Political libraries vs. living memorials

History is important. It shows us the things we accomplished, the mistakes we made, and the people who influenced our lives. And it’s important to preserve our history and our connections to the past.

We want to be remembered. So it’s no surprise that we are trying to hold on to pieces of the past.

As early as 2010, Hawaii was vying to build President Barack Obama’s presidential library – even setting aside a $75 million plot of oceanfront property next to the University of Hawaii’s medical school.

Last month, the University of Hawaii revealed that it wants to spend $16-$20 million (plus $2 million for site planning) to build a library to house the congressional papers of Senator Daniel Inouye. As of August 25, the center is projected to cost $25 million. This is in addition a partnership between the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the Library of Congress to digitize all of Senator Inouye’s congressional papers and produce an oral history project.

Much as I love libraries and books, I would rather honor public service with living memorials. Think about the excitement of Duke’s OceanFest in Waikiki, honoring legendary waterman Duke Kahanamoku, with surfing contests, volleyball, soccer, paddleboard races, swimming races, and an expo.

Instead of a dedicated library, welcoming mainly graduate students and professors, here are some other ways to honor our public leaders in our communities:

* Fund scholarships and internships. Encourage students and recent graduates with scholarships, internship stipends, or bonuses for working in under-served communities. This would promote public service, politics, and foreign affairs.

* Create legal and accounting watchdog internships. Offer paid internship programs to identify duplicate, obsolete, and conflicting Hawaii laws and tax codes – and propose solutions. This would count as course credit for graduate students, promote government accountability, and help all constituents.

* Create or expand a jobs training program. Help students and employees upgrade their skills in leadership, management, and entrepreneurship. This would create a more skilled workforce and hopefully lead to more profitable businesses and more jobs.

* Build or repair a community recreation center. Design parks with the activities that our public leaders enjoy, such as bike parks, swimming pools, and hiking trails. This would help beautify Hawaii and build a stronger community, since so many of our parks and restrooms are in disrepair.

* Invest in economic revitalization. Build a community health clinic, partner with a credit union to offer business loans and lines of credit, or offer low-cost legal and financial advice for small businesses. This would encourage people to take care of themselves and promote entrepreneurship.

* Plant trees in the community. Dedicate trees along highways, in community parks, and on preservation and conservation lands. Neighborhood children could help plant the trees. This would beautify Hawaii, contribute to cleaner air, offer shade to pedestrians and park goers, and help with rainwater runoff.

Libraries are just one way to honor public officials. What do you think is the best way to honor and commemorate our public leaders? How would you like to be remembered?

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