Round-Table Discussion – Harness the Power of History
Hokkaido University has a wealth of historical resources that deserve to be regarded as “assets.” Based on the idea that the value of such assets may be enhanced if the facilities that store and manage them work together, staff members from three such facilities gathered for this discussion.
*The round-table discussion was held in June 2017
Masahiro OHARA, Professor, Hokkaido University Museum
After having worked as an assistant professor at the Hokkaido University School of Agriculture, Masahiro Ohara has worked for the university Museum since 2000. He became a professor the deputy director in 2011. He’s in charge of managing the insect specimens at the museum, including their use in research and display. He specializes in systematic entomology, especially beetles of the family Histeridae. In addition to entomology, he teaches classes on the preservation of museum collections and museum practice. He’s continued activities to make the University Museum more open to the local community and its residents by introducing the Saturday seminars for citizens, the museum volunteers, the parataxonomist training course and the CISE network.
Takaaki INOUE, Associate Professor, Hokkaido University Archives
Takaaki Inoue has been the director of the Hokkaido University Archives since its opening in 2005. The University Archives collects a wide range of materials on the university’s history, ranging from documents from the days of the university’s predecessor, Sapporo Agricultural College, more than 140 years ago to snapshots recently taken on campus. The archives store and present these to the public. They also handle various inquiries and investigations. He hopes that, when students want to know and learn about the history of Hokkaido University, they would find out the Archives has almost everything they need.
Kyoko JO, North Library, Hokkaido University Library
Kyoko Jo works as a library staff at Hokkaido University. She’s been in charge of user services at the North Library since 2016. She’s learning by trial and error every day to accomplish one of the missions of the library: “to support the development of students who are eager to learn and to solve problems on their own by providing a wealth of information that’s accessible in a comfortable, stimulating learning space.”
Introduction of the Archives, the Museum and the Library
First, please introduce the archives, the museum and the library.
Inoue：The Hokkaido University Archives collects materials on the university’s history. Although the majority are documents, objects and books are also collected. There are two main categories of materials. One is official university documents prepared or acquired for university management. When certain documents are no longer necessary as official documents, they’re stored as historical records of past management and decision-making methods. The other category is private materials provided by persons related to the university. For example, official university records are supplemented by materials on campus life and by research procedures established by faculty members, alumni and former employees or their families. The primary purposes are to collect, sort and store such materials and present them to the public.
Ohara：The Hokkaido University Museum was established in 1999 and was renovated in 2016. It has four tasks. The first is to hand down academic specimens to the next generation by storing and sorting them. The second is to conduct interdisciplinary research using academic materials. The third is to promote the dissemination of research results by holding exhibitions and seminars. The fourth is to create and disseminate various research projects centering around the museum. Currently, the basic task of the archives is to collect objects, and subjects of research conducted in individual schools are displayed under the theme of “Cutting-edge HU.” There’s also a café that serves alcoholic beverages now, and I’d like it to be used as a place for discussions.
Jo：The University Library provides books, magazines and electronic media to everyone at Hokkaido University as “infrastructure” for education, research and learning. The large libraries are the Main Library and the North Library. The Main Library is close to the buildings that house the liberal arts departments, and its collection consists mainly of Humanities materials. The North Library contains books for undergraduate students and serves as a place for first-year students to study. In addition to these, the existence of 21 departmental libraries that provide comprehensive services to individual departments distinguishes Hokkaido University. The Hokkaido University Library was designated as a United Nations Depository Library in 1963. It collects UN publications and presents them to the public, and holds events for students to discuss global issues. It also serves as an EU information center to transmit information from the EU. The library’s Rare Books and Special Collections Room has valuable materials, including Northern studies materials related to the Ainu and Siberia, materials on Hokkaido’s development and old maps.
What are your facility’s ambitions and issues?
Inoue：In 2005, when the University Archives was first established as an organization, materials were stored in a vacant space borrowed from the university. Then, it became possible for the Archives to use its own repository in April last year, when a building that had been used as the center for international students was given to the Archives. Now that we’ve finally established an environment for sorting materials and creating a list of them, our first task is to create an easy-toretrieve database system to make the materials easy to use.
Ohara：As a campus museum, the University Museum has two plans. The first is a plan to make the museum a base in a network for disseminating research results from Hokkaido University. In fact, exhibits at the Second Farm and Fisheries Museum at School of Fisheries Sciences, which are also under the control of the Museum, are insufficient. There are also display spaces on the second floor of Clark Memorial Student Center and Centennial Hall. One main goal of the plan is to incorporate individual displays in a well-established network to make the entire campus a museum zone. Another goal is the establishment of a base to turn materials and specimens into academic resources. All research projects produce products that must be stored somewhere, and the Museum is to serve as a base for such storage. Biological and dry specimens require repositories with proper air conditioning to avoid vermiculation and mold growth. However, since the Museum is in an old building that was constructed in 1929, we still have a long way to go before solving the repository issue.
