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Changes to Kealakekua Public Library schedule add hours, end Saturday access

July 8, 2017 - 12:05am

KAILUA-KONA — It was a decision measured in hours.

Beginning June 1, the Kealakekua Public Library swapped out its old schedule for a new one intended to accommodate a majority of library users during the majority of operating hours.

The revised schedule increased weekly accessibility from 22 hours to 30 hours, but eliminated Saturdays from the lineup. That element of the change has been met with some resistance — including a few letters to the editor to West Hawaii Today — in the subsequent weeks following its implementation.

“I was kind of surprised,” said Megan Mitchell, who lives mauka in Kealakekua and is an avid weekend user of the library. “The only day I can go is Saturday, so I started thinking if I can’t go anymore, how about other working parents and kids? I’m concerned about kids not being able to walk into a library on the weekend and be surrounded by all the brilliant minds of the world.”

Stacey Aldrich, Hawaii state librarian, said discussions about alterations to library schedules were held even before her tenure and options are being considered for libraries statewide to maximize access.

Each community is different in terms of who uses the local library and how, she explained. A survey was conducted at libraries in Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona and Naalehu over the month of February to understand better what the more rural populations of the Big Island preferred.

Of nearly 200 people surveyed, 90 percent indicated they preferred a change of some sort to the operating schedule in Kealakekua — which at the time offered a total of 22 hours of access weekly, closed by 4 p.m. every day except for Wednesday, and was closed all day on Thursday and Sunday.

“There were some folks in the community that wanted to see longer hours and more consistent hours,” said Aldrich, adding that more evening hours is the most frequent request she has encountered. “We regret we can’t meet everyone’s needs. Given the survey we did, we tried to meet as many as possible.”

The two alternative options on the table each involved extending library access to 30 hours per week. One of those options included a 10 a.m.-3 p.m. shift on Saturdays. One included access only on weekdays. It was the latter option that won the most support, chosen by 54 percent of those surveyed with support from substantial majorities of voters who cast their ballots in Kealakekua and Kailua-Kona.

Carol Dodd, who visits the Kealakekua Public Library several times weekly, said Friday that removing Saturday from the schedule didn’t cause her any personal problems with accessibility. It was the opposite, in fact.

“The new hours here allow me to come in more often because before they were closed Thursdays, and on Wednesdays they opened late in the afternoon,” said Dodd, who lives in Ocean View but works weekdays in Kealakekua. “I couldn’t come because I only come on my lunch break, so that opens it up for me.”

Sandia Siegel has been frequenting the library for almost 30 years and used to bring her godchildren in with her when they were younger. She also had no issues with the change.

“I don’t know how much the library was used on Saturdays,” Siegel said. “Kids were usually busy going to the beach or doing outdoor things, so they would come after school (on weekdays).”

Aldrich said based on the surveys and her research, Saturdays have continued to provide more minimal traffic in Kealakekua. She added that the Kailua-Kona Public Library opens its doors on Saturday, providing a nearby option for those seeking weekend access.

Mitchell countered that argument, saying the Kailua-Kona location is 10 miles away and the West Hawaii bus system is “limited.”

Hele-On bus services in Kona were recently suspended as half of Hawaii County’s bus fleet sat inoperable, though Oahu has since sent seven new buses to help alleviate the situation.

“We don’t want a generation of mauka Kona kids growing up without access to Kealakekua (Public) Library on the weekends,” said Mitchell, adding increased weekend programming efforts might bolster Saturday usage of the facility. “The role of libraries is guaranteeing that access to knowledge.”

Aldrich acknowledged she has heard some concern about the lack of weekend access under the new schedule and said she’s currently reviewing staff numbers and hours policies to see if it’s possible to restore some of that access on a limited basis.

“We may not be able to do every Saturday, but I’m trying to look at what resources we might have to try to look at doing one Saturday a month, at least,” she said.

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