Gov. Neil Abercrombie (center with lei) renews his library card at the new Manoa Public Library while State Librarian Richard Burns looks on.
Image: Wanda A. Adams

At the Mānoa Public Library, the future is now

Community / Before attending the June 9 opening of the new Manoa Public Library, I looked back at the Hawaii State Library system’s strategic plan for the years to find a gratifying number of the goals accomplished, and otherseclipsed–particularly by the latest developments in technology.

For example, .

who knew in 2005 that the entire 50-library system would need, or come to have, WiFi in 2012?

That the Gates Foundation, via a grant matched through the efforts of the Friends of the Library of Hawaii, would give us the first 1,500-class IT University in the nation, certified online courses free from Microsoft?

Or that thousands of patrons not only want, but be able to download audio and e-books at the library (or from it, remotely)?

In fact, one of the biggest needs today is a very basic one: Space. Oh, and electrical outlets. Increasingly, as people bring their own laptops and other devices to the library, what they need is table space and somewhere to plug in to save battery power. They troll the library online while they’re actually in it.

“Libraries today are so technology-based and technology has advanced so exponentially in the last five years–and we expect it to continue to do so–that it’s extremely difficult to project into the future,” said state librarian Richard Burns.

And whoever thinks libraries are irrelevant in the era of the web should have been there just after after kumu Mahealani Wong blessed the Manoa Library opening with water, salt and ti leaves, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie untwined the maile.

Within minutes, while the press was focused on Abercrombie renewing his library card, one of the first through the door, a kupuna in a bright hat, had plopped herself in front of one of the new computers and was near-sightedly looking up something up online. A family of four had already borrowed the first books. Over in the children’s section, while others were still making their way up the stairs, Craig Chung was reading aloud to his son, Matthew, 3.

“I used to come here to do my homework when I was in school,” Chung recalled. But this library is twice as big as the one in which he used to sweat (literally; there was no A/C) over his geometry, and it’s built “green” (already awarded a Leadership in Eenrgy and Environmental Design Silver Certificate). “It’s amazing.”

The affection in Chung’s voice would have been familiar to any librarian: People remember their childhood home libraries as readily as they recall their first classrooms or teachers. There are even mixed feelings when the old buildings are closed to make way for newer, more updated and upgraded spaces.

That’s one reason that State Sen. Brian Taniguchi of Manoa got the idea of holding pre-design brainstorming sessions: so that people’s ideas about what the library should offer, should look like, should be, could be heard.

It’s also one reason that the old library was memorialized in a goodbye talk-story session before it was razed, and that there was a “book brigade” from the interim building across the street to the new one on June 9–each participant ceremonially ferrying just one book over as a way to say “aloha.”

In his remarks at the opening, Taniguchi recalled that then-branch manager Ann Fujioka took him on a tour of the old building when he was a newly elected state representative. “She pestered me for a larger library for 30 years,” he said. But it took him some time to garner the legislative chops to tackle the project, until 2001, when he became chairman of the Senate Ways and Means committee.

On opening day, Manoa Public Library branch manager Christel Collins was looking rather like a woman who’d just given birth–her delicate skin flushed, her smile wide. It had been rather a long labor: First, budget cuts that delayed the opening of the Kapolei library delayed the project, approved by the legislature in 2005. The funds were released in early 2006, with a hoped-for opening date of October, 2011.

There was a bump when a planned rock facade didn’t turn out as anyone liked and the library system (which had stockpiled funds for overages) couragously called a halt and went to Plan B, Territorial Era-style cream stucco. “We could have opened, then closed for completion and opened again but we were lucky to have an interrim building, so we said, ‘Let’s wait and do it right.’”

Her advice for librarians in ‘Aiea, Waikoloa and Nanakuli, whose libraries are next on the make-new list: “Hold on to your hats! And be prepared to be patient.”

She said the thing that made all the work of every kind worth it was the way that the process built up the library’s strength in the community and the community’s strength through getting the library they helped plan and envision and, of course, pay for.

State librarian Burns concurred, noting the number of people who showed up on a sunny Saturday morning–400 at first count and newcomers continued to stream in throughout the four hours of opening activity.

There were many warm moments during the event but my favorite came in a conversation with Young Adult librarian Jan Kamiya.

She was reveling in the idea of space–room for 10 laptop computers, two desktops, five public access ports. And she was delighted that, finally, she could offer youth in-house WiFi.

We were talking about how, despite owning and using e-readers ourselves, we both still want a “real” book to hold.

I recalled that I’d come to appreciate a fine piece of bookmaking after reading the 1949 George Orwell novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

“Oh!,” she said, doing that thing that no amount of WiFi will change in libarians: jumping directly to a book recommendation.“Have you read ‘The Book Thief’ by Marcus Zugak? It’s young adult but any age can read it and …”

Sometimes, the past is now, too.

Manoa Public Library, 2716 Woodlawn Dr.