Computer services at libraries might be lost under Trump budget

LIHUE — When he needs Internet service, Thomas Lopez heads to the Lihue Public Library.

The Lihue man was there recently to peruse Craigslist, check email and update his resume.

“I don’t have a computer at home, so I rely on it,” he said.

Desiree Duclayan sits down at a library computer a couple times a week.

“I use it for research and work,” she said.

But if President Donald Trump’s proposed budget is approved, public library computer and Internet face elimination.

According to Trump’s “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” for 2018, the Trump Administration proposes to cut funds for technology services for public libraries, which is made possible by the Library Services and Technology Act.

LSTA provides $1.2 million each year to support Hawaii’s communities’ access to the Internet and information resources in 50 libraries across the state.

“For Hawaii, the funding is used centrally to ensure all of the communities across the state have equal access to digital resources,” said Stacey Aldrich, state librarian.

Hawaii public libraries are also used to maintain and provide high-speed Internet, Wi-Fi and educational databases, said Lani Kawahara, librarian at the Kapaa Library.

If approved, the budget will eliminate those services at the Waimea, Hanapepe, Koloa, Lihue, Kapaa and Princeville libraries, she added.

Kawahara also said that in fiscal year 2016, the Hawaii State Public Library System had about 1.4 million sessions of Internet and Wi-Fi usages.

Every branch under the Hawaii State Public Library System provides free Internet computers for patrons who have a valid library card and PIN. Internet sessions can last for an hour, and while files cannot be saved onto the computer’s hard drive, patrons can download files to a USB.

“In some locations across the state, the public library branch is one of the few places for people to access high speed Internet, much less for free,” Kawahara said.

Duclayan, who squeezes in computer time at the library while her daughter checks out books at the kid’s section, said there is definitely a need for Internet access the community.

“Not everyone can afford to buy a laptop or subscribe to the Internet,” she said.

If the budget passes, children will also be affected, Duclayan added.

“Students need the Internet for research and to do school projects,” she said.

If the funding gets cut, Kauai residents will have to find other places, like private businesses, that offer free Wi-Fi. But just because they have access to Internet does’t mean they have a computer, Lopez said.

“A lot of locals use the computers here. If it’s cut, where could they go? There’s no Internet cafe here,” he said. “This place, it’s pretty much needed for people.”

For Aldrich, loss of Internet access isn’t an option.

“Should the federal funding be lost, library administration would work to reassess how our available resources are allocated,” she said. “Libraries are essential to the quality of life of our communities and we hope it will not come to a decision of what needed service has to be cut to ensure access for everyone.”

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