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Lahaina Public Library a community lifeline

By Staff | Sep 3, 2009

The Lahainaluna High School Foundation hosted a tailgate party Saturday to raise money to “Redo the Imu” and build a modern sports stadium on campus, with festivities before the Luna varsity football team played the Red Raiders of Kauai High School. The Lunas lost 35-18. Next up for LHS will be the Maui High Sabers this Friday night, Sept. 4, at War Memorial Stadium. The junior varsity game will kick-off at 4:30 p.m., followed by the varsity game at 7 p.m. Photo by Walter Chihara.

LAHAINA — The Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS) must slash its operating costs, and Lahaina Public Library Librarian/Branch Manager Madeleine Long and other library managers have been told “there may be some changes.”

In State Librarian Richard Burns’ presentation on HSPLS’ proposed operating budget restrictions for fiscal year 2010 before the state Board of Education’s Committee on Budget and Fiscal Accountability last week Wednesday, Lahaina’s library was listed as a facility that “could close immediately.”

With a freeze implemented on all vacant positions, “Without temporary hires, these branches would not have the minimum staffing levels required to remain open to the public,” Burns’ report noted, citing Lahaina and two libraries on the Big Island.

Tenth District Rep. Angus McKelvey of Lahaina attended the meeting at the Queen Liliuokalani Building in Honolulu and told the panel, “The Lahaina library serves the entire area of West Maui, which on any given day has a population of about 20,000 people. West Maui has only one highway in and out of the area… if the Lahaina library is indeed closed, then the nearest available public library is located over 30 miles away in Wailuku.”

“In short, to simply shut down this historically valuable asset at a time when people need it the most, without looking at all the possibilities would be… penny wise but pound foolish.”

After the meeting, McKelvey said he doesn’t think the Lahaina facility will be closed.

Lahaina Public Library has seen its materials budget cut from roughly $30,000 in fiscal year 2009 to $11,000 in FY 2010, but Long and staff run a busy library with a friendly ‘ohana spirit.

“It’s just a really great place,” she said Friday. “Best job in the whole world.”

In this down economy, people use the library’s three computers with Internet service to look for work.

Children from nearby schools come to the library to do homework and read magazines.

Some residents have cut their cable television service to save money, and they rely on the library for $1 per week movie rentals, Long explained.

Larry Kuia entered the 680 Wharf St. facility when the doors opened Friday morning. The 58-year-old West Side resident read out loud there as a child to help cure his stuttering.

Kuia visits the library daily and reads “anything I can get my hands on.” He likes history books but often roams around until he finds something interesting.

Carl Berndt of Lahaina is another regular at the library. He likes to read the newspapers and hard-bound books.

Under standard, pre-recession staffing, the library should have a full-time librarian, library assistant, library technician and janitor, as well as a student helper.

Janitor Floyd Fuerte, a ten-year worker at the library and its large grounds, was recognized as an outstanding employee in the entire HSPLS in 2008.

Long’s technician position has been vacant since 2006, and she can’t fill it under the hiring freeze.

A staff of two, instead of three, with Long and Library Assistant Margo Gill provides service at the desk; cleans books, DVDs and CDs; handles customers’ requests for materials from other libraries; explains how to use the computers (both Internet and library reference); and provides information for Lahaina visitors and cruise ship arrivals looking for restrooms, among other tasks.

With $11,000 to spend on magazines, books, CDs and movies, Long and the staff “look for things people ask for,” she explained, and what moves off the shelves.

“We focus on what our patrons in Lahaina want and need,” Long added.

The library’s most popular offerings are Internet use, the Children’s Section, DVDs and music in the Media Section, adult fiction and newspapers and magazines.

The library also hosts summer reading programs and cultural performances through Friends of the Library of Hawaii, offers free emergency preparedness handbooks and provides public notices for review in West Maui.

Lahaina Public Library benefits greatly from volunteers Kana Shepard, Sharon Kelly, book mender Anne Burkhalter and many other residents and visitors, Long said.

Returning visitors George and Karen Miller and Barney and Patty Deden happily volunteer year after year at the open-air library overlooking Lahaina Harbor.

Students earn community service hours at the library cleaning and shelving books. (In 2008, Lahaina Public Library loaned 1,000 books per week.)

“If we didn’t have our volunteers, we’d really be hurting,” said Long.

It’s hard for a regular staff of two to provide good service, and Long thinks the library system should be adding programs — including more services for children — instead of cutting back.

“The staff is here because they like it,” Long said, adding that residents bring treats for the staff and media resources to donate.

“They’re just so kind. We’re really lucky.”

While options for library staffing are still under discussion, HSPLS recommends placing all employees on two- to four-day furloughs each month.

Long commented that state employee furloughs will impact workers on the lower end of the pay scale.

And closures — including a break scheduled for Sept. 12-21 due to a funding shortage (the book drop will be locked) — will impact library patrons, she said.

With 51 libraries and more than 500 employees statewide, HSPLS this fiscal year (July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010) is looking at a $3,580,998 deficit, Burns told the Board of Education (BOE).

McKelvey asked the BOE to look beyond the dollars and consider the area’s geographic isolation.

He challenged the state library system and BOE to look at other alternatives to help make up the funding and staffing shortfalls.

“Some ideas might be to create a volunteer program to help address the staffing situation without a complete closure,” McKelvey said. “Other ideas might be to work with community groups, such as the LahainaTown Action Committee, the Lahaina Rotary Clubs or the local PTAs, to develop community fund-raisers or ‘Adopt-a-Library’ programs, as was done with the ‘Save Our Sports’ campaign.”

McKelvey also urged the state to explore “kiosk partnerships — the state could enter into arrangements with private entities, such as coffee shops and food concessionaires, to operate at the library in exchange for rent and a proceed of the sales, similar to commercial book stores all across Hawaii.

Rep. McKelvey said that he and other lawmakers are willing to look at systemic funding ideas to help the libraries.

Hearing the news on the BOE meeting last week, Napili resident Terri C. Abay-Abay wrote a letter to County Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson, Sen. Roz Baker, McKelvey, Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Gov. Linda Lingle.

“I was at the Lahaina Library today, Aug. 25, 2009, and the librarian told me that she received news today of the possibility of the Lahaina Library closing! I’m sure you can imagine the terror that myself and thousands of others would feel if this became a reality. A community as large as West Maui needs a library,” Abay-Abay wrote.

“The Lahaina Library is an essential tool for continued education and recreational therapy for the entire community. We cannot possibly be without a library here in West Maui! Please don’t let this happen.

“I am writing to those of you that represent our lovely community of West Maui for help. What can we, the community, do so this does not happen? We need our Lahaina Library!”