Field Notes: A Spunky Little Library Supported Entirely By Donations
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: Makiki Community Library.
PhotoS: Aaron Yoshino
What it is
A scrappy, entirely donation-supported library completely outside of the state library system, in Makiki District Park. After a heated political battle to establish a state library in densely populated Makiki failed, the Makiki Community Library was founded in 1976 by Mayor Frank Fasi and Makiki-Mānoa state Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
The library has fought through lean times—changes in ownership and the occasional shutdown—to serve Makiki’s youngest and oldest. Open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the place costs $20,000 a year to run—covered entirely by donations from benefactors, community businesses and Friends of the Makiki Library members. The library offers free wi-fi, computer classes, comfortable chairs for reading and more than 17,000 donated books and DVDs available to rent (Hawai‘i State Library has more than 539,000.) The library is celebrating its 40th anniversary on Sept. 17 and 18 with a book sale.
Although small, the library attracts a diverse range of patrons.
More than 80 percent of all books checked out are children’s books. Easter egg hunts, a storytelling fairy godmother and stuffed animals perfect for snuggling with a good picture book help draw this younger audience.
Sisters in Crime:
Originally founded at the library in 2007 to support female mystery writers, this chapter of men and women authors meets on the third Wednesday of every month. “We represent quite a wide variety of genres,” says Gail Baugniet, the 70-year-old president of the Hawai‘i chapter. “Many of us write mysteries, but some of us also write science fiction, romance, memoirs. We produced an anthology of short stories together—mysteries set in Hawai‘i.”
Friends of Makiki Library:
A library card is free, but, for $10 a year, a patron can become a member of the Friends of Makiki Library. Membership gets you early access to book sales, more DVDs each week and a vote during the annual meetings. The Friends of Makiki Library has 11 board members and reopened the doors of the library in 2009 after significant renovations. “It took us about a year before we could open the doors to the public,” says Wendy Maxwell, president of the Friends of the Makiki Library and a retired librarian at Mid-Pacific Institute. “We couldn’t walk farther than 10 feet from the door because of boxes and books.”
With only one paid staff member, volunteers are the lifeblood of the library—checking out books and renting DVDs to patrons and members. During normal operating hours, the library needs at least three or four volunteers. During Easter egg hunts and book sales, the library needs all the volunteers it can get.
Looking to the future
After decades of campaigning to have the Makiki Community Library acquired by the state library system, it might actually be happening. The state Legislature appropriated $1 million in fiscal year 2016–2017 to design a new public library in Makiki Park. Even if the library is absorbed sometime next year, Maxwell says it will retain the comfortable, homey environment that makes it special.
The Big Friends:
The state-run libraries sometimes purchase donated books from the Friends of Makiki Library.
The Fasi Section:
A civil service, politics and law section devoted to Frank Fasi who, with Neil Abercrombie, helped found the library 40 years ago.
The Angel Donor:
An anonymous member who donated $25,000 to the Friends of Makiki Library in 2012 to add barcodes to the books and automate the entire library. “Wendy drafted my 90-year-old mother to barcode books,” remembers Harold Burger, a member of the board.
Gail Baugniet, 70, president of Sisters in Crime and board member, Mānoa
“One time we had a personal tour of the police department and its library. That was cool, it gave us a lot of information to use as writers.”
Harold Burger, 71, retired Navy and board member, Makiki
“We get a lot of duplicate books. Just how many James Pattersons can you handle!?”
Elizabeth Marabelles, 55, computer class student, Waikīkī
“I’m going into business with a friend at the end of the year, so I need to learn a lot more. I just learned how to make files, copy and paste, and search the internet. I just sent an email with an attachment!”
Some rare books donated to the library are valued at more than $3,500. Don’t expect to find them on the shelves, though. Rare books are sold to cover expenses.