The library at Waiākea Middle School in Hilo is closing permanently.
According to a letter Principal Lisa Souza sent to parents this week, budget challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the administration to eliminate the librarian position for the 2020-21 school year. For the past two years, the library has had only one clerk who, by union contract, is not allowed to perform the duties of a librarian.
Read the full letter below.
Books not brought by teachers for their classes will be donated to the public library.
Cristin Gallagher, parent of an eighth grader at the school, said she was shocked to learn of the library’s closure.
“I just think it’s so weird that it’s happening quietly and they think classroom libraries can replace the central library,” she told Big Island Now.
The letter stated that with the school continuing to focus on literacy, the decision was made to redistribute the library collection to classrooms and purchase new books to keep the selection fresh and interesting.
Through this new system, the letter indicates that students can make requests to their teachers if there is a book they would like to see in their classroom library, which also gives students broader and more easy to read because students can access these libraries every day, multiple times a day.
Gallagher said the library is more than a repository for books. It is an area that provides a common space for children to learn. It is a place to study. And it is a comfortable place where students can relax and read.
“There’s so much a library can do for these kids and they put the responsibility on our teacher,” she said. “Our teachers have so much work to do and now the administration is asking them to have classroom libraries.”
Big Island Now has reached out to Principal Souza for further comment on this story. She responded by email through the Ministry of Education’s media relations team.
Souza said teachers have a say in decisions related to school budget challenges and future plans for the library’s collection. A classroom library is optional for teachers, but the principal said many teachers took the opportunity to get books for their classrooms.
“Feedback from teachers since then has been positive — now students can do research without having to schedule time in the library,” Souza said. “As a teacher-led initiative, English teachers have been asked to integrate student choice into their classroom libraries and order books several times a year.”
As they work to empty the library, Souza said students will have the option of taking books home. A book fair is also planned for November and the remainder will be donated to the Hawaii Public Library.
Souza’s letter also said the school had invested in a new digital library. Each Waiākea Intermediate student has a school-provided computer that allows them to access digital books. The aim of the classroom libraries as well as the digital library was to increase students’ access to books.
“Online content cannot replace the library,” Gallagher said. “My child likes to have a book in his hand when he falls asleep.”
Gallagher said that while the school tries to promote literacy, the school doesn’t seem to understand the importance of the library in that effort.
She also fears that if school libraries close, state libraries will be next on the budget.
Big Island Now has requested comment from the state Department of Education. The ministry provided Souza’s letter and comments.
According to DOE spokesperson Nanea Kalani, principals have the authority to close libraries in consultation with their complex area superintendents and departmental policies to make decisions in the best interest of their school communities.