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.

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