Letters — Library Access: A No-Brainer

Our public library is a bright spot in a poor rural community such as Pahoa. It should be a no-brainer that this most delightful of American institutions should be well-funded, supported, and thriving.  At the February 25 talk-story session held at the Keaau Girl Scout Center, Senator Ruderman announced, “It is my understanding that Senator Tokuda is putting in a request to the DOE budget for a feasibility study for a new Pahoa Library.  The study would cost $300, 000.” A new library tops the list of legislative priorities for the upcoming year. It would take five to seven years before Pahoa would see a new library.

The tiny library on the Pahoa High and Intermediate School campus is off-limits to its students and serves as a community library, instead.

For five years, our community library has failed to serve students.

Most parents don’t know that their children can’t access the library during school. Most students jump onto buses soon after the end of the school day. Checking out books, returning them on time, and all the other rituals inherent in library use go by the wayside if one does not step inside a library. This is part of growing up in a democratic society. Early respect for books means respect for writers, for scholarship itself. Being a habitual library user can help in all kinds of situations. Much the center of activity in a community, a library is a like a business, or the post office, except that it is free.

It would seem the solution to this five-year plus problem would be simple and straightforward.  It is not. Instead, the needs of Pahoa students have conveniently been ignored—enormous amounts of funds are spent all in the name of standardized testing.  Why not use some of that money to fund our library, allow students access, and therefore raise literacy by nurturing critical thinking.

Who should put the brakes on this blatant abuse? President Obama has shown concern for the disparity between rich and poor.  Rural communities in Hawaii continue to be ignored, just as ground will be broken for the Obama Presidential Library on Oahu. Why is there no equivalent library resource here in Pahoa? Why shouldn’t this extend to our library and to our students?

More visitors have guest cards than do resident children. This seems unbalanced.

Perhaps with a resolution by Senator Ruderman this idea could be kept alive:  everyone and especially Pahoa students really do need access to universal resources that our library system provides. Stay tuned for exciting updates.


  Susan Kay Anderson and Virginia Brautigan Aste

6 replies
  1. Rene Siracusa
    Rene Siracusa says:

    While I certainly agree with you, I want to point out that there was a very important piece of information that you omitted, and that will clarify the problem and, hopefully help direct us to the solution: There has been no school librarian for the past 5 years, which is why the students can’t use the library during school hours.

    Perhaps a petition to the DOE urging them to put the funding of a school librarian for Pahoa in the budget for the next fiscal year, and then actually hiring one, would move things along. If all the students were to take home a copy of such a petition, that could get the ball rolling. I’m sure that if the letter is submitted with support letters from our legislators, we have a better chance of getting some action until a new library (with parking) can be built.

  2. Hugh Clark
    Hugh Clark says:

    Rene makes fine points.

    How do you improve if you don’t operate what you have?

    Pahoa has been ignored by Honolulu power brokers since I came to Hawaii Count in 1966 when there was a serious effort to shut down the highs school.

    Poor to fully dysfunctional Puna presence at the legislature since after Richard Lyman is a key part of the problem. A community that engages in ceaseless civil war while it is being denied basic government does itself no service.

    It is the attributable cause of lacking medical services and safe highway access to its only hospital or airport. Bad planning and poor leadership imperils this important part of the island.

    Underscores my feeling that having struck out twice in football (among my favorite sports), this community should refocuse on something as basic as a functional library.

  3. Susan Kay Anderson
    Susan Kay Anderson says:

    Renee and Hugh,
    Thanks so much for reading this and for your thoughtful responses. Yes, there needs to be funding!

    A new petition is a good idea.

  4. Susan Kay Anderson
    Susan Kay Anderson says:

    This was HCR237, introduced by Reps. Creagan, Aquino, and Hanohano three weeks ago:


    It was referred to the Education and Finance Committees but did not go further.

  5. Rene Siracusa
    Rene Siracusa says:

    Mahalo, Susan, for sharing the info about HCR237. The fact that it did not go further could very well be attributed to the fact that people didn’t know about it, and therefore it did not receive enough supporting testimony. If a petition had been submitted as testimony, it might have gotten further.

