Letters from the Road - Closing Celebration

Closing celebration-Spirit of Aloha: Hawaii Libraries Light the Path, August 7, 2020, Honolulu, Hawaii, Holding Space: A  national conversation with libraries

Aloha from Hawaii,

For the last stop on our 12-stop virtual tour, through the magic of technology, our bus hopped the ocean and stopped at the Hawaii State Public Library

We were joined on our grand finale of the Holding Space tour by legislators in Hawaii who are champions for libraries for a discussion entitled “Spirit of Aloha: Hawaii Libraries Light the Path.” We also heard about the thriving Hawaiian library ecosystem, as we talked with rising library leaders in the state, who shared their thoughts and vision about the future of librarianship.

We hear so much in the media about our divided country, but this tour has shown people across the country what a uniting force libraries can be. Different organizations unite to improve and advance the profession.

Local libraries and library workers belong to a larger ecosystem of consortia and associations that expand resources available to the communities we serve. And people of different backgrounds, socioeconomic levels and beliefs walk through the doors both literally and figuratively of their school, academic, public, or special library to engage in the shared purposes of improving lives and building strong communities.

Hawaii’s library system spans six islands and has 51 branches. State librarian Stacey Aldrich said as much of the library is moving toward technology, the human connection is going to continue to be important, bringing communities together and moving them forward.

We received a warm welcome from Keikilani Meyer, Librarian, Kamehameha Schools, who invoked the spirit of Aloha with a chant called Aloha. Meyer also spoke about her schools’ approach to access. Students are offered three modalities of learning – traditional in-class instruction, distance learning and a blending of both. Some of the students travel as far as away as 68 miles just to get to school. It makes digital access critically important. One concern is that not a lot of Hawaiian books are digitized.

We were honored to have Congressman Ed Case, who represents Hawaii’s first congressional district. He said libraries have a special place in his heart, since his mother was a children’s librarian. He said the library system’s 51 branches are central to its communities, and in a time when we face various attempts to manipulate the truth, libraries are the holders of truth.

Hawaii State Library

We were also pleased to be joined by Hawaii State Senator Ron Kouchi, who complimented library employees for being the first employees to volunteer at the state’s call center to respond to people seeking unemployment insurance payouts.

State Representative Della Au Belatti also thanked libraries for being among the first state agencies to address the needs of Hawaiians remotely, often providing resources immediately. She said libraries are safe harbors to the community, providing a place where children can imagine their futures.

Library service to children was discussed by Catherine Payne, chairperson of the state board of education. She praised the outstanding cooperation between the schools and the public library system.

We heard from some of the rising leaders in the profession. including Gailyn Bopp, assistant professor and associate archivist at Brigham Young University’s Hawaii campus, who said it is important for librarians to be culturally aware of their communities. She warned against falling into a complacency that prevents us from listening when people are asking for change.

Another rising leader, Sharrese Castillo, branch manager of the Wahiawa Public Library, said libraries are living organisms that must adapt to patrons’ wants and needs. She said her library responds by offering curbside service during the pandemic. She said the Hawaii public library system is helping to close the digital divide.

Her library fills important patron needs. Patrons can file unemployment claims, find jobs, and fill out their tax forms. It has also built relationships with school libraries.

Yet another rising leader, Kelsey Faradineh, branch manager of the Nanakuli Public Library, said the library was a long-demanded addition to her community. She believes in looking beyond the four walls of the library and being connected and responsive to her community. This was reflected in the design of the two-year-old building, modeled on a Hawaiian village. The library has offered everything from a farmer’s market to ukulele classes and genealogy workshops.

These rising leaders are leading right now.

As we conclude this tour, I would like to thank everyone who joined me on the bus these past two weeks. It has been a lot of fun making this virtual trek across our library landscape. My only regret is that we cannot celebrate in person.

When I planned this tour, I intended to travel across the country and spend time face-to-face with library workers, library volunteers, community leaders, elected officials, and other stakeholders. But while we are distanced, I have learned is our community is strong.

We have covered a lot of ground and spoken with the diverse range of library communities. I visited very different places, each uniquely special, but the vision for libraries in those places and here today has common threads that weave us together in a pact for the future.

As we get ready to turn this bus around and head back home, there remains much work to be done for ALA members and the larger library community.

Your active involvement in state and national associations is important for that work. So is Congressional support for libraries so we can keep doing critical work on our behalf of our communities.

Ask your federal officials to cosponsor the Library Stabilization Fund Act.

We appreciate everyone who has hopped aboard this virtual bus during the past few weeks. These conversations will definitely continue.

Thank you, once again, for holding space.