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Librarian shortage impacts Big Island schools, students

December 12, 2013 - 8:56am


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Students at five Big Island public schools have limited access to on-campus library facilities.

According to information provided by the Hawaii State Department of Education, Pahoa High and Intermediate School, along with Pahoa Elementary, Ka‘u High and Pahala Elementary School, Keaau Middle School and Mountain View Elementary, must use a Hawaii State Public Library System library as their own.

Since none of the schools has a school librarian, students are unable to visit the libraries during normal school hours unless accompanied by a teacher or school administrator.

Local librarians and educators spoke out about what they see as a troublesome issue for Big Island schools and students during a November meeting of the Board of Education for the Hilo-Waiakea Complex.

“I’m very concerned because we’re developing some inequality because so many of our school libraries no longer have librarians,” Keaau High School librarian Helie Rock said to BOE officials.

Whether to fund a school librarian position is up to an individual school’s administrators, who, in turn, receive funding from the DOE. The Hawaii State Public Library System is separate from the DOE, but both institutions report to the BOE.

Keith Fujio, special assistant to the state librarian, said the libraries built on school campuses were originally intended to serve the schools and the public. However, through the years, community membership increased while school librarian positions have been cut because of tight budgets. As a result, conflicts have been created concerning when and how students can use the facilities.

“That’s the problem we’re having — schools terminating and not refilling school librarian positions,” Fujio said.

Darlene Bee, principal at Pahoa High and Intermediate School, said the librarian position was eliminated in 2009 and students have since been able to access the library during school hours if teachers give two weeks advance notice and escort them to the facility.

“We would love to have our own library, if that’s the case, but that’s not going to be my priority right now because students are able to have access to it right now,” she said.

Former Pahoa High student Jeffrey Oher graduated a year after the librarian position was eliminated. He said he didn’t mind adjusting to the new system.

“It wasn’t too bad. I think it was OK because I still had access, but sometimes it was inconvenient because I couldn’t use it all the time,” he said.

Brian De Lima, Hawaii Island representative for the BOE, acknowledged at the November meeting the situation at Pahoa needs attention.

“At Pahoa, they have a public library that’s attached to the school and it presents some challenges for that school and is something we really need to take a look at,” he said.

De Lima later said he was not aware of any complaints concerning availability of the libraries at the other four schools. He added administrators were mainly concerned with addressing security issues that have arisen from the lack of supervision at the Pahoa library.

“The only concerns that have been raised have been at Pahoa, and issues haven’t come up elsewhere,” he said.

Email Megan Moseley at