October 7, 2004
The Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association
I. Introduction: A Short History of Libraries in Hawai‘i
Hawai‘i libraries have quite a history, dating back to the early nineteenth century. Most of these early libraries appear to have been reading rooms provided for ships officers and crews. For example, in 1834 William Richards and Ephriam Spaulding organized the building of the Seamen’s Chapel and Reading Room in Lahaina. On O‘ahu, the Sandwich Islands Institute set up a room at the Seamen’s Bethel as a library and museum of natural history and Pacific artifacts in 1837.
Nearly two decades later, Richard Armstrong, a Protestant missionary from New England, proved instrumental in the development of Honolulu’s first “public” library, the Atheneum. Armstrong was an interesting character: he was the newspaper editor of Ka Nonanona, he served as the minister of public instruction, he was the pastor of Kawaiaha‘o Church and was vehemently anti-Catholic. In addition, Armstrong had some strong opinions about “trashy” books and its effect on the youth: “Bad Books . . . are dangerous next to bad men, therefore shun them.” Armstrong worried that bad books “inculcate[d] loose morals” and operated as a “perfect poison.” Perhaps out of worry for the youth, Armstrong founded the Honolulu Atheneum Society in 1850. This society arranged for annual subscriptions of $10 to cover the costs of a reading room and reading materials. The Atheneum was succeeded two years later in 1853 by the Honolulu Circulating Library Association. Thereafter, the Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association came into existence in 1879, which is the forerunner of the Hawai‘i public library system that we all know of today.
II. It Began With a Vision
William Johnson, a merchant who hailed from London, England, dreamed of a reading room for workingmen. Johnson had a vision of a library that would provide a place where gentlemen could spend an evening away from “the allurements of the Saloons” with books, periodicals, games, singing, and conversation. Johnson shared his dream with three friends: Dr. Charles T. Rodgers, Dr. Auguste Marques, and H.A. Parmelee. This small group circulated a petition and garnered seventy-eight names in support of their plan. A meeting was thereafter called on March 1, 1879 at the Knights of Pythias Hall on Hotel street. At that meeting, certain temporary officers were selected for a six-month term: George Lucas, president; H.L. Sheldon, vice-president; Thomas G. Thrum, secretary; and J.M Oat, treasurer. Two committees were also established: one to draft a constitution and bylaws for the society, the other to find a space that could be rented and to procure books. Finally, after some lively discussion, the group unanimously decided on a name for their new group: the Honolulu Workingmen’s Library Association. The group, however, was soon dissatisfied with this name who felt that it was too narrow in scope—this sentiment was adequately expressed by the editor of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser who stated, “The library is not intended to be run for the benefit of any class, party, nationality, or sect.” Less than a week after the first meeting was called, on March 8, 1879, the society decided to rename itself the Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association.
Within a week, there were a total of 295 signers of the Association’s constitution, which opened membership to “any respectable male person, sixteen years of age or older.” Furthermore, the bylaws essentially barred women like Queen Emma and Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop from donating to the cause. The loudest objector to the exclusion of women and children came from Alexander Joy Cartwright who commented: “This idea [that] keeps the blessed ladies out and the children. What makes us old geezers think we are the only ones to be spiritually and morally uplifted by a public library in this city?” Apparently, however, some men were skeptical and felt that it would not be appropriate for the ladies to associate with workingmen. Still others worried that “If we let the gentlewomen in, how can we keep out the prostitutes?” In the end, the constitution and bylaws were amended to include women—apparently the men later thanked “their lucky stars” that they had included the ladies to organize fairs and other money raising events.
A temporary home for the reading room was found at 111 Fort Street, above the furniture store of C.E. Williams. So, it was at the meeting of March 15, 1879, that the association reported that the reading room could formally be opened on March 22. At this same meeting, King Kaläkaua was elected as the first honorary member of the association. The King was quite generous and sent a gift of $50 in gold to the grand opening, even though he was unable to attend. It was said that the library’s opening was a memorable event: there was a musical program and a number of speeches made by illustrious members of the community.
After the grand opening, the library opened its doors to its patrons on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Soon the library became a center for activity—indeed, many deserted the saloons to meet at the library. A number of social activities were proposed, such as a debating society, glee club, public lectures, concerts. Although none of the entertainment activities became permanent, there was a consensus that the library must provide for “literary culture and social enjoyment.”
