To step inside a state library, Hawaii residents must now show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results within 72 hours.
These rules are part of Gov. David Ige’s executive order covering state contractors as well as visitors at state facilities, not to be confused with Honolulu’s Safe Access O‘ahu program for restaurants, bars and other establishments. Both went into effect Sept. 13.
The 51 library branches statewide are part of the Hawaii State Public Library System located in state facilities, and therefore covered by the governor’s order.
Hawaii libraries had to quickly adapt to the new mandate by setting up checkpoints and assigning staff to verify vaccine and test documents, which has oftentimes been challenging.
State Librarian Stacey Aldrich equates the experience, so far, to a blockbuster movie with mixed reviews.
“We’ve had a lot of patrons who are patient and showing their cards, thanking us and doing what they can to follow the new mandate,” said Aldrich. “At the same time, we have some patrons who are being a little bit abusive to our staff.”
That involves name-calling, accusations that the library is trying to block access or violating people’s rights — and in another instance, spitting on a librarian. Last week a librarian manager’s car was keyed in the parking lot. Most patrons are pleasant, but some seem to be taking out their anger and frustration on librarians.
“We understand that people don’t agree with the new mandate,” said Aldrich. “We have to follow the mandate, and our staff are doing the best they can to meet the requirements of the state and to support the health of our communities and provide service.”
The HSPLS is still operating at limited capacity and is also short-staffed, she said, with about 421 systemwide, which includes administrative services, human resources and information technology.
Library staff are weary after more than a year and a half of the pandemic but have been working to provide services since May 2020 with limited resources.
“We just really need people’s kokua to be kind to our staff,” Aldrich said. “We live in Hawaii. We believe in aloha — aloha is listening and understanding you may not agree with other people, but you’re respectful. We understand that they’re frustrated and don’t agree. At the same time, we have to do what we have to do.”
Each library branch has its own setup but generally has a checkpoint before the entrance to verify proof of full vaccination for patrons ages 12 and up, which can be a digital or hard copy of the card, or a QR code from the SMART Health card. Negative COVID-19 test results issued within 72 hours are also accepted. Either must be accompanied with a valid photo ID.
Many people are now carrying their vaccination cards with them, said Stacie Kaneshige, director of the Public Libraries Branch. But some forget or do not know about the new rules, in which case staff will make every effort to provide assistance at the door.
On Saturday, Kaneshige said one patron wanted to pick up some books on hold, which staff assisted with at the door. Another patron — a mother with two kids — was searching for books for her children to read. Kaneshige escorted the kids in to find some books, which they borrowed and went home with.
However, some people are confusing state rules with county rules and believe that they can enter for 15 minutes without either. That is not the case for state libraries.
The Hawaii State Public Library System no longer closes every hour for a 15-minute cleaning period, as it did earlier, but has since mid-August closed its doors on Wednesdays to reduce infections and give staff more time to do inventory maintenance.
Also, each library might have to limit the number of patrons allowed or the time they spend inside, due to capacity limits.
Patrons may still use public computers with internet access at most libraries for up to two 60-minute sessions per day. All libraries offer free WiFi during branch hours. There is also “Library Take Out,” in which patrons may place holds on items and schedule an appointment to pick them up.
Eligible items that are checked out, with no holds placed on them, are automatically renewed up to two times.
The library has also expanded its digital offerings, which include e-books, kids’ e-books, online magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, and a movie streaming service. Although most in-person programs are on hold, the library is offering alternatives including a virtual book club and online story time — and even a new program lending out ukulele.
There is also a new HSPLS app, which offers contactless checkout using a smartphone. For more information on all the new rules and library offerings, visit librarieshawaii.org.
VISITING THE LIBRARY
>> All visitors 12 years and older must show proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results issued within the past 72 hours to enter. They will also need to show a valid photo ID.
>> All patrons, including children 5 years and up, must wear a mask covering the nose and mouth at all times while visiting.
>> The number of people allowed in the library at one time may be restricted due to capacity limits. Since Aug. 18 all state libraries have been closed on Wednesdays.
Visit librarieshawaii.org and click on “Visiting and Using Library Services” to learn more.