It's Just a Library ... Or Is It?

One man’s dedication to build it, and another man’s efforts to modernize it

Writer: Victoria Jose
Photographer: Caralyn Fitzpatrick

Accompanying photos: Historic photo of original library (Photo credit: Office of the Chancellor’s Blog); photos of Edwin Mookini and Joseph Sanchez (WIll seek out Cara for photo of current library)

The Edwin Mookini Library is more than a place to get books: It’s the result of one man’s dedication to education, it’s also the gateway to unlimited knowledge, certainly unlimited with the internet, and the current director wants to ensure its access for all students.

Description of photo Originally the library on campus was located at what we know today as the UH Hilo Computer Center and the UH Hilo-Hawaii Community College Education Center, according to the Chancellor’s Blog under entry called, “History of UH Hilo.”

Upon opening in 1961, the library housed 13,000 new volumes and by 1975 it had more than 60,000 volumes, according to the book, “A College in the Making, University of Hawaii at Hilo” by Frank Inouye. Edwin Mookini, the second chancellor for UH Hilo, made his mission to improve the library and its collection because he felt like it was “inadequate,” according to the school library’s website. Description of photo

Mookini became chancellor of UH Hilo after the resignation of the first-ever chancellor Paul Miwa in October of 1975. Mookini held a bachelor’s and master’s of science from University of Chicago and a Ph.D from the University of California-Los Angeles. He taught mathematics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa before becoming the UH Hilo chancellor.

During his tenure as chancellor, he would face much criticism for choosing to continue to live on Oahu, rather than moving out to Hilo, according to Inouye in his book.

“In effect, he was often referred to as an ‘absentee landlord,’ or the chancellor who would have lived out of a suitcase in Hilo,” recalled retired UH Hilo University Relations Director Gerald DeMello of Mookini. “This was not fair and also an incorrect perspective because his strategy to build and grow UH Hilo was to be on Oahu,” DeMello said, adding, “When the State Legislature was in session, he was there and able to access and talk with state representatives and state senators about UH Hilo.”

DeMello noted that during Mookini’s “era,” it was Oahu “where the pulse of power was centralized.“ He added that Mookini “was positioned to advocate for UH Hilo within the UH system — he also worked with the Board of Regents members that lived in Honolulu.” DeMello affirmed that Mookini “understood the politics of Hawaii, that of advocating for UH Hilo with legislators.”

In 1976 Mookini submitted testimony to the House Finance Committee and in 1977 to the House Higher Education Committee, seeking funding for the library that we know today. His efforts would prove successful in 1981, when the Mookini Library and Media Center opened its doors for the first time, the Chancellor’s Blog states.

Today Joseph Sanchez is the Edwin Mookini Library Services director. Man wearing a red and purple plaid collared shirt, smiling for the photograph. He isn’t very familiar with the Edwin Mookini history, since he has been the director since 2018, but he does recognize the value of his inheritance. Sanchez hopes to continue Mookini’s legacy by further improving the library’s services.

Sanchez’s main goal is to have more interaction with students’ learning and faculty. He would like to “double the Hawaiian space” and even have a media production studio and a podcast studio. Generally, he wants to offer students access to more technology and software to “make students productive 21st century employers.”

For his own legacy, Sanchez wants to be remembered for having “cared about students.”

The reason Sanchez cares so much is because he was the first person in his family to go to college, and he didn’t have a lot of help along the way, so he wants to be the one in students’ lives to provide that help, and he is making it happen at the library.

Edwin Mookini Library has over 21 collections on various subjects in-house, ranging from newspaper archives to government documents, to textbooks and recreational reading, along with access to multiple online databases, the library’s website indicates.

Along with access to multiple online databases regularly, the library has put together a list of online services that for a short time have allowed access to their sources. Simply go to the library’s home page, click on “library news,” and click on the link that says, “Temporary Open Access from Various Publishers and Vendors.” You will be brought to a page that contains a list of sources that you can temporarily access.

Should you find yourself needing that one book that could make or break a paper only then to find out that it is not at Mookini, the interlibrary loan program is still up and running, according to the library’s website. The only exception is that you cannot request material from outside the UH library system.

Description of photo

Those without a computer may check one out at the UH Hilo library, the website indicates. Wahi Pāpaho is the new media commons program. There are two types of computers available for loans, and they come equipped with Microsoft 2016, Firefox, Chrome, and Zoom. Computer accessories such as headsets, adapters, and even pen tablets are also available for loaning.

If you still find that you are having a hard time navigating the library, there is a new online chat service on the library’s website. To check if someone is available to talk, click “help.”

Visit the library’s website at

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