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Helen Wong Smith

For her contributions in cultural competency to the archival and records profession, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library Archivist Helen Wong Smith has been recognized by the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) with the President’s Award of Excellence. Wong Smith received the award in September. The recognition is not open for nominations and is given at the discretion of the CoSA president.

CoSA is a nonprofit membership organization providing leadership and support for state and territorial government archives in 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia. While not a member herself, Wong Smith was invited by CoSA to present a 2020 webinar How Cultural Competency Promotes Diversity and Inclusion in Your Archive, followed by an online discussion, and included her in an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded project to provide training and mentoring support for its members.

“To receive the Presidentʻs Award of Excellence from an organization I am not a member of is an unexpected honor and reflects the applicability of the cultural competency framework in our society,” said Wong Smith. “There are a myriad of opportunities to integrate cultural competency awareness and training which can have immediate effects and hopefully influence policy and procedures.”

Assistance with CoSA grant

helen wong smith looking at photos
Wong Smith scans through old photos in the Hamilton Library archives.

CoSA Immediate Past President W. Eric Emerson applauded Smith for her extraordinary contributions to the IMLS grant, BACKER (Building Archival Capacity for Keeping Electronic Records), and its integral emphasis on ensuring that cultural competency and awareness are part of building useful and responsive digital repositories and electronic records programs.

“Helen’s unmatched expertise in cultural competency and thoughtful guidance has been so helpful to CoSA members during the first year of the grant, and we look forward to her continued contribution to CoSA’s cultural competency emphasis,“ Emerson said. “We know that the work she is doing with us over this three-year grant will have a lasting impact on state and territorial archives far into the future, on our collections, our users and our workforce.”

Wong Smith led a survey project to assess nationwide cultural competency in state archives, which resulted in a vital report, Relevant, Respectful, and Responsive: Government Archives in the 21st Century–An Overview of Cultural Competency in State and Territorial Archives in 2022. The report will help guide CoSA’s effort in assisting state and territorial archives reach greater cultural competency. In addition, she used the results of the report and created and offered a series of cultural competency workshops, followed by hosting monthly discussion groups.

“Developing this multi-year program aligns with my work on the Provostʻs Commission on Racism and Bias, which has evolved into a broader DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility) effort with the UH Campus Climate Committee,” said Wong Smith.

Wong Smith has served as archivist for University Records since 2018. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies and a master’s in library and information science from UH Mānoa. She currently serves as vice-president/president-elect of the Society of American Archivists, the oldest and largest national organization of professional archivists in North America, and is the first person from Hawaiʻi to hold this position. For more than 35 years, she has highlighted Hawaiian collections through research and presentations and has written extensively on Hawaiian cultural resources.

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