    So… this is not the end. This Reso could be re-submitted and you need to do some major outreach in advance, petition included, to get the support. Perhaps if you do some research and learn what other schools in the state do not have a school librarian, and then contact them and put up a “united front”, more legislators would see it as a political no-brainer and support it.

    I wish you luck… and stamina.

  6. Susan Kay Anderson
    Susan Kay Anderson says:

    Here is what our friend, Cheryl King, presented to the BOE last week:

    To: Members of the Board of Education
    Donald G. Horner, Chair, Brian De Lima, Vice-Chair,
    Amy Asselbaye, Jim Williams, Keith Amemiya, Patricia Halagao, Nancy
    Budd, Grant Chun, Jannah Dela Cruz, and Col. James Pease

    From: Cheryl King

    Subject: School Libraries

    Date: April 24, 2014

    Numerous studies have demonstrated that “even when economic, educational, and other community variables are taken into consideration, students with credentialed school librarians, support staff, and resource rich school libraries outperform students who do not have those resources.”

    However, it appears that the school libraries in Hawaii are in a state of crisis.
    In the lengthy D.O.E. parent survey that was sent home last year, not one question asked specifically about the school’s library, its staff, the resources in its collection, or a student’s ability to go to the library when needed. This is telling.

    We have lost qualified school librarians at an alarming rate.

    Principals are deciding that the Weighted School Formula (WSF) does not give them enough funding to hire a librarian with a Master’s in Library Science and some school libraries are being staffed by a succession of unqualified aides or teachers who are not qualified to keep the position.

    This is deceiving to students, parents, and community members who assume that the person running the library is actually a professional librarian, in line with D.O.E.’s efforts to hire “highly qualified teachers”, of which the librarian is one.

    Kealakehe Middle School has not had a qualified librarian since the librarian whose efforts spearheaded the building of the beautiful new library retired a few years ago. The Konawaena Schools have been especially hard hit. The High School librarian has been notified that his position will be reduced to half time next year as has the librarian at Konawaena Elementary, who is retiring. Konawaena Middle School has not had a qualified librarian in over 4 years and both middle school libraries have frequently been closed for lack of staff. I have been told that none of the other elementary schools feeding into Konawaena have librarians either.

    Elsewhere in our area, the Honokaa School libraries do not have any qualified school librarians in their libraries while the plight of the over 700 students at Pahoa High and Intermediate School is well known. They have a combined public/school library on their campus, but for lack of their own school librarian working there, are not allowed to go during the school day unless accompanied by a staff member.

    Several months ago, I tried to get a handle on just how widespread the problem is
    by officially asking D.O.E. for specific data on each school library and staff. Although helpful, the Data Governance Office in the end had to tell me that the information I requested was not available in a public format and that my request could not be fulfilled at this time. The School Library Services Office told me that there were 255 public schools with a total of 179 library positions. A school website I was referred to did not indicate whether a school’s “librarian” was qualified to fill the position.

    For that reason, I would like to ask the Board to study this problem and to request a detailed report concerning the State of Hawaii’s public school libraries, to be made available to all who request it.

    To be helpful, this school year 2013-14 report should include:
    (1) Whether or not each public school has a library, specifying if it is a shared public/school library facility;
    (2) Staffing levels at each library including staff qualifications: professional school librarian with an M.L.S. or teacher put in charge of the library, and assigned clerical staff; Full time or part-time status should be indicated.
    (3) Amount of money actually spent for library materials from the school budget;
    (4) Whether or not students and teachers have full time access to the library as needed during the day, including recess and any before or after school time; and
    (5) Official student populations for 2013-2014; and
    (6) The report should also include any projected changes to library
    staff next year, such as the announced reduction of the Konawaena High School and Elementary School M.L.S. Librarian positions to half time or the hiring of a qualified librarian for next year.

    I also ask the Board and its appointed Committee on Weights to consider adopting a Weighted Student Formula that reserves a portion of the funding for the hiring of qualified school librarians or to set aside such funding outside of the WSF.

    School libraries need new materials to keep up with curriculum needs and student reading interests. Please consider establishing a base amount that must be allocated to each school library to provide basic library materials to its students, followed by an additional per pupil allocation to each library.

    All of our students have the right to an “equal” education . Please consider my requests in an effort to provide all of our students with full time access to their school libraries and qualified staff to help them achieve their maximum potential .

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