I used to travel to Kalihi a lot as a kid. My mom’s best friend lived there, in a snug shared house where I had a bunch of calabash cousins to play with. So now, even though I’m usually driving through Kalihi instead of to it, I still have fond memories of the neighborhood and people. I realize it’s more diverse than this, but I often associate Kalihi with my Filipino aunty, her kids, and things like popping crazy amounts of firecrackers until the streets were flooded with smoke on New Year’s Eve. Our favorite Zippy’s is also in the Kalihi-Palama area—the one on Dillingham by Palama Market. Misty likens this Zippy’s to a quaint dollhouse, with its wooden painted beams and relatively low tables, windows and seating (she says it makes her feel like she’s a doll…eating wonton min). These are all very homey and comfy, a feeling I was surprised to find again when we visited Kalihi-Palama Public Library.
Some libraries are slick and new like Waipahu and Kapolei; or take great pains at maintaining a clean and spacious area like Waikiki-Kapahulu; others are crammed with books and materials but organized impeccably like Liliha or Aiea; but overall they all have that overwhelming sense of being a library. For Misty and I, Kalihi-Palama seemed different—when I was there, I actually felt like I was at an aunty’s house; an aunty that really likes to read and has a lot of books. It felt like visiting a relative’s house where everything is cozy, relaxed, maybe a tad over-decorated but done with the utmost charm and personality. That’s Kalihi-Palama: with one of the most adorable children’s sections in the entire library system.
We met with branch manager Marcia Nakama on one of the many tables clustered in the middle of the library—bordered by the adult section behind us and the children’s wing to our side. First we talked about the library building and it is a classic…it’s been around for the last 60 years and is one of a number of library buildings designed by the famous modernist architect, Vladimir Ossipuff. It’s location is both cause for celebration and concern. Marcia states that because they are RIGHT off the freeway, they “miss people all the time.” Driving up Kalihi Street right after the H-1 off-ramp, we nearly missed it and had to turn a quick hard-right into the parking lot. On the other hand, Marcia says she does like being near Farrington High School and a number of others as they contribute greatly to the efforts of this particular library. Kalihi-Palama Library is also one of the few libraries that has an auditorium available for rent. We noticed that the auditorium has a separate entrance so that there is as little disturbance to library patrons as possible, especially since it’s rented out quite often.
Down the side hallway there are long shelves full of books for the Friends of Kalihi Library book sale. Another thing we noted that contributes to the sense of ‘ohana in the community, was a Family Resource Center which had all kinds of flyers, brochures and applications to assist families. Marcia says “it’s hard to keep it up [the Family Resource Center]” but they try their best to do so. She says making the extra effort of putting pamphlets out on the common tables, and using colroful tablecloths goes a long way to encouraging their library patrons. Speaking of which…
It is readily apparent that children are an important focal point here at Kalihi-Palama and this is evident in their wonderful kid’s section. This space encompasses a large area padded with shelves of books and is cheerfully bathed in an assortment of colors and decorations including stuffed animals and knick-knacks on the top of shelves, kids drawings and crafts on display or hanging from the walls, and delightful round tables covered with pretty tablecloths and flower vases. When we say Kalihi-Palama is homelike, we are primarily referring to the children’s wing. Misty was very tickled by the decorated tables and said she would like to have tea there—this is one of the most charming spaces we’ve encountered on our library tour. I’d recommend any parent to bring their child here (especially little girls) to experience its delectable atmosphere . Marcia says it’s “even appealing to adults,” and going by our reactions, this is definitely true.
Marcia was quick to note that Kalihi-Palama has a very large Korean Drama section. Korean television drama is a whole ‘nother beast that has recently taken off here in the past 5-10 years—you can’t go anywhere without somebody raving about watching it. Marcia adds on that Kalihi-Palama, McCully-Moiliili and Kapolei Library are often the first libraries to acquire these DVDs as soon as they are released. Just scanning the shelves, we took note that in addition to K-Dramas they appear to have a nice collection of DVDs in general and also a lot of audio books.
Continuing with the theme of ‘aunty’s house’—I like to think that aunty has a teenager (or two…or four) upstairs doing their own thing, this library happens to have a cool loft area up on the second floor. I say this because as soon as I walked up the narrow stairs, I was confronted with a bunch of teenagers hanging out in this secluded space. Good or bad, I notice that libraries that have an isolated Young Adult (YA) section will always have a group of teenagers loitering about. We’re glad they’re in the library! All of the teen fiction is found in this loft area, including all of the manga and graphic novels. It’s kind of like each family member has a room here at Kalihi-Palama. The kids have a cute space all to themselves; the adults take up the big, generic living room; and the teenager(s) hang out separately from everyone else in their loft. At any rate, Marcia mentions that their YA materials get high circulation and I believe that in addition the library’s proximity to Farrington, the “cool hangout” vibe of it’s upstairs loft helps contribute to this.
Sadly they had to cut a lot of programs from their roster due to the budgetary restrictions that have been plaguing the library system. They used to have a monthly program for teens but had to let that go and instead try to encourage them to volunteer as helpers for their popular keiki craft programs. In fact, many of their programs are completely run by volunteers, primarily students from Farrington High School.
One of the bread and butter programs for Kalihi-Palama is their Storytime and Craft Time activities. Brenda Freitas-Obregon does a lot of the storytime readings and is very “well known” in storytelling circles. “Lots of people will come from all over [the island] for this storytime,” Marcia proudly remarked. One of the most remarkable aspects of this storytime is that it is continuous throughout the year. Other libraries—often due to funding and staffing shortages—are only able to offer storytime on a revolving basis, maybe 3 months straight followed by a few months hiatus. But Kalihi-Palama Library is lucky to have a dedicated storyteller like Brenda on hand. “[She] never takes a hiatus [from storytime]. She only doesn’t do it if she is out of town.” This is maybe twice a year tops, Marcia notes. Also, local children’s author Gail Omoto (see below) is actually one of Brenda’s regular “storytime mommy’s.”
Like most libraries, their biggest challenges revolve around funding and staffing. Marcia mentions that they are short-staffed and this is their primary concern for the time being. They also used to do passports, like a number of libraries, but also had to lose the program due to staffing problems. Processing passport applications is not only beneficial to the community—Marcia notes that the Kalihi-Palama area has a lot of immigrants who eventually become citizens—but is also beneficial to the library as it provides supplemental income which in turn can be used to provide for extra books, supplies, furniture and materials.
On a lesser note, sometimes parking can be limited when the library is open. I think we got lucky when we came, something in the auditorium was just starting to bring more cars to the lot, but we snagged one at the last second. Marcia reassures us, however, that even if there’s something going on in the auditorium, library “patrons get first priority” when it comes to parking.
Seeing as Gail Omoto is a regular visitor at Kalihi-Palama Public Library, Marcia thought it would be appropriate to recommend one of the children’s books she has written. We actually reviewed one of Gail’s books already, Kai the ‘Opihi Gets the Point, as the librarian from Waimanalo School & Public Library had so enthusiastically recommended it. However, Ms. Omoto has another popular keiki book, Mele the Crab Finds the Way Out, and we happily agreed to read and review it.
Much mahalos to Marcia Nakama and her staff at the Kalihi-Palama Public Library for letting us into their endearing library! Don’t forget to continue checking in with Hawaii Book Blog as our week-long celebration of National Library Week continues with one more library post tomorrow.