Richard Burns

Photo courtesy Hawaii State Public Library System

Photo courtesy Hawaii State Public Library System

Gone are the libraries of the past — where technology was not much more than a fanciful concept of the future seen only in the books that lined its shelves.

These days, patrons don’t even have to make a trip to any of Hawaii State Public Library System’s (HSPLS) 50 branches to look up a book, place it on hold or even renew its due date. All of this now can be done through a downloadable app or online.

HSPLS also has enhanced its services to include e-learning courses and programs, allowing access to more than 80 online databases.

“It’s letting us provide more materials in more ways to more people than we’ve ever been able to in the past,” says state librarian Richard Burns.

A partnership with Microsoft, for instance, has allowed it to become the only statewide public library system in the world to offer free access to the Microsoft IT Academy and Digital Literacy Training Program. Participants are able to obtain online digital literacy and advanced technological training.

In 2010-2013, it also received two federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grants totaling $36 million. Partnering with University of Hawaii and the state Department of Education allowed the organizations to provide free wireless Internet access for all public library locations, as well as high-speed fiber-optic connectivity for all libraries, public schools and community college campuses, among other improvements, according to a release.

It’s only a fraction of what HSPLS has accomplished in recent years, and much of it can be credited to Burns, who leads the system.

“It’s exciting times for public libraries,” he says.

At the end of this year, Burns, who appeared on MidWeek‘s April 30, 2013, cover, will retire, marking an end to more than 30 years of working with HSPLS, with seven spent as state librarian.

“I think it’s time,” he says. “I think over the last several years we’ve positioned the Hawaii State Public Library System very well to continue to expand and further library services statewide.

“And working with the (Board of Education), we’ve developed a high quality strategic plan that lays the foundation for future growth and future successes.”

In his time with HSPLS, he not only has enjoyed working with those who have walked through its doors, but also those who make all of its services possible.

“To be able to work with such a wonderful group of dedicated people who work so hard to provide so many resources and programs and services for the people of Hawaii has just been very rewarding and very inspirational,” he says.

Though he doesn’t yet know what retirement will bring, one thing is certain: “Retirement will let me read much more, that’s for sure,” he says with a laugh.