Waiākea Intermediate school closes library due to budget issues

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The library at Waiākea Intermediate School in Hilo is closing permanently.

According to a letter sent by Principal Lisa Souza to parents this week, budgetary challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced the administration to eliminate the librarian position for the 2020-21 school year. For the past two years the library has had only a clerk, which by union contract is not allowed to perform the duties of a librarian.

Read full letter below.

Waiakea Intermediate Letter to Families by Tiffany De Masters on Scribd

Books not taken by teachers for their classrooms will be donated to the public library.

Cristin Gallagher, a parent to an eighth grader at the school, said she was shocked to learn about the library closing.


“I just think it’s so strange that it was quietly happening and they think classroom libraries can replace the central library,” she told Big Island Now.

The letter said as the school continues 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 students can make requests with their teachers if there is a book they would like to see in their classroom library, which also gives students greater and easier access to books as students can access these libraries every day, multiple times a day.

Gallagher said the library is more than a book depository. It’s an area that provides a common space for kids to learn. It’s a place to study. And it’s a comfy place for students to relax and read.

“There’s so much a library can do for these kids and they’re putting the responsibilities 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 reached out to Principal Souza for further comment on this story. She responded via email through the Department of Education’s media relations team.

Souza said teachers had input on decisions related to the school’s budgetary challenges and future plans for the library collection. A classroom library is optional for teachers, but the principal said many teachers took advantage of the opportunity to get books for their classrooms.

“The 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 requested to incorporate student choice for their classroom libraries and order books several times a year.”

As they work to clear out the library, Souza said students will be given an opportunity to take books home. There also is a book fair scheduled for November and the rest will be donated to the Hawaiʻi Public Library.

The letter from Souza also said the school had invested in a new digital library. Each student at Waiākea Intermediate has a school-issued computer that allows them to access the digital books. The goal of the classroom libraries along with the digital library were to increase student access to books.


“Online content can’t replace the library,” Gallagher said. “My child likes to have a book in her hand when she falls asleep.”

Gallagher said while the school is trying to promote literacy, the school doesn’t seem to understand the importance the library has in that effort.

She also worries that if school libraries close, are state libraries next on the budgetary chopping block.

Big Island Now requested comment from the state Department of Education. The department provided the letter and Souza’s comments.

According to DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani, school principals have the authority to close libraries in consultation with their complex area superintendents and department policies to make decisions in the best interest of their school communities.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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