Jo：While the University Library has played a role as a base for the accumulation of knowledge, it’s also required to protect and make use of its contents and function as a more stimulating place for students, faculty and people outside the university, and as a place where new innovations are created from old things. I believe it can become a place where students motivate and improve each other by mutually sharing their experiences of overseas study, international cooperation, volunteer work and other extracurricular activities. Since Hokkaido University has many learning support organizations other than the library, it will be good to have a portal site where information on what kind of support is provided is gathered for students to use in self-learning and study.
The Significance of Looking at History
All three facilities have been preserving historical resources and presenting them to the public. What do you think is the significance of such activities?
Ohara：The museum has four historical exhibition spaces called “History of Hokkaido University” containing materials on our predecessors, from Dr. Clark to Nobel Prize-winner Professor Akira Suzuki. New students enter the university every year, and I think it’s difficult for them to develop their own identity if they don’t know the history of their own university. In this sense, it’s the responsibility of instructors to teach the history of the university repeatedly. The education that’s provided to them now wouldn’t exist without intellectual property and without a campus that had been established by our predecessors. I’m studying entomology. When insect specimens are prepared, pin length, pin insertion positions and the proper spread of the legs are predetermined. These are the products of knowledge accumulated by past entomologists who found the best methods through trial and error.
Jo：The Google Scholar page says “Stand on the shoulders of giants.” I think that says it all. Our predecessors, who completed work and made other achievements, are likened to giants who provide a foundation for new knowledge and perspectives. That’s where the significance of libraries lies, and the power of old materials and actual objects remains strong. The real feelings of an object, such as its texture, smell and appearance to the naked eye can’t be transmitted electronically. That’s probably why museums and archives place importance on objects.
Inoue：I think history is somewhat necessary if the present is to seen from a skeptical viewpoint. Because there are old things, we can wonder whether something is true or can be seen from a different viewpoint. I think that seeing things with skepticism is the basic viewpoint of learning and science at universities and that old things are the foundation of that viewpoint.
Dream Plan for Cooperation among the Three Facilities
What’s possible if the three facilities cooperate with each other?
Ohara：It would be good to share a large repository. If there were a proper repository, it would be possible to make a profit by renting space to individuals who have valuable specimens. While the three facilities sometimes lend to, and borrow from, one-another, there’s no particular system for the regular exchange of views. Although there are exhibition rooms at the research forest in Tomakomai and the Akkeshi Marine Biological Laboratory and valuable materials in the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens, they’re not systematically linked. It’s therefore desirable to establish an official committee to manage the exhibition of materials at the university.
Inoue：Hokkaido University will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2026, and I expect there will be plans for the three facilities to do something to commemorate it. In the days of Sapporo Agricultural College, Dr. Clark suggested enhancement of the library and the collection of specimens, and established specimen rooms to improve the learning environment for students. Since its foundation, Hokkaido University has placed great emphasis on using actual materials for learning. I also think that the university deeply understands the importance of its history. It’s because of our strong shared belief in “appreciating its own history.” Since these three facilities are responsible for this task, there must be many ways for us to cooperate. For example, plant specimens made by the botanist Kingo Miyabe, who was a student in the second graduating class at Sapporo Agricultural College and later became a professor, are in the Museum, the Archives has letters sent to him, and the Library has his collection of books. If the three facilities were to put them together, it would be possible to hold an exhibition to celebrate Miyabe’s achievements.
Jo：I have an idea of establishing an outreach base outside of Hokkaido University. There is a museum of University of Tokyo in a commercial building KITTE managed by Japan Post Co., Ltd. in front of Tokyo Station,where people drop in for free when they are shopping at the building. An enormous number of skeletal and other natural history specimens are displayed, as well as the museum shop is well-stocked and fun. I think it would be good to have something to publicize Hokkaido University to the outside. If that could be realized, I’d like to start by promoting the university around Sapporo Station or Odori Park.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ohara：I have a dream of delivering objects of the Museum as teaching materials through the Library’s delivery system. In Sapporo, the Central Library has a system to deliver books to elementary and junior high schools, and the system is also used to lend, for example, a brown bear specimen for classes. The University Library has a good network with each department. The Museum has objects that can be seen only by those who visit. If we were to cooperate and create a system to deliver Museum specimens to students, it would be very appealing.
Inoue：If you look at the campus in two dimensions, Furukawa Hall, the School of Agriculture, and the more than 100-year-old former Department of Entomology and Sericulture Classroom share the area with the Museum, the Archives and the Library. If you look at the campus as a tourist resource, this southern area is the most attractive part. Here, the remains of the ancestors of Ainu who once lived by the Sakushukotoni River lie, and more historical relics can be found when you dig the ground. While the campus is in such area, cutting-edge research worthy of the Nobel Prize is conducted there. It is rare for a university in Japan to have an environment where its history overlaps with the campus itself. It may be interesting to include such characteristics in the meaning of cooperation. We should make more use of these resources, which we can tell new students “This is the favorable environment we have.”
Thank you very much for today.
■Hokkaido University Museum
■Hokkaido University Archives
■Hokkaido University Library
*Admission is free for all three facilities.
*The facilities may be open or closed temporarily for university events or other occasions.