Last of the Librarians? Let’s Hope Not
By Jack Kiyonaga | Reporter
Five years ago, a group of Molokai librarians representing school, private and public libraries came together to address a growing drift on Molokai. Part of a statewide trend, Molokai had shed full-time, certified librarians from most of its schools. With no bookstores on-island, Molokai’s librarians have had the task of inspiring and supplying the next generation of readers. This responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of a select few. They call themselves the Molokai Library Services Cadre (MLSC).
Diane Mokuau is the librarian at Molokai High School, winner of the 2021 School Librarian of the Year Award, and president of the MLSC.
“I know that our field is dwindling, and it means that students won’t have an experienced librarian. They might have a clerk that knows how to check out a book but doesn’t know what the book is about,” said Mokuau.
The MLSC usually adjourns monthly to survey the library landscape on-island. At their most recent meeting, they discussed past work done, like setting up the library at Kilohana School, new archival projects, and the recent transition of one of their own from part-time librarian to full-time teacher at Kualapu’u School. They also planned for a possible bumpy future.
The branch manager of the Molokai Public Library, Cynthia Delanty, retired from her position on July 31. Likewise, the library technician, Jeanne Linquist, will be retiring this month. Even though both Delanty and Linquist gave months of advance notice, the positions have yet to be filled.
If the positions aren’t filled in time, Delanty, speaking in her role as a member of the MLSC, explained that the state could send in a temporary assignment or leave the positions vacant.
“Other state locations have closed due to a lack of staff,” noted Delanty.
Without full-time librarians in most schools, many in the MLSC worry that the role of librarian has been misunderstood. Rather than book baby-sitters, as one member of the MLSC put it, librarians curate the sacrosanct.
“The role of librarian is to encourage students to enjoy reading, to offer resources to help them learn how to research, to be discerning users of information, [and] to provide a safe and welcoming environment. Libraries can be sanctuaries,” said Mokuau.
Currently, the MLSC plan to prevent the closure of Molokai Public Library revolves around one of their own – Mia Langer Ritte.
Langer Ritte has served as a substitute librarian at Kaunakakai School. Even without a full-time position, Langer-Ritte was able to step into what she called “a wonderful opportunity” to caretake the school’s library. Now, she is enrolled in a master’s course on library and information sciences at the University of Hawaii Manoa and preparing for a new role at the Molokai Public Library.
“It’s kind of complicated…especially because of the time crunch,” said Langer Ritte. The idea is that she will start as a substitute at the public library, train under longtime librarian Linquist, and hopefully transition into branch manager. After speaking with the Dispatch, Langer Ritte was hired by the state library and recently began her position there.
Born and raised on Molokai, Langer Ritte hopes to help Molokai families foster a love of reading and make use of the public library.
“I wouldn’t say that I think reading gets left behind, but that our children maybe aren’t being instilled with a love of reading,” explained Langer Ritte. “Even at those early ages it helps to have reading models, to have a bedtime story as part of your routine and a core memory, to have reading as a family value. I don’t think that has been modeled too well in this day and age…it’s much easier to give a child an iPad or tablet.”
Part of this, Langer Ritte believes, is that the library needs to continue the job of including and welcoming local families.
“I think our public libraries should reflect our community,” she said. “As taxpayers, we pay for that. You should feel comfortable accessing these resources should you want to.”
Resources at the library include books, DVDs, CDs, magazines, computer classes, language classes, ukuleles, New York Times online subscriptions, e-books and more.
For Langer Ritte, stepping into a role like this means fulfilling a service for the Molokai community.
“For those of us who love this place…it is our kuleana to look for the gaps,” she explained. “What people will be retiring, what needs will there be, and how do we prepare ourselves to be qualified?”
“We deserve the best,” added Langer Ritte. “We deserve qualified people to teach our children. We deserve expert doctors. And we deserve qualified librarians even.”