In honor of National Archives Month this October, we are celebrating Punahou’s own Archives, a treasure trove that catalogs Punahou’s near 180 years of history. Archivist Kylee Mar answers frequently asked questions related to the Archives and her role as the School’s Archivist, since taking the position in 1999.
What is the Punahou School Archives? The Archives started as a loose collection of gifts, records and valuable materials handed down between administrations and librarians for decades before formalizing in the 1950s. It’s made up of School publications, photographs, multimedia, artifacts, institutional records and manuscript collections which explain the historical events, growth and development of the School. The Archives is located in the Lum Hawaiiana Room of Cooke Library.
Who can use the Punahou Archives? Students, faculty and staff, alumni, parents and the community are welcome to use the Archives for research and discovery. Currently, all inquiries and reference work are done online, as our doors are closed due to the pandemic.
What is archived and what isn’t? We exist to collect, conserve and share the records and documents that tell the story of Punahou. So, our goal is to archive everything related to that story. However, if the physical condition of the asset has deteriorated, for instance, it is moldy or pest-infested, we have to consider what it would take to preserve it and make it accessible and weigh that against retaining the asset.
How are old and fragile documents preserved? Assets are housed in temperature and humidity-controlled areas with water monitors on the floors, in case of flooding, and a very aggressive pest management policy and educational program. Depending on the condition of the document, image or audio/visual asset, we will re-house it in archival preservation materials for maximum support and conservation.
What’s the oldest item in the collection? This book, “The Memoirs of Henry Obookiah,” was published in 1818, and tells the story of Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia, who played a pivotal role in inspiring the missionary presence in Hawai‘i.
How are digital records preserved? Over the past 20 years, the Archives has received everything from floppy discs to 3/4″ videotape and CD/DVDs to external hard drives. It is an absolute challenge to keep up with digital files. In order to digitize an asset, such as a photograph, map or document, we scan it at high resolution, save it on a secure server and create additional files that can be used for more frequent and easier access. We are currently working on a digitization initiative, launched by a generous donation from Lum Yip Kee, Ltd, with the hope to make archived publications, maps and images available to the public.
As Punahou’s Archivist, what is your favorite part of the collection? Oh my, that’s hard! It’s like trying to select a favorite child. One of my favorite collections is the Punahou medals, rings and pins collection. These 3D artifacts were actually worn by a person. That person’s memories are still embedded and attached. These assets are extremely personal and it’s an honor to share each one and the stories behind them to others.
Do you have photos of old Punahou buildings? Our photograph collection houses many images as well as sketches of our first buildings on campus. This photograph of Alexander Hall is one of our favorites because of its unique angle. We will not be able to recreate this photo from this exact angle again because the Cooke Library and Academy Learning Commons now exists on the spot where this photo was taken.
What is your biggest challenge as an archivist? Documenting Punahou’s pandemic experience has been challenging, especially with everything online and changing so fast. We need to continuously think about how to archive this time period while we are making history. We have to ensure we have accurate records so that when people look back 100 years from now, they can see what we experienced, much like we’ve been able to study what things were like on campus and for students during the Spanish flu and World War II.
How can I learn more about the Punahou Archives? The best place to start is the “Punahou in 50 Objects” collection, which provides a window into the Archives as well as shares some of our favorite Punahou stories and memories.