Striking Gold: The American Haiku Archive

The following text is from a handout shared with members of the Haiku Society of America in October of 1995 to help promote the formation of the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento. This handout helped to overcome opposition to or uncertainty about the west coast location. Not previously published. The postscript at the end provides additional information about the haiku archives and the result of this promotional text. See also American Haiku Archives Inauguration (1996).
 

 

An introduction to the “American Haiku Archive” project:

A proposed home for the Haiku Society of America haiku library

at the California State Library in Sacramento.

 

For many years members of the Haiku Society of America have discussed possible homes for the society’s library. The current front runner of those possibilities is the California State Library—one of the premier libraries of the world, with a brand-new, multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art research and archive facility. The State Librarian, Dr. Kevin Starr (a friend of Jerry Kilbride’s), recently took the initiative to suggest that the American haiku community create a national collection of haiku at the California State Library in Sacramento. They are offering exactly what we need!

       This is indeed a tremendous opportunity. Every option we could want will be taken care of (eagerly) by the California State Library facilities and staff: archiving, complete cataloguing, plenty of space and funding, digitizing, Internet access, and more. Much of this haiku collection would be accessible to anyone anywhere around the country—and around the world—through advanced technology and digital access, as well s by in-person viewing of catalogs, books, magazines, papers, letters, photographs, videos, tape recordings, ephemera, and other materials. Individuals in the haiku community are in a unique place to support such a collection, and the Haiku Society of America stands at the forefront in being able to guide the creation of the collection and to supply many of the needed materials. The California State Library wants this to happen! We would be foolish to miss such an opportunity.

       In response, Jerry Kilbride, Garry Gay, George Olczak, and I have set ourselves up as an independent committee to promote this project, and to act, for the time being, as a liaison between the HAS and the California State Library. We have also solicited the help of Tom Clausen [a librarian], Elizabeth Searle Lamb [major initial donor], Ce Rosenow [an academic], and George Swede [to represent Canada] as an advisory committee. We are calling this project the “American Haiku Archive,” and we would like to have the Haiku Society of America library as a cornerstone of the archive. Our proposal is that this archive include the HSA library rather than simply be the HSA library, as we think that by being nonpartisan the archive can gain support from all its members [I should have said constituents, since I didn’t mean just HSA members], and entice many people who may have no connection to the HSA (either now or in the future) to donate their haiku-related libraries and papers. In other words, we think this library project needs the vision to encompass all haiku written or translated into English, and should have as broad a scope as possible, exceeding that of just the haiku activity of the Haiku Society of America. We would like to depoliticize such an archive, so that everyone interested in haiku and related forms of poetry might be attracted to it and wish to support it. Of course, the HSA library is probably the most important component of such an archive, and we would like to do everything we can to have the HSA library as the cornerstone of this ongoing project.

       Incidentally, Kevin Starr was appointed as State Librarian by California Governor Pete Wilson and was confirmed by unanimous vote of the California State Senate on April 6, 1995. Starr is the seventh California State Librarian since 1850, so he offers a long-term commitment to his job (often a life-time appointment), and to the proposed American Haiku Archive. He is very enthusiastic about this haiku project, and we are extremely fortunate to have him approach us. Other alternatives have always been the other way around, and we have never had such enthusiastic support from within any library or university or other institution.

       So, where do we stand? This is a great opportunity, and we would like to give HSA members this summation of the library project so you can be informed. Even United States Poet Laureate Robert Hass has given the project preliminary endorsement and is willing to help us generate publicity. We have several large private haiku collections already lined up for donation to the archive, and many other possibilities that will serve the haiku community for literally hundreds of years into the future if we exercise the vision to make the most of this opportunity today. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Kevin Starr has said that he wants to do whatever is necessary to get the HSA collection housed in the California State Library. We hope we can count on every [HSA] member’s support to make this a reality.

       Before leaving the topic of the HSA library, we know there are some concerns about the geographic location of such a library. Our feeling is that the entire library needs to be somewhere—and no matter where it is, quite likely not everyone will be happy. However, with the possibility to digitize many materials in this collection, and with thorough cataloguing and Internet access to this material, more and more these days it doesn’t matter where one lives (around the world, even!)—one can still have access to the material. Even if there were only limited access, it would still be better than the current situation, where there is no access, inadequate archival and storage of valuable materials, and little or no cataloguing. But more than simply being a secure place for books and other materials on haiku and related subjects, the American Haiku Archive will offer a variety of means of access. This is certainly the plan for our haiku materials at the California State Library, and we already hope to digitize some materials. At their suggestion, the California State Library also plans, where possible, to have two copies of each book or magazine deposited in the American Haiku Archive. One copy would appear in circulation stacks in a special haiku section open for secure public browsing; another copy (and all rare or fragile materials) would be placed in a protected, humidity-controlled, permanent archive with controlled access. The possibilities for this archive are very exciting indeed.

