Libraries begin furloughs
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
Locked doors and darkened rooms met library patrons yesterday as the state's library system became the latest state agency to furlough workers in a bid to address a worsening budget crunch.
A steady stream of people who went to the Hawai'i State Library on King Street yesterday morning were met with small signs in the window with information on the 15 furlough days library workers will take through May. Library workers will also be on furlough for 15 days next fiscal year.
"How sad," said Roman Maziarz, 52, of KaimukÝ, after seeing the state library was closed. Maziarz was hoping to do some research, and said the closures show the "misplaced priorities" of how state money is spent. "It's a very major shock," he said. "It's a real bottom-line institution."
But others said they understand the closures, given the shape of the state's budget.
"It's an inconvenience but what are you going to do?" said Kimo Kimura, 54.
Kimura, who lives at Ala Wai Boat Harbor, planned to use the Internet at the state library yesterday. He said everyone is giving up something in today's economy, and library users are "just going to have to bite the bullet" until the state's financial picture improves and furloughs end.
Libraries on the Mainland are also taking furloughs to stay afloat, while others are cutting service hours or shutting down. But the effect of the furloughs to Hawai'i's 51 libraries is unique, since Hawai'i has the nation's only statewide library system. All Hawai'i libraries closed yesterday.
"Other states don't have that kind of broad impact," said state Librarian Richard Burns.
The furlough plan for libraries will save about $700,000 this fiscal year, he said.
The library system is also taking other measures to save money, including leaving about 80 jobs vacant. The system has about 556 positions statewide. Its annual budget is about $27 million.
Burns said the furloughs are difficult, but are better than the alternatives. "I think our staff and the public realize Hawai'i is facing a significant financial crisis. There are libraries that are being closed (on the Mainland)," he said yesterday, adding that most of the furloughs at libraries are on Wednesdays so they'll be open on Fridays, when public schools are closed for furloughs.
The dire situation at libraries has set off a flurry of fundraising, as Friends of the Library organizations try to help their struggling branches. A few big donors have also come forward, including Dr. Lawrence Tseu, a Honolulu dentist and philanthropist, who will hand over a check for $20,000 to Burns today at the state library. Tseu's donation will go to the "Keep Your Library Open" campaign, which as of Dec. 11 had collected about $130,000. The presentation will kick off a free concert.
Garrett Toguchi, the chairman of the Board of Education, which oversees the library system, yesterday said the furloughs for libraries are especially tough now as those who have lost their jobs are increasingly using the computers at libraries to search for jobs. Library patronage also increases during tough economic times as people search for free, educational activities.
"We appreciate everybody's patience and understanding. We also appreciate their continued patronage," Toguchi said. He added with the furloughs, library patrons aren't "just missing an open door, an open building. They're missing programs that serve preschoolers" and students through high school. "They're missing services that support seniors and our immigrant population."
At the state library yesterday, several people rattled the locked doors before reading the sign that said the library was closed. Some said they didn't know library workers were taking furloughs.
Katie Friedman, who lives near Tripler Army Medical Center and who recently moved to the Islands, said she had been using computers at the library to update her resume and apply for jobs.
"This is a much-needed service. This is for the people," she said.
Kevin McCarthy, 52, who is homeless, said it's bad enough to have furloughs at public schools.
"I think it's terrible," said McCarthy, who comes to the library almost daily.
Leslie Foster brought four children she was baby-sitting along with her 11-year-old son to the library for what she thought would be a fun, educational day. Her son, who is in private school and on holiday break, was going to do some research. The 1-year-olds were going to read picture books.
With the library closed, the group went to see Christmas decorations at Honolulu Hale.
Foster, 47, of Kuli'ou'ou, said she doesn't like the idea of libraries taking furlough days.
"I have a hard enough time with the schools" taking furloughs, she said.