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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 14, 2003

Criticism of librarian unfounded

Nick Huddleston
By Nick Huddleston
President of Friends of the Library of Hawai'i

I appreciate The Advertiser's editorial defense of civility over harsh words in dealing with problems facing the libraries.

I am disturbed by criticism of State Librarian Virginia Lowell by legislators and others who have implied she is not doing what she can to maintain library hours and respond to the desires of the Legislature and the public.

I have known Virginia since she assumed the position of state librarian in 1998, and I have found her to be a consistently intelligent, concerned and capable administrator who has done a solid job of trying to maintain staff positions and library services in the face of continuing budget cuts.

The state library system is currently funded at approximately $19 per resident, compared to a national average of $29 per state resident. It is unreasonable and disingenuous to criticize Ms. Lowell for her failure to maintain a full schedule of library services when the Legislature has not given her the funds required to do so.

The suggestion that you would not run "your own business" with employees who were not responsive to customers' desires ignores the fact that full services require adequate funding and that library staff are civil service employees with union contracts. Changes in staff schedule and assignments require negotiation with the unions and time to implement.

The budget cuts have to be made up this year with little time for planning or implementation of cost-reduction strategies. I am sure, by the way, that unions have their own views on using volunteers to supplement or replace library positions.

Virginia has incurred displeasure at the Legislature by resisting efforts to provide special benefits for particular libraries and unwillingness to open new libraries, specifically Kapolei, without a guarantee of adequate funding to maintain services. Her concern is that as the head of a statewide library system, she needs to work for adequate funding of all the state's libraries and resist special favors for a few, or special, but not fully funded projects that will undermine support for the library system and further dilate an already inadequate budget.

We are fortunate to have Virginia Lowell as our state librarian. She and the libraries deserve our support and the legislative honesty to admit that the libraries do not have the funding they need to provide full hours and services or to open and run the library of Kapolei.