       At any rate, some people might think that the HSA library should be on the east coast. Others may think it should be on the west coast. Or wherever. Our feeling is that “it” isn’t anywhere at the moment—just some books scattered about n the attics of various former HSA presidents. And possibly collecting cobwebs and deteriorating quickly, we might add. No one has any access to any of it right now. What’s most important is that the entire HSA library be collected into a single location and be put somewhere. If there is a better opportunity elsewhere in the country, other than the California State Library, we would be happy to put our energies into supporting that. This proposal happens to be in Northern California, but that is not important to us. We think there may be some advantages to having such an archive on the Pacific Rim, closer to Japan, and we think there may be some perceived good to having such a library physically close to either New York or San Francisco (essentially the two most active centers for haiku activity in the last 30+ years). But most important is the fact that something needs to be done, and done soon.

       Whatever concerns anyone may have about placing the HSA library in the proposed American Haiku Archive in Sacramento, California, we feel certain that we can address those concerns—and meet or greatly exceed anyone’s expectations as to what should be required for an HSA library. What’s more, we would rather not spend time pursuing the opportunity in Sacramento if there is a better opportunity elsewhere. As a consequence, we would like to support whatever is in the best interests of haiku, the HSA, its members, and the HSA library. At the moment, we think that the California State Library is our best option, for financial, archival, and academic reasons. Not only does it seem the “best” option, it far exceeds anything we could have imagined. Garry Gay and Jerry Kilbride, on visiting the facility in person, have given glowing reports about the facilities, the staff, and their enthusiasm for this project. Security is state-of-the-art, and so is everything else you could imagine, including theft prevention, and damage prevention from earthquakes, floods, and fires. As a research facility, the California State Library is second-to-none. Their vision (and ours) is that the American Haiku Archive be not just “a haiku library” but the haiku library, a collection of world-wide importance for English literature on haiku and related topics. This is a place where we hope publishers of all current and future haiku books and magazines will want to deposit copies of their publications, a place where well-known poets can bequeath their papers and haiku libraries when they pass away, a place where any individual might donate (with tax benefits) their rare and valuable haiku publications, a place where researchers a hundred years from now will be able to study the history of American haiku in our time and benefit from our foresight.

       The California State Library offers a way—and their enthusiasm—to make this vision a reality. We really have struck gold here, and we hope we can count on your support. If you have any questions about the American Haiku Archive project, or know of any other options or ideas, please do let us know. We are currently drafting a possible “mission statement” for the archive, so if you have any comments or suggestions for it, please contact a committee member. There is much to be done, and many details to be finalized—such as determining how to process donated books, and the establishment of an advisory board. Obviously, we need your help. We want this to be what you want it to be. Please let us know your thoughts.

 

For more information on the American Haiku Archive proposal, please contact:

 

Michael Dylan Welch

248 Beach Park Boulevard

Foster City, California 94404

 

Phone: 415/571-9428

Email: WelchM@aol.com

[address and phone no longer correct]

 
 

Postscript

 
I wrote this text in 1995 to share with members of the Haiku Society of America, especially key members attending the “Haiku Chicago” joint conference between the HSA and the Haiku International Association, held in October of 1995. I printed the flyer on goldenrod paper because I believed we really had struck gold with the American Haiku Archive in California. At the time there was some disagreement about where the HSA’s archives should be housed. This document helped to inform and persuade many HSA members, including most HSA officers, to support the commitment of the society’s archive materials to the American Haiku Archive, and to commit the HSA to making the California State Library its official archives. These goals were accomplished by the unanimous vote of the HSA executive committee as one of its first acts of business in January of 1996, when the new executive committee took office for that year. The American Haiku Archive was founded on 12 July 1996, with the haiku collections of the Haiku Society of America and Elizabeth Searle Lamb as the archive’s cornerstones. The archive immediately became the largest public collection of haiku books and related materials outside Japan—and remains the largest, at least in the English language.

       What hasn’t quite happened, at least not sufficiently, is the digitizing of materials plus Internet access to those materials, other than access to catalog listings. In addition, the California state budget later took some serious hits that curtailed library funding, but the collection has continued with support from the California State Library as much as possible. I originally proposed the name of the archives, meaning “American” to encompass all of the Americas, and not just the United States (something that should come as no surprise since I’m Canadian). I also couldn’t resist the acronym of AHA—perfect for haiku and the “aha” moment that this poetry seeks to preserve. The original name, as this document demonstrates, was “American Haiku Archive,” but it quickly came to be referred to as the “American Haiku Archives.” What hasn’t changed, however, is the care and commitment that our haiku materials receive from the California State Library staff.

       The foundation of the American Haiku Archives would not have happened without the support of the Haiku Society of America, as well as its officers and members, together with the organizational support of the American Haiku Archives committee. Also providing significant local support were members of the Haiku Poets of Northern California and the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society who volunteered their time to help make the archives a reality. It has been my privilege to visit the archives numerous times, and to sit next to Gary Snyder, Cor van den Heuvel, James Hackett, and others in Dr. Starr’s large wood-paneled office to experience first-hand how important this archive is to the preservation of haiku materials. With the formation of the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento, the haiku community did, indeed, strike gold.

—23 November 2011