If you find yourself with some extra time on a Wednesday, then you know where you should go? The Robert Allerton Art Library, whose entrance is diagonal to Henri Matisse’s Annelies, White Tulips, and Anemones in our Modernism gallery.
Open on Wednesdays and by appointment only, the art library boasts not only 55,000 books and exhibition catalogs, but over 40 subscriptions to various art publications—like Frieze and Art & Antiques Magazine—and newspapers. Travel back in history by diving into a 40-year-old Japanese periodical and then return to the present-day by cracking open the latest issue of ARTNews.
“It’s a fun place to hang around,” head librarian Sachiyo Kawai‘ae‘a tells us.
Currently, the library is about halfway through a total revamp, switching from the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress’ system. It’s a mighty undertaking for Kawai‘ae‘a, who wants the library to go more digital. Good thing she has the help of two library assistants and several volunteers. With the digital makeover, even if it’s not a Wednesday, you’re still able to hop online to browse the library’s lexicon. (In addition to the paper resources, the art library also subscribes to four databases, like JSTOR.)
This July, the library started participating in a pilot program called A&Ae Portal—developed by the Yale University Press with grant funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—alongside institutions like The Smithsonian Institution Libraries, MoMA Library and Harvard Library. This new electronic platform makes backlist and out-of-print titles more easily discoverable.
Basically, there are now countless ways the art library can connect you with information.
We caught up with Kawai‘ae‘a to view the library’s highlights and archival rooms to see what’s new—and more accurately, what’s old. (On the same day, Hawai’i-based scholar David W. Forbes, who has several published books located in our very library, was leafing through several books and magazines.)
In the Reading Room of the library, Kawai‘ae‘a recommends people check out the Current Exhibitions section, which showcases books related to—as you would guess—the museum’s ongoing exhibitions. On display right now are books related to the exhibition Lacquer and Clay: Okinawan Art. Docents especially love browsing through these books, for obvious reasons, she says.
She also suggests guests browse through the Hawai’i section, which consists of books about not only art and local artists but also history and storytelling. Not many mainland folks will come across these books, she says. One book that catches our eye? Mark Twain and Hawaii by Walter Frances Frear.
Kawai‘ae‘a also takes us through the upstairs and downstairs Main Collection rooms, where there are rows and rows of books that aren’t currently accessible to the public. She points out how some of the oldest books in the library’s collection date back to the 1600s.
Downstairs, she shows us the library’s oldest periodical (that’s actually still running), Kokka. It started publication in 1889, making it about 128 years old.
We have to say that we wholeheartedly agree with Kawai‘ae‘a on her sentiment of the library. It is most definitely a fun place to hang out.
To make an appointment, send an email or call 808-532-8754.