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Riley Moffat: CED librarian, Pacific historian, retiree

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From 41 years of experience as a librarian in the Church Education System, Riley Moffat knows about books and has even written them. He said about 10 of his books on maps and history can be found in the BYU-Hawaii Library.“I’ve been mostly a librarian,” said Moffat. “In the South Pacific, I was the director of Library Services for church schools in Tonga, and when they were building new schools in Samoa and Fiji, I would design the library and train the people to work in them.” After retiring from the BYUH Library in June 2014 as head of reference, Moffat said he continues to research and write about the history of the LDS Church in the Pacific and is staying busy in retirement. “My wife and I have been volunteering in New Zealand for the past few months at the new branch of the LDS Church history library down there,” he said, where they have been cataloging oral histories and other assignments. “Over the years you get all these projects you want to do,” he said.In addition to that, “I’m also working on a history of what’s called the Maori Agricultural College. The church had a high school about 80 or 90 years ago, which was destroyed by an earthquake and was never rebuilt,” said Moffat. Moffat is currently working with BYU Provo Religion Professor Fred Woods on “a guidebook to LDS Church history sites around around the Hawaiian Islands. I just got back from Maui, trying to find sites of old chapels and talking to old timers about what it was like when you just had a little wooden church,” he said. Moffat said he is planning to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Laie Hawaii Temple, coming up in 2019, and this year’s celebration of the 150th anniversary since the LDS Church bought the Laie Plantation on Jan. 26, 1865. Activities are being planned for later this year to celebrate this milestone.Writing histories and gathering information about the past has been an integral part to Moffat’s life in libraries. That life started with his mother, who was the library director at BYUH when it was Church College of Hawaii. “That is what brought us to Hawaii,” he said.Moffat has continued the family profession. “It was an honest way of making a decent living. Living in the library world for the last 40 years has been fun. You don’t have to know all the answers, but you are supposed to know how to find the answers or help people find the answers,” said Moffat. Moffat has seen a lot of change in the library over the course of his career. “When I first came here back in the ‘60s, the wind just blew threw the windows and you’d have to go through the collection periodically and wipe down the leather spines with alcohol because the mold would grow in the books.” They stopped doing that, he said, when the library conditions could be controlled with air conditioning.Cold kills insects and mold, so it is good for book preservation. “In the library, we apologize that it’s cold, but that is the way the books like it. You can put a coat on. The books can’t,” said Moffat with a laugh.Paper books still need to be cared for despite all of the information online, said Moffat. “Be aware that for some of the most important information, you’ll still have to see a paper book.” The reason is not all books will ever be digitized, said Moffat. “New books may come out as an electronic version and paper version, but not everybody, because of copyright laws and demand, is going to go back and scan or digitize the old books, unless they are really old and out of copyright.”“We realized electronic information is more popular and easier to use in some cases. We have been able to replace almost all of our paper periodicals and magazine subscriptions to electronic. That’s where I think most of the students here are going for good information. We always had a challenge teaching that Google can give you a million answers but maybe only two or three are the right ones,” he said. Students need to learn “how to be discerning consumers of digital information,” he continued, “and how to recognize a scholarly journal instead of pulp.”He explained why hard copy books can be more reliable than Google. “When you are putting up money to publish the book, the printer usually has quality control. Especially if, for example, the book is published by a university, they’ll be very careful to make sure that they are not going to publish anything that is really bad and get a bad reputation. They are not going to spend the money to print it and try to market it unless they are confident that it is providing the most accurate information.”Uploaded Feb. 26, 2015.
Writer: Samone Isom