For rent: Your local library

  • Hawaii State Library in Honolulu. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)
  • Books at the Hilo Public Library. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)
  • Interior courtyard of the Hilo Public Library. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)
  • Te ‘E‘a o Te Turama presents a free program of Polynesian music and dance Dec. 12 at the Kailua-Kona Public Library. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — A bill that would rent out library land and facilities as a way to generate revenue is proceeding through the state Legislature as quietly as libraries themselves.

SB 2919 sets up a pilot program at three libraries in the state where leases of up to 55 years would be granted to lessees selected in a competitive process by the Department of Education. Money from the leases would be deposited in a newly created libraries facility fund to be used for state library programs.


The Board of Education may select up to five public library land sites as candidates for participation in the pilot program before choosing three. During the identification and selection process, the board must hold at least one public meeting in each affected community and foster library and community participation, under the measure.

The bill is scheduled to be heard today by the House Finance Committee. With only minor changes, it’s already unanimously passed three Senate committees, two House committees and the full Senate.

State Librarian Stacey Aldrich has offered comments during the committee hearings supporting the concept.

“In general, the HSPLS supports the intent to identify revenue generating programs to meet the mission of the public library system,” Aldridch told the House Committees on Education and Water and Land. “The HSPLS notes, however, that it currently does not hold title to the lands under which the public libraries sit, nor that it has the expertise necessary to guide the HSPLS through a pilot program which involves the redevelopment, and leasing and management of library lands.”

An aide said Monday the program is modeled after the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, where school facilities are used during non-school hours by groups providing educational opportunities and a safe environment for children of working parents.

But one testifier warned of setting a dangerous precedent.

“This bill is another example of gentrification and commercialization of public lands,” said Diane Marshall of Feed the Street, which regularly fed homeless people last year on the grounds of the Hawaii State Library in Honolulu.

“We should not have to pay for rest and relaxation or access to public spaces,” Marshall added in written testimony. “The public should not have to suffer any inconveniences so the state can make more money. The library should not have to generate funds for their own maintenance.”

Sen. Michelle Kidani, D-Mililani, the sponsor of the measure, didn’t return a telephone call to her office by press time Monday.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, and Sen. Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, were among the co-signers on the bill.

Ruderman said he didn’t like the idea that the libraries aren’t being funded sufficiently by the state and have to resort to leasing facilities. But he said there are safeguards in place to protect the public.

“There’s absolutely no intention to charge the public for library use,” Ruderman said. “It’s a way of raising funds for library programs.”

Rep. Richard Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano, is one of three representatives who’ve voted with reservations on the measure. Onishi said Monday the bill isn’t clear on what it hopes to accomplish.


“What exactly is possible? Are they looking at libraries that are not needed, to rent them out to raise revenue?” Onishi asked. “Or are improvements needed that someone can help pay for? Are they thinking of putting in a Starbucks? … It’s very unclear as to what is possible.”

Both Ruderman and Onishi said they’re working to get new libraries in their districts. Ruderman said a Puna regional library is sorely needed, while Onishi said he’d like to see a Keaau community library to replace current public libraries that are on school campuses.

  1. KonaDude April 3, 2018 3:34 am

    The starbucks isn’t a bad idea. Most big box book stores have a built in coffee shop. Books and coffee go together well like Forrest and Jenny and peas and carrots. It might generate some needed cash if you can figure out how to operate it without the governments heavy hand. I can’t think of anything the government runs that turns a profit!

    1. foodiesleuth April 3, 2018 7:02 am

      IF, (which I’m not sure is a good idea) they go with the idea of opening a coffee shop inside the libraries, I would discourage a mainland franchise such as Starbucks. There are already plenty of those around. We have locally owned coffee companies and farms. I would prefer to help local business rather than a mainland one.

      1. KonaDude April 3, 2018 8:17 am

        I agree with the local coffee but a local business couldn’t make any money in this setting. I think the coffee shop profits need to go towards the library needs and what local business would go for that?

        1. foodiesleuth April 4, 2018 6:55 am

          …and do you think Starbucks or any other mainland coffee franchise will give the profits to the library system? Dream on…

          1. KonaDude April 4, 2018 9:19 am

            Isn’t that what I just said??

  2. Buds4All April 4, 2018 4:07 am

    Let’s start by first looking at why the public library or any public facility is failing? The individuals running them are probably an issue here and their value needs to be evaluated first before we start turning public owned property into profit centers. Secondly there would be a need for over site because I would presume between the people approving and then running these sites would be vulnerable to kickbacks and unethical behavior? BTW is another added expense. And since this is public owned should it not be voted upon? First if allowed @ all and secondly vote by the owners (we the tax payer) as to what type of business should be allowed. This is another example of Government over reaching and covering up a poor job done running and specifically designed facility. Another item is renting out of schools to have church’s/religious organizations worship there. It opens the door to lawsuits. Example here is say you allow a Catholic group to rent a school and say a Islamic group now wants to rent the same space at the same time or a different one how is a decision made? I am sure one group or another would feel discriminated and this would get caught up in the legal system. I do not this using public property/land for anything other than it’s intended original use is a wise move and is really a cover up for our inept Government Leadership.

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