Some thoughts regarding the 2012 conference of the Association of Hawaii Archivists (AHA) on Kauai, weekend February 18-19

Note: This is a guest post by SAA-SC member Barbara Trecker

The name, so apt, as it turns out: there were many “aha!” moments during this weekend on Kauai for a newbie LIS student.

I am in my second semester of the two-year graduate program at UH-Manoa, and over the previous six months of coursework and instruction I have learned many new terms and processes in the world of library and information science: controlled vocabulary, respect des fonds, deep database searching, retention schedule …and above all, SVMA  (So Very Many Acronyms). As is usual with education, I had learned the concepts – but still had to apply these terms to real life situations.

The beauty of just hanging out with other people in the field is the opportunity for chance conversations that turn into real insight. My insights were small, as befitting my place in the library/archive universe at this point in time – a mere babe in the woods – but certainly valuable at this stage.  With Bron, I had delightful conversations about description and documentation terminology across the worlds of archives, libraries and museums (and the blurry lines of interdisciplinary study that I enjoy). With Candace I had a conversation about sizing and describing the files of digital images in archival collections (helpful in an upcoming assignment).  Carol gave me helpful hints for patron interactions at the reference desk. (Wear interesting, conversation-starter accessories. They help buy time when conducting a search!) There were also RT conversations: the value of art-immersed education with Kanako and Scott Williams; the 50th Annual Peace Corps activities in Hilo which encouraged and reinforced my ongoing meditation about interactions between library and community. Aha.

Of course, it was also interesting to see first-hand just how many different ways my degree-to-come could be translated into gainful employment. The breadth and depth of LIS training was usefully demonstrated in a number of fascinating jobs. (And all this on little Kauai! Perhaps there’s hope for me on Oahu or Maui after all. Aha.) This was heartening to see, especially for one who is packing on student-loan debt as if it were balloon-colored frosting on a little kid’s birthday cake.

We started off with a bang and a bell: a train ride on the last remnant of an old plantation railway system. Engineer Scott Johnson could just as easily turn a witty phrase as oil a gear, and is evidently passionate about his job  — as well as on the tangential issue of land conservation. We learned a lot about both, in a very brief time.   (http://www.kauaiplantationrailway.com/)

Next there was a tour of the estate and homes of a prominent family of the sugar plantation era (http://grovefarm.net/ ).  Although it was startling for us to see valuable old books and artifacts practically unprotected (we all visibly flinched, as future librarians, conservators, archivists and curators to see these in regular glass-front cabinets) but this is the way the institution was set up — as a “living museum” to be shown just the way the family had lived, down to the last two sisters. But technology lived there too, as we saw when we visited the workshop of Moises Madayag, curator for the Grove Farm Map Digitizing Project, who showed us his new equipment for digitizing large-scale maps and other material. The farm is in good hands with the museum staff, of course.

As is the Kauai Historical Society and archives, in a beautifully-renovated ‘mayorial’ building in downtown Lihue. With dedicated people and a long collective and institutional memory, they accomplish wonderful things to collect and record Kauai’s history. (http://kauaihistoricalsociety.org/)

I had thought that the train engineer we met on Saturday might be The Man on Earth Most Happy with His Job, but then we met Richard Hanna, who is the librarian at the National Tropical Botanical Garden ( http://www.ntbg.org/ ).   We toured the amazing library there, with its state-of-the-art facilities and stunning collection of rare books and herbaria (http://ntbg.org/resources/herbarium.php).

Lunchtime brought a program of pechakucha (project-sharing time with several AHA members) which provided many insights (aha!)  into the work that archivists are doing in Hawaii, in its many and varied forms and locations, from the former leper colony seaside on Molokai, to urban Honolulu, to the top of the volcano peaks.

 Afterward, we were free to amble around the massive botanical garden for the rest of the afternoon, oohing and ahhing. The word “garden” is a lovely word, but doesn’t quite do this place justice in scale or drama; after all, the site encompasses an entire valley!  I’m thinking something more Shakespearean …  more Arden than Garden.

Then  – as if “the office” (that lovely library and gorgeous garden) were not enough to make one person drop to their knees and thank the gods for good fortune – we saw where the luckiest librarian in the world lives:  nestled in a cozy cove between river and sea in the former Allerton estate home.  What a “commute”, eh? 

We lunched on the lanai, chatted about our studies and work, enjoyed the scenery and the company…  and all was well on Kauai.  I let all thought of those student loans drift away with the tide. For now.

We had time to bond

Note: This is a guest post by SAA-SC member Tamara Martinez.

When I first heard about the AHA conference in Kaua‘i, I thought to myself, it probably would be nice but I can’t afford to go. After a lot of encouragement by Kapena Shim, SAA Student Chapter President and overall champion of archives, did I realize that I should make the trip.  I was thrilled to hear that many other students from the LIS program decided to also attend.

