The Hawaiian Collection housed at UH Hilo’s Edwin H. Mookini Library is the largest circulating collection of its kind in the state.
The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s Hawaiian Collection housed at Edwin H. Mookini Library contains a wealth of information pertaining to all things Hawai‘i, from scientific theses and antique Hawaiian language newspapers to children’s books. It is the largest circulating collection of its kind in the state, and while open to the general public, it is curated primarily to serve UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College students, faculty, and staff for all Hawai‘i-related scholarly and informational needs.
“Our main mission really is to support student learning, so we try to collect books and other materials which will support assignments and research for our students and faculty,” says Lari-Anne Au, a librarian currently involved in the collection.
This mission, along with the collection’s location being on Hawai‘i Island, greatly influences what kinds of materials are acquired by the curators. Au emphasizes the importance of place in the collection’s mission. “Because of where we are here on the Big Island, we try to collect Hawai‘i Island materials as best we can,” she says.
The breadth of even this subcategory is impressive. The Hawai‘i Island-related material consists of novels, scientific theses, maps from the late 1800s, guidebooks, and even phonebooks.
Resource for students
Many students come to the collection on assignments related to wahi pana, or important places, as the collection has many resources relevant to this field of study. In the collection, students are able to look at maps and land surveys which show places that modern maps don’t identify.
With its wide range of subject matter and material, the collection presents a multifaceted portrait of Hawai‘i. Its impressive range means that students across multiple disciplines find the collection useful to their studies. All books, maps, and microfilms have the potential to be relevant to student work, even the phone books which have been used by students in the past to research Hawai‘i’s business community.
In addition to drawing from the collection, student work and research contribute to it a great deal. Several student workers are employed in the collection. They help to manage the circulating collection. They clean and organize the materials and ensure that everything is kept in its proper place, and they also create a themed display every month which features collection materials.
The current display features Hawaiian language songbooks and materials relevant to La Kuo‘ko‘a or Hawaiian Independence Day.
The student workers also serve as guides for students who come into the collection looking for specific material.
The collection does serve in part to protect valuable or rare materials. Behind the collection’s circulation desk and the bust of volcanologist Chester Keeler Wentworth is the door to the vault, a small climate-controlled room full of high shelves stacked with rare materials, including a Hawaiian language bible from the mid-1800s, which is housed in a protective box.
This part of the collection mainly contains books that are out of print or hard to come by for other reasons, or which the curators of the collection want to ensure will stay in good condition.
“Most of the books in here don’t leave this room,” says Au. Students are able to access them within the collection. The fact that such rare and unique materials are accessible to the campus community makes the vault an invaluable resource.
Other notable rare materials include microfilm records of Hawaiian language newspapers from as far back as the 1840s. These records, along with the generations of maps of the island and other documents, show different facets of Hawai‘i’s history throughout time.
The collection serves as a record for the future, too, as materials contributed now will help students, faculty, and community members with their information needs throughout the coming years.
By Evangeline Lemieux, who is double majoring in English and medical anthropology at UH Hilo.
Photos by Cooper Lund, a marine science major at UH Hilo.