The history of the Pacific Collection dates back to the origins of the Hawaiian Collection at the University of Hawaiʻi. As the holdings of materials on Hawaii grew, there was also an expansion of interest in the Pacific Islands. Janet Bell, who oversaw much of the development of the Hawaiian Collection, included Pacific acquisitions in her work. By the late 1960s the Pacific Islands holdings had grown to such an extent that the formerly integrated collection was separated and two unique collections were created. In 1969 Renee Heyum, formerly of the Musee de lHomme in Paris, arrived in Honolulu to take up her post as the first Pacific Curator. Under Ms. Heyum's expert guidance, the Pacific Collection grew and began to assume major prominence in the world of research. Renee Heyum worked closely with the Pacific Islands Studies Program (today known as the Center for Pacific Islands Studies), and with support from the Program began a series of annual acquisitions trips to the Pacific. The first took place in 1974, when Ms. Heyum visited the various districts of what was then the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Micronesia).
Renee Heyum instituted and acquisitions policy that became the standard for future development of the Pacific Collection: the Library would obtain any and all materials in any language of format that related to the island nations of the Pacific. This comprehensive acquisitions program marked the Collection for special distinction, as no other library in the world attempts to collect comprehensively for all of the Pacific region. The acquisitions travel enabled the Curator to obtain the elusive publications produced in the islands (government documents, church items such as Bibles and hymnals, private sector studies and reports, and books from local publishers), and the Collection quickly became known for its strength in this area. When Ms. Heyum retired in 1987, Dr. Karen Peacock became curator, Pacific Specialