University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library Archivist Helen Wong Smith has been selected as vice president/president-elect of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the oldest and largest national organization of professional archivists in North America. She becomes the first person from Hawaiʻi to hold this position. She will begin her one-year term in August and will become SAA’s 78th president in 2023–24.
Widely known for her work on cultural competency, Wong Smith is excited to be serving in this new role at SAA. “I see it as an opportunity to inform and share with the rest of the country and profession the wealth of resources we have here in the islands, including records reflecting five governments (kingdom, provisional, republic, territory and state) and their impacts on the kānaka maoli and the diverse cultures and communities who selected to make Hawaiʻi their home, and the caliber of archivists, both professional and community, and repositories we possess,” she said.
A product of UH Mānoa, Wong holds a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian Studies and a master’s in Library and Information Science. She has served as university archivist at UH Mānoa since 2018. Her prior UH positions include researcher at Nā Pua Noʻeau: Center for Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children at UH Hilo, recruitment coordinator for the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, Hawaiian Collection Librarian in UH Hilo’s Edwin H. Mookini Library, and Pharmacy & Health Sciences Resources Coordinator at the Daniel K. Inouye School of Pharmacy.
Wong has been involved with SAA since 2003 and has served in a number of capacities, including her involvement on several committees, being elected to the SAA council and delivering a number of presentations at the annual conferences. A 2015 plenary address calling for cultural competency training allowed her to develop a workshop she has delivered across the country since 2017.
For more than 35 years, Wong has highlighted Hawaiian collections through research and presentations and has written extensively on Hawaiian cultural resources. In addition to her previous UH appointments, she was also lead archivist for the Pacific Island Network of the National Park Service, cultural specialist for Kamehameha Schools and librarian archivist for the State Historic Preservation Division.
“Teaching cultural competency while at UH Hilo, I recognized how cultural competency can advance the archival profession. This framework has extended to the museum sector through a series of webinars for the Hawaiʻi Museum Association and to private companies,” Wong said. “It is an inherent framework kamaʻāina have utilized to live and work with the diverse cultures living closely together and its employment has proven benefits in multiple sectors such as health services, education and business.”
Among Wong’s project highlights as university archivist include the Mitsuo Aoki Papers, which include the collection of the theologian, minister, college professor and founder of UH Mānoa Department of Religion, and the Luciano Minerbi Papers, which exceed 50 linear feet and captures the earliest community-based planning activities in the islands.
- Related UH News story: Urban planning emeritus professor shares life’s works, May 20, 2020
—By Arlene Abiang