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Librarian passionate about books, life

An 80-year-old library manager has no plans to retire yet, for "there's so much more to do"

By Nancy Arcayna

LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

Although librarians use the latest information technology for research, to classify reference materials and help students obtain information, Sylvia Mitchell regularly gets asked, "Now that we have Google, why do we need a library?"

The librarian makes it her mission to show them the library's value.

"Newspapers and libraries have a lot in common," Mitchell said. "They are economical, practical and both share an important purpose of keeping citizens informed. Libraries need more publicity so people know what we are doing."

Mitchell began working in the library system in 1976. She started at the circulation desk and progressed to a children's and young-adult librarian before becoming a branch manager at the Liliha Public Library, a position she's held since 1992. She's proud of the library designed by Stephen Oya­kawa, who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright. The building incorporates skylights, rounded corners and generous amounts of open space and rooftop parking to retain as much green space around the property as possible.

Retirement isn't in sight for the 80-year-old.

"There's so much more to do," she said. "If you stay home it's boring. At work there's always something to do."

When she does retire, her dream is to establish a library in the Makiki area. "It's always good to have a dream. It keeps your mind active.

"Libraries were built to support schools and are normally within walking distance. This neighborhood is lacking a library."

Growing up in a rural area of Pennsylvania, Mitchell suffered from asthma and couldn't participate in many physical activities, one of the reasons she was drawn to books. "I read lots … especially Victorian romance novels, because that's what was available in our home. We lived in the woods."

She moved to Hono­lulu in 1961. Before attending library school, including the Librarian in a Pluralistic Society: Cross-Cultural Training for Social Action program, she became a teacher and taught at the State Hospital, worked as a substitute at local high schools and also taught English as a second language.

"I'm lucky. I love my job," Mitchell said. "I love helping people, especially the kids. Something positive is happening every day. I meet interesting people all the time."

Among her favorite books is "The Stars," by H.A. Rey, author of the "Curious George" books. "The Stars" contains star charts, a guide to the constellations and details about seasons. Another favorite book is on handwriting analysis. "It's interesting," she said. "You can tell a lot about a person's personality by looking at their handwriting. My T's are always too tall, which means I'm proud."

She also enjoys looking at an atlas. "I've traveled to Germany, England, Scotland and France, but New Zealand is my favorite. I've been there twice. I love to show kids, and adults, how Hawaii compares to other places."

Mitchell is thankful for her good health, which she attributes to good habits such as drinking lots of water, listening to classical music to relieve stress and learning to meditate.

"I've slowed down but I haven't lost my marbles."

Part of it may be hereditary, she explained. "My father lived to be 100."

She does deal with diabetes, causing her to watch what she eats, but says physical movement helps her to stay young and maintain vitality. She stretches every morning before she gets out of bed. "I need to get the blood circulating."

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