National Library Week is coming to a close and hopefully you’ve enjoyed our visits to Waikiki-Kapahulu, Pearl City, Hawaii Kai, Wahiawa and Kalihi-Palama as much as we have. If you missed them, go check them out! This is our last library write up for a little while (don’t worry we’ll continue our library tour in a few weeks) and we thought we’d end with one of our favorites. Alex and I are both alumni of Moanalua High School (go Menes!) and had both spent many after-school hours at the Salt Lake Public Library reading or working on projects—quietly of course, because the security staff are very diligent. It hasn’t changed much and it’s still our ‘go-to’ library since it’s close to where we work and you can’t beat their drive-up book drop. Every time we go, we see the same man sitting at the reference desk answering questions, helping kids with the computers and just keeping everything in general order. It turns out that he’s  Branch Manager, Duane Wenzel and we had the privilege of chatting with him about his branch.

Salt Lake Moanalua Library

The Building

We were a bit shocked when Duane told us that the original “Salt Lake Library” started out as a storefront space in the neighboring Salt Lake Shopping Center. The building that exists now was built in 1992 and opened in August of the same year. What makes it unique is that it’s two stories and the HSPLS support offices are on the second floor—it’s basically command central. The Catalog department, IT department, Advertising and Marketing (Hi Paul!!) and Human Resources for the whole Hawaii State Public Library System are all there toiling away to make sure everything runs smoothly!

Windows at night

The parking lot is shared with Aliamanu Elementary, so it’s not unusual to see lots of kids milling around the entrance waiting for pick-ups or doing homework. Once inside, the circulation desk is to the right and to the left are the community bulletin boards and Friends of the Library books for sale. Looking straight ahead the first thing you see is a floor-to-ceiling set of windows looking out onto Salt Lake Boulevard. The main area is very grand and spacious, splitting the library into two halves. Although, this is the first library where the bigger area was for the kids. On the right there’s the Teen and YA books with a sizeable collection of teen magazines, manga and graphic novels. The keiki section is on the far side with some small tables and chairs, low shelves, and loads of carpet space to move around on during story times.

"Moanalua Memories" , murals in high places

The middle of the library is filled with tables and flanked on three sides by large murals on the high ceiling. The murals titled “Moanalua Memories” are a set of cultural/historical illustrations of the area and they’re simply gorgeous. Done by Patrick Ching in 1999 they were put up by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts as part of the Art in Public Places Program. I can’t imagine these murals in any other library—they’re so well suited for Salt Lake’s high ceilings, wide open spaces and natural light from the massive windows. This atrium-like area has “great acoustics” according to Duane, and they often have Hawaii Theater for Youth and other musical presentations there because of that and the amount of space.

The adult fiction, nonfiction, media and Hawaiiana sections are all on the other side. We love how the shelves are arranged on a diagonal— it really makes the space feel larger and flow better. It’s less boxy and allows you to see almost every section of the library (yay for not losing Alex in the stacks—it happens a lot). The back wall is affectionately called the “Featured Fiction Wall” with staff picks and reading recommendations. They also have a ‘Quiet Room’ for study and silent reading where they keep their magazines and newspapers.

Book drop on 24 hour surveillance

The most useful feature of this library, and we wish all the libraries were able to have one, is the drive-thru book drop. It’s the best thing ever. Especially when you’re rushing to work and gotta turn in your books or else add another day of late fees to your tab, ahem, like we so often end up doing. There are cameras situated to record all activity in the parking lot and the area around the book drop, even a camera that can catch what you’re putting into the book drop (so no funny business). When we drive up, I like to pause for the camera to see what book I’m dropping in like the models on the Home Shopping Network. Alex thinks I’m silly.

Programs & Collection

As far back as I can remember visiting this library they’ve always made extraordinary efforts to create unique programs for kids and teens, especially in science and technology. They often have posters up for game nights, play time and experiments with bubbles and other great interactive activities. They have “Wacky Wednesdays” where they focus on YA programs when they can do more complicated crafts and projects like sewing felt animal charms. “They’re a difficult age group to reach… reading tends to fall away”. Keiki and teen programs are a great way to help kids “get a foothold in reading”.

