.

Sen. Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Portlock) said the Waimanalo School and Public Library has used money from Verizon to open on Saturdays at no cost to the state, but it would not be allowed to tap into that private money and keep its sixth operating day under Lowell's plan.

"It hurts the children of Waimanalo," Hemmings said. "It sends the wrong signal to private companies that want to help the community."

State library officials could not be reached yesterday about the Waimanalo library.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.

Correction: The state public library system will halt its Bookmobile service and cut hours and other services March 30. The library system cut its budget 4.5 percent in the 2002-03 fiscal year and faces a possible 5 percent cut in 2003-04. The date for ending service and the level of budget cuts were incorrect in previous version of this story.