The archives and special collections in the Joseph F. Smith Library contain more than 1,500 relics and items, ranging from photographs, microfilm, aging documents and cultural artifacts. According to University Archivist Brooks Haderlie, the archives serve the purpose of preserving the history and culture of BYU–Hawaii and the Laie community.
Haderlie explained the immense challenge of cataloging all the variety of items in the archive, by saying, “We have a lot of bowls, stones, fish hooks, woven cloth and baskets, tapa cloth, Hawaiian quilt patterns, tapa beaters, gourds and a lot of shells. Those are just the artifacts.
“We have over 10,000 videos, dating back to the 1940s, taken with early handheld film cameras, devotional videos and basketball games from the university. We also have a lot of audio recordings from the games, as well as recordings of David O. McKay from the dedication ceremony.”
Additionally, Haderlie said the archives has about 2,000 cassette recordings, several vinyl audio pressings and 500 reels of reel-to-reel audiotape that need to be digitized.
It also has almost 500 collections of photos, manuscripts, documents and first editions of the Book of Mormon in various languages, including an original 1830 edition of the book.
To preserve the aging antiques and heirlooms, Haderlie said the archives staff take steps to ensure its materials are not damaged. “We put them in archival boxes, made out of a material that is acid-free, in acid-free folders, and then we catalog them and assign them a call number.”
This process, according to Haderlie, makes it easier for someone to find and access the artifacts and protects the materials from the elements.
“Digitizing and scanning are easy to do. . . If someone requests a look at an old document, we can scan and send a copy to them, without damaging the original document.”
Religion Associate Professor Eric-Jon Marlowe said communication and changing technology are challenges for every archivist. “The president of The Church of Jesus Christ has been communicating more by email in the past 20 years. The Church Archives have been trying to determine how to keep and maintain those for the records.”
Haderlie said the archives have transitioned from being gatekeepers to becoming publishers. “I just took some courses in Texas on how to deal with the process of digitizing. Some of these items have always been digital. They’ve never had a print photograph. The challenge is there’s so much information available, and it becomes hard to know how to preserve it.”
He also explained how digital information is easily manipulated in the modern era, and it is a challenge for the archivists to ensure they have authentic original documents.
“I was just listening to this morning about audio manipulation, and I know the Church is concerned about people taking conference talks and potentially remixing them to make it sound like someone said something out of context.”
The risk of loss
Haderlie affirmed the archives are continuing to go more digital in the coming years because of the risk of loss. He brought up the fire that destroyed the National Library in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003. The fire destroyed irreplaceable, centuries-old manuscripts.
“Here, in Laie, [the archivists] hope the risk of loss is quite low. But a tsunami, an earthquake or a head-on hurricane could lead to a lot of things being lost forever.”
He then gestured to the shining emergency sprinkler heads jutting out of the ceiling. “If someone just bumped that sprinkler, hundreds of gallons of water would come pouring out, and potentially ruin what we have. That’s another reason why we want things to be digitized, in the event of a loss.”
Currently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is microfilming at the Hawaii State Archives in Honolulu. Microfilming is making copies of records on film, so if the digital copy is lost, there is still a hard copy.
“The Church makes free copies. They make a backup copy in case there’s a fire or flood. The Church has done it around the world.”
“Digitizing should make it much easier for students to find what they’re looking for,” he continued.
“In a traditional archive, we create things called finding aids, and we index a collection. We’re never going to have an index that makes it easy to find something within a matter of minutes.
“All of us are now used to second-day delivery and other forms of instant gratification. When you come to an archive, it’s going to take you a while to look through possible locations to find a document that may be or not be preserved.”
Haderlie said there is a catalog located in the library. “But here, we have a listing of collections much broader. So anyone coming here needs to make an educated guess to find what they need. It may or may not help with the research.”
With the increase of digitizing records and artifacts, Haderlie said he hopes more students take advantage of the archives. “We’d love to see more university students come up. We don’t get a lot of individual students. I think if it’s more accessible, there will be more students coming up here for research.”
Despite the increase in digitizing and easier access to the archives’ items, Haderlie said nothing could replace holding an 1830 English Book of Mormon Joseph Smith may have held.