There’s trouble in paradise… Hawaii is seeing controversy from an unlikely source: Friends of the Library organizations.
Over a year ago, State Librarian Richard Burns informed local Friends groups that they must become affiliates of the statewide Friends of the Library organization (also referred to as FLH or the “Big” Friends) or they would no longer be allowed to raise funds on state property, according to the Hawaii Reporter.
In response, the Friends of the Aina Haina Public Library, which does not want to join the statewide group, began a process which eventually led them to seek a change from the state legislature. The resulting bill, HB1054, passed both the Hawaii State Senate and the House on May 1, and will now go to the governor for signature.
If You Won’t Be Friends with the Big Friends, You Can’t Be Friends At All?
The source of the conflict is a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which grants the FLH exclusive rights to raise funds on state property (in a system that’s unique in the country, Hawaii’s libraries are all state-run.)
There appears to be widespread consensus that the original intent of the law was not to prevent other library groups from fundraising. Byrde Cestare, executive director of the FLH, told LJ, “The purpose of the law was not to exclude anyone from holding book sales. The purpose was to include the Friends of the Library” in a law that had originally been written for the Hawaii State Library Foundation (which later merged with FLH). State senators who were present when the current law was written in 2001 agreed, testifying that the intent was not to give any one group exclusive rights to use library facilities and grounds.
Nonetheless, according to an attorney general’s opinion, that’s what the law says, and it would take a change in the law to allow independent groups to raise funds for their community libraries legally, even though in practice they’ve been doing so for decades.
Among the groups affected by the ban were the 50- year-old Friends of the Aina Haina Public Library and the Maui Friends organization. Sharon Nagasako of the Friends of Aina Haina Public Library testified, “The State Librarian turned down our request for a Memorandum of Understanding, a waiver, and a grandfather clause,” before the Aina Haina Friends sought legislative redress.
The Aina Haina Friends were subsequently offered compromise solutions, including a contract from the Big Friends based on the existing MOU’s authority and an exemption from the state librarian. But as Nagasako explained, the group felt neither would solve the problem because “the State Librarian didn’t know whether the MOU which expires in June 2012 will be rewritten, whether the MOU will be extended, or even if it would be legal for the MOU to allow an exemption for an independent 501(c) (3) entity. We were further informed that answers to these questions wouldn’t be available until after the 2012 Legislative Session ended because the Attorney General’s office was too busy to work on such matters.”
Don’t Ask, or Don’t Sell?
One area of dispute is whether local Friends groups were ever pressured to join the Big Friends, or to shut down their book sale tables if they chose not to. “No one was enforcing this policy. In a sense, Aina Haina is enforcing it upon themselves. It’s one of those ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ things,” Cestare told LJ. “We never shut down anybody. We’re not about shutting anyone down. We don’t have a problem with them being able to operate… Aina Haina is really black and white about asking the question, ‘are we legal or are we not?’ That question would never have come up. Anything we can do to make money at the library, we like that… We’re here to help you and if you don’t want help, go your own way, we want you to raise money for your library.”
However, that’s not how it looked to Aina Haina’s branch librarian Holly Kwok. “The article in the MOU giving the Big Friends exclusive right to conduct book sales on library property was then used by the Big Friends and library administration to pressure the Aina Haina Friends to join the Big Friends Affiliates Program,” Kwok told LJ. And FHL’s own affiliate agreement includes (and emphasizes) the language, “All enterprise activities on HSPLS property will be exclusively for FLH affiliates.”
According to the Reporter, Burns, the state librarian, said he’s been attempting to “eliminate” and “consolidate” organizations under the Big Friends umbrella because, he said, having too many organizations fundraising for the library can be “disruptive.” When contacted by LJ, Burns took no position on the proposed legislation, saying, “The Friends of the Library of Hawaii and individual branch Friends groups are critical support organizations for our libraries, and we will continue working with them to provide this support. HSPLS is monitoring these and other bills as they progress through the legislative process. Both the bills mentioned have been amended since they were introduced and as they moved from our state Senate to the House and vice versa. We will continue to monitor the bills and will have a better understanding of their effects on HSPLS if and when the bills become law.”
Before the MOU took effect, the statewide Friends already had 31 affiliate groups, according to Cestare. Today it has 33 affliates, covering 35 libraries, and is working with six more groups to try to bring them into the fold.
When asked whether the MOU played a role in the decisions of groups to affiliate after it went into effect, Cestare thought it might have played a small one. “When they heard they had to be an affiliate to operate on library property they said ‘OK, so we’ll join;’ there was no downside,” Cestare said, reiterating that the affiliate program takes no money from the local groups. “Most of them had already expressed interest, but the affiliate program wasn’t that active for a while,” during the statewide Friends’ merger with the Hawaii State Library Foundation.
Counting the six groups in negotiations with the Big Friends, Hawaii has 12 non-affiliated Friends Groups who would be affected by the proposed legislation. (Though Hawaii has 50 libraries, “The numbers are a little screwy because there’s a group that doesn’t even have a library yet, as well as ones that have more than one,” Cestare told LJ.)
Among the groups trying to affiliate is the Maui Friends of the Library (MFOL). (The stumbling block is that Maui wants to come in as a single organization instead of one affiliate per library.) The group supports eight libraries, two of which also have individual Friends groups which are already FLH affiliates. Maui Friends President Dorothy Tolliver works closely with Cestare and calls the groups’ relationships with FLH and the state librarian “harmonious” and “very good.” Cestare agreed, “We operate so well together that it hasn’t been a priority to figure out what our formal relationship would be.”
Said Toliver, “The only problem we have had is that we had no official permission to operate sales tables … we were working on a way for the MFOL to continue doing this ‘legally’ well before the introduction of the bills in the state legislature. At no time were we ever told to close our sales tables but we were told they were not legal. If we were not able to work out an agreement, being told to close the sales tables was always a possibility.”
Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater?
One concern raised by many participants is that as the bills evolved, they exceeded the scope of what was necessary to solve the original problem and potentially created new ones. “The bill … undertook a life of its own bringing in more changes than was wanted or intended,” said Tolliver.
Various versions proposed to hold all money raised in a new state fund, an idea which neither state nor local Friends had enthusiasm for. Said Cestare, “Why would the Friends volunteers bother to raise the money if it were to be used by the state in a ‘special fund?’ In Hawai‘i, everyone is aware of the ‘Hurricane Relief Fund,’” which is notorious for being used for anything and everything other than hurricane relief. Other concerns were that the bill(s) did not include groups like Maui, which represent more than one library.
As amended, the final version addresses these issues. Nainoa M. Mau, Affiliates Coordinator of the FLH, told LJ, “Friends Affiliates funds, non-Affiliate Friends (other 501(c)(3) orgs) funds, and FLH funds not derived from a statewide contract but raised at a library facility would go into an FDIC account held in that group’s name.”
Funds raised from a statewide contract continue to go into a privately held trust fund administered by FLH. Said Mau, “As you may recall, in early Senate versions of the SB 2994 bill, the Senators were attempting to dissolve the trust fund entirely. This is no longer the case in HB 1054 as it was brought to their attention that it would be an unconstitutional act to do so.”
Though the Big Friends initially hoped to resolve the issue without legislation, ultimately FLH endorsed the conference committee’s version, saying, “We are thankful that in the end there will be minimal change to our system. In fact the law has been changed to reflect that system.”
The Hawaii Library Association (HLA) “has not yet crafted a response to this issue,” HLA President Christine Pawliuk told LJ. “It was mentioned at our last board meeting, but we are still waiting for some clarifications on the issues before officially deciding on any response.”