The association realized, however, that these cultural activities would need to be converted into money making events so that they could progress toward the erection of a permanent library building. In short, the library was not entirely a free public institution. It was a subscription library, with its facilities open, primarily for those who paid dues. Dues of the members of the Association were $6 annually, payable in quarterly installments. The constitution at first provided life membership on payment of $100 or its equivalent in books. Few, if any took advantage of this opportunity and life membership was reduced to $50. Occasionally, membership drives, both by newspaper advertisements and personal solicitation were undertaken. Unfortunately, membership could not get past two hundred. It was said that a number of people wanted to further the cause, but did not want to be obligated to pay dues. Thus, many nonmembers utilized the facilities and reading materials, though they were not allowed to draw out books. Interestingly, an attempt was made to “encourage” nonmembers to contribute to the library fund: cards were posted to invite nonmembers to drop something into a calabash, and a visitors’ registry was instituted. A small amount of money trickled in, but it was clear that serious fundraising was needed.
A number of fundraising activities, both large and small in scale, were implemented over the next few years: a Gala Auction (net proceeds $2400), a Loan Exhibition (net proceeds $1,570.88), a Grand Fair (net proceeds $3,059.70), amateur dramatic performances, concerts, lectures. The association’s spirits were lifted when they received, after petitioning the legislature, a royal patent for a lot on which the library could be built. The patent described a parcel 47 feet wide by 109 feet deep, on the mauka-ewa corner of Hotel and Alakea streets.
A few years later, the public opening of the Honolulu Library and Reading Room took place on August 31, 1884. There were two rooms, one for conversation and recreation, the other, a quiet reading room. From the reading room, large sliding doors led to the library stacks. The ceilings in the library were sixteen feet high and had a skylight above. The space was estimated to be able to hold 20,000 volumes, however on opening day, the association’s holdings only totaled 4,000.
With respect to the books, the first 813 were donated to the library. The very first books donated were a set of Bancroft’s “History of the United States” which were donated by Reverend S. Dwight. The first books purchased for the library were nineteen works of fiction which came from T.G. Thrum’s Book Store. Other interesting donations include a ten volume set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, an eight volume set of William Shakespeare, Hume’s seven volume “The History of England,” ten volumes devoted to the history of the United States Civil War, and a complete set of the Samuel Coleridge. The largest and most valuable bequest came from Queen Emma, widow of King Kamehameha IV, who donated over 600 volumes. The books were first organized in numerical order on the shelves, as they were received in the library. Later, when the final library was constructed the books were classified under eight headings:
Mary Burbank became librarian in 1891, and she suggested a number of changes for the organization of the materials. One of these suggestions included renumbering all the books in the library and adopting a decimal system of identification—in due course, the Dewey Decimal Classification was adopted.
With respect to the periodicals, newspapers or magazines were eagerly sought after by the patrons. There were three or four London newspapers, two Boston newspapers, five New York newspapers, five San Francisco papers, one Philadelphia newspaper, and two Australian papers. It was said that many of the male patrons were not interested in much of the book collection which included romantic poetry, or Shakespearean works. These same patrons, however, would quickly snatch up “Harper’s Monthly,” the “Saturday Review,” or “Popular Science Monthly.”
The library was quite successful, although it was not without problems. At the end of the 1898 fiscal year, visitors numbered 15,673 and the number of books circulated was 9,587. However, visitors were unhappy with the selections, as it was impossible to obtain a new fiction or even a novel published within a year “unless it was one of the ‘Goody Goody’ books, ordered by the Missionary Crowd for the family circle.” Besides the complaints with the collection, the association was also plagued with serious financial problems.
The association looked for help from external resources. Charles Reed Bishop was said to be quite helpful. At some point, the association heard about Andrew Carnegie, who had begun to make gifts to communities for public libraries. In 1903, the association began to correspond with Carnegie to establish a grant, but apparently, the conditions that Carnegie imposed were too difficult to meet. Thereafter, there was some discussion about establishing a territorial library, supported by legislative appropriation, and incorporating all of the assets of the association. Governor Walter Frear was successful in convincing the legislature to pass an appropriation bill to provide $10,000 annually for the library’s expenses. From that point on, the Honolulu Library and Reading Room changed from a private subscription library to a public library. Governor Frear soon contacted Carnegie to inform him that his conditions had been met. On May 15, 1909, an agreement was signed and Carnegie donated $100,000 for a new library. The Hawai‘i State Library opened in 1913 in its current location.
The association continued in its endeavors over the years by raising funds for the library. In 1938, another organization, “The Friends of the Library,” was formed. The two organizations realized that they had the same goals and objectives and in 1945 they merged and became: The Friends of the Library of Hawai‘i.
III. Importance of the Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association
This association is important, not just because of its historical impact, but also because of its contributions to our present day Hawai‘i Public Library system. First, the association is an interesting model to examine for library professionals because of the lessons it teaches us—when we look at the challenges that the association encountered, we see many of the problems that librarians face today: budget and financing, intellectual freedom, collection development, cataloguing, and customer service. The association is also important because of its ties to the community. It has worked with other literary organizations such as the Hawaiian Historical Society to further interests that would benefit society as a whole, such as fundraising for reading materials and supplies for the public library. Finally, the association was the forerunner of our public library system and it has contributed for over a century to learning and literacy.