The conference was not in the typical style I am accustomed to, i.e., starting in a large banquet hall for opening speakers then moving to a smaller discussion room for a break-out session then back to the banquet hall for a keynote lunchtime speaker then back to the smaller discussion rooms for intimate lectures on specific topics. The AHA conference instead was held at four distinct sites around the east and south shores of Kaua’i: Grove Farm Museum and Locomotive and Kaua’i Historical Society in Līhu’e and the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) and the Allerton Garden in Kalāheo.

For me, the most moving part of the conference happened on the second day when our group was shuttled deep into the gated NTBG. As we drove into Lāwa`i Valley, we all witnessed stunning views of the south shore and listened to our guide as he shared recent efforts to expand the gardens while continuing to preserve the largest collection of native Hawaiian plants. We toured the state-of-the-art NTBG Herbarium and excitedly snapped photos of the gorgeous floor-to-ceiling glass walled library room, which has “the largest botanical/horticultural collection in Hawai‘i, with more than 44,000 books, prints, and images.”

In addition to being awed by the grounds and facilities, I was impressed by NTBG’s Dr. Ragone’s work to help address global hunger by cultivating breadfruit in other tropical countries and by reinvesting in Pacific Island nations, like Samoa, to sustain their existing diversity of breadfruit (see The Breadfruit Institute). This was an important concept to see implemented, as indigenous knowledge is often vulnerable for exploitation. It is quite clear that the work of archivists and librarians is intermingled in intellectual property rights and that we have a duty to understand and exercise the most respectful ways to disseminate and represent indigenous knowledge.

This conference opened my eyes to beautiful scenery, the value of establishing international partnerships and the importance of sharing resources in the most righteous way. The dynamic itinerary of the conference also made it possible for participants to learn from one another as we all have diverse upbringings and points of view. My consciousness was raised by my fellow students who have more background knowledge of the places we visited and my experiences were enhanced by the seasoned professionals who have many years of practical knowledge working with archives.

Small tour groups presented us with opportunities to ask professionally relevant questions, tinted shuttles gave us the chance to sit side by side, and eating together with the warm breeze on our backs allowed us to start new and strengthen old friendships. I will forever cherish the intimate moments when we shared our work, interests and interpretations of the conference. The 2012 AHA conference gave us the space and time to bond, eat, converse, share, laugh, and explore.

Beautiful Kaua‘i

Note: This is a guest post by SAA-SC member Koa Luke.

On February 18-19th I was part of a group of budding archive students who attended the annual meeting of AHA on Kaua‘i and what a great opportunity it was to bond with fellow archivist students, those in the field and see first-hand the challenges and successes of archivists and others who hosted us from the garden island.

The first stop my group visited was the trains at Grove garden run by the conductor Steve Johnson.  The locomotive “Paulo” is the last running steam locomotive in Hawai‘i and it was a sight to see “Paulo” in full operation.  Before we embarked on our train ride Steve talked to us about the challenges of keeping the locomotive going which range from upkeep of the train to financing the project.  The locomotive, like all trains in Hawai‘i, was built and used to transport sugar cane from the planation to the ports.  The best part of talking story with Steve is on the knowledge he holds about the train, the different camps in the old planation, and plantation life and experiences.  In his profession of preserving this rich history of the island he gets the chance to go out in the community and talk to old planation workers.  In this act of “remembering” and “projecting” their memories Steve serves as a living archives so that these experiences never get lost in the move to pave the past over with concrete slabs and metal (re: urban development).  The track at Grove farms railway is only a short ride they are trying to get more track laid but Steve noted how it’s a challenge to get the funding for the expansion of the tracks (when you are on Kaua‘i visit them and learn more at http://www.kauaitrains.com/).

My other favorite part of the tour was visiting the archives at The Kaua‘i Historical Society and learning about all the treasures they house in there collection.  When we first entered the building we got a description of the online system and website of the archives where you can access some of their treasures and finding aids digitally.  What impressed me the most was hearing about a project that one of our fellow LIS students, Malina Pereza is working on.  Malina is processing the papers of Frances Frazier who was a long time student of Mary Kawena Pukui and has translated many works from Hawaiian including The True Story of Kaluaikoolau: As told by his wife, Piilani (one of my favorite books).  The papers include translated mo‘olelo and Kaua‘i Land Commission Awards from the kingdom.  This an example of archives being a part of justice and aiding the community; many Kānaka ‘Ōiwi (Native Hawaiians) access and research these records in to learn more about their ancestors, do genealogy research, and show connection to a particular piece of land(visit the archives virtually at http://kauaihistoricalsociety.org/, and then go there!).  Other sites visited brought up sensitive issues that archivists contend with daily.

As a future archivist I think about these issues often which include: how to archive the memories and collections of knowledge developed and held by indigenous communities and make sure they are accessed in a way that gives justice to those deep knowledge systems.  Overall it was an amazing trip and meeting.  It was a chance to bond with fellow archivist students, meet and network with those in the field, and see how issues in archives and record keeping, such as preservation and politics, play out on the ground.