Salt Lake Library employs the system’s only male children’s librarian, Kurt. He organizes “one of the best” story time programs on the island known for his creative use of music by playing guitar and singing. He also does shadow puppets and felt board plays in conjunction with the reading. Most importantly, his program is run continuously, year-round and if Kurt can’t be there he will make sure that someone else is. Consistency is especially crucial, Duane said “for young kids to start on the path to reading properly and creating good reading habits”.

Martial arts DVD display

Salt Lake is one of the only libraries to offer free Wi-Fi. Right now it’s just them and Kaneohe, but it’s something that’s very popular with patrons. Duane says they’ve had a lot of success with it and hope that other libraries will soon be able to participate. They have the second largest Korean language collection, but thanks to the Korean Library Foundation they will be expanding it to include more bestsellers.

As we walked around we noticed there seemed to be a lot of martial arts books, and the DVD section had a lot of martial arts titles…plus there were displays and posters up. We hadn’t really noticed it before and when we brought it up Duane chuckled and proudly explained that they have “the best martial arts section in the system… a special collection that nobody else has”. He says it circulates very well with about 1/3 of the materials always out. They get requests from other libraries constantly and are happy to share.

Martial arts books

“I’m a martial artist myself”, Duane told us. “I knew there were tons of DVD’s, books, and videos out there but when I looked for them in the system we had so little and Hawaii has a huge martial arts community. I knew there would be a draw.” So he saw a need and helped fill it. Not only that, but he helped the catalogers tag the books appropriately so that they can easily be found in the database. He creates the displays to draw an interest and let people know that they can find it all in one place in this library. They have both cinematic and instructional martial arts DVD’s, plus historical, cultural and instructional books on all disciplines, “every style imaginable”.


They’d like to be a “community center of sorts” and know that people in the neighborhood would like them to be open on the weekends. Unfortunately, in order to do that they’d have to have a full staff and budget issues make that nearly impossible at this time. Especially now, Duane said he’s noticed an “increase in people coming in, circulation has gone up since the economy slowed down”. They have people come in to fill out online job applications and check out career books.  “We help a lot of people.”

They had some issues with graffiti and vandalism in the past but the 24-hour surveillance has really helped to curb that.

The lack of funds and the rising cost of materials is hurting the whole system, and despite that significant challenge the staff at Salt Lake Library are helping to save money and gain books in a very creative way. In 2009 they won the HSPLS Team of the Year Award for their work on The Children’s Science Book Project.

Each year, the Children’s Science Book Project Team sends letters to the top children’s publishers asking for complimentary review copies of their latest science trade books for children; reviews, rates, annotates and enters each book received; develops an annotated bibliography, arranged by subject, of all titles received that year and distributes 1,000 copies statewide in varying quantities to each public library.

You can read more about this project and their award here. Dedication and innovation can go a long way, the staff at Salt Lake Library know.

Book Recommendation

We asked Duane for a book rec and I gave my usual rant about needing to spread local literature and encourage local authors. I needn’t have been so dramatic because he completely agreed with me, and I didn’t know it yet, but I was ranting to a Hawaiiana expert—how embarassing! It turns out Duane Wenzel was the head librarian at Bishop Museum for 12 years and knows full well without me telling him how unique our local literature is. Needless to say, we had a great conversation and he had many recommendations. He first suggested Hawaii Homefront by Mac Simpson, which we already reviewed here for Veteran’s Day.  Duane knows Mac personally since he used to work at the Maritime Center and would often visit Bishop Museum Library and archives for research. Duane ended up picking another book by Simpson, Streetcar Days in Honolulu which I was excited to read. Reviews are forthcoming!

Thank you so much to Duane and the rest of the Salt Lake staff for letting us visit, and for always patiently collecting our overdue fees without judging us.  🙁