IV. Evaluation of Secondary Sources
Many of my sources came from articles from the Hawaiian Journal of History, which was the first place that I started to look for resources. The Hawaiian Journal of History has a fairly comprehensive index going back to the early 1900s, so I only had to cross-reference the name of the association and some of its members. That led to Burbank’s article and a plethora of other tidbits that were dispersed throughout a number of different journal articles. I also went on Voyager and found Loomis’ book, The Best of Friends. Loomis’ book is especially helpful because the sources extend beyond the association’s records—it combs through newspaper articles, private letters, government documents, etc.
Because I knew that the Hawaiian Historical Society had ties to the library system in Hawai‘i, I called their office and spoke at length to the reference librarian, who verified that I had located the appropriate sources. I also did some searching online to locate the current status of the association, which led me to the Friends of the Library of Hawai‘i website.
Finally, I also went to the Map Collection in Hamilton Library where I accessed the Sanborn maps, and other turn of the century maps to locate the original library that was situated on the corner of Hotel and Alakea streets.
[Photos removed for space reasons]
Above left: Andrew Cartwright; Above right: William Johnson; Below: the first home of the Honolulu Library and Reading Room, 111 Fort Street, above the furniture store of C.E. Williams.
Above: the outside of the Honolulu Library and Reading Room building; Below: the stacks.
The Hawaii Public Library Today
Today: the corner of Hotel and Alakea Street.
Robert C. Schmitt, Some Firsts in Island Leisure, 12 Hawaiian Journal of History 99, 100 (1978).
Id. It is said that the library housed approximately 300-400 volumes. Id. By 1879, the Honolulu YMCA took over the operation of the Seamen’s Reading Room. Albertine Loomis, The Best of Friends, 5 (1979). Eventually, the YMCA turned over the books to the Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association and ceased operation. Id.
Helen G. Chapin, Honolulu’s First Library, at www.hawaiianhistory.org/moments/frstlib.html
(last visited October 6, 2004).
Patricia Alvarez, The Battle for Wai‘äpuka School: One Round of an Epic Contest, 33 Hawaiian Journal of History 3, 4 (1999).
See Chapin supra note 3.
See Schmitt supra note 1. The Honolulu Circulating Library Association announced as its purpose to sustain a “General Reading Room and Library.”
Mary A. Burbank, Story of the Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association, 36th Annual Report of the Hawaiian Historical Society for the Year 1928, 14-27.
Id. Seealso, Loomis supra note 2, at 1.
Id. Seealso, Loomis supra note 2, at 5.
Loomis supra note 2, at 5. Johnson was not elected to office, but was appointed chairman of the committee that was responsible for procuring donations of books. Id.
Burbank supra note 10, at 15.
Loomis supra note 2, at 5.
Id. at 6.
Id. Cartwright, also known as the “father of baseball,” was well known for his love of books—his private library collection had over two to three hundred volumes. Id. He was also said to subscribe to dozens of newspapers and other periodicals. Id. Cartwright was also quoted as stating: “I am mad ‘cause I want the ladies in…Besides we could keep them busy dusting books, keeping a pot of tea boiling and who says ‘the women haven’t got enough brains to read.’” Id.
Id. I am not certain if the bylaws permitted children, however, at some point early on, the library gave children of government schools the privilege of taking books from the library, should their conduct merit it. Burbank supra note 10, at 21. It was said that the librarian would set on two long tables all of the best books written especially for children. Id.
Loomis supra note 2, at 6-7.
Id. at 7.
Id. at 8.
Id. at 9.
Burbank supra note 10, at 17.
Loomis supra note 2, at 12.
See Burbank supra note 10, at 19; Loomis supra note 2, at 9-13.
Loomis supra note 2, at 10.
Id. Listed on a variety of maps: Board of Underwriters of the Territory of Hawaii, Firemap of Honolulu, map 6 (1906); A.B. Loebenstein, Map of the Lower Part of the City of Honolulu & Harbor Front, compiled from Official Maps (1893).
Id. at 14.
Burbank supra note 10, at 20.
Loomis supra note 2, at 18.
Id. at 19.
Burbank supra note 10, at 20.
Loomis supra note 2, at 21.
Id. at 22.
Id. at 24.
Id. at 23.
Id. at 27.
Id. at 29.
Id. at 29-20.
Id. at 30.
Id. at 31.
Friends of the Library Hawaii, About Us, at http://www.flhawaii.org/flh_about_us.thm (last visited October 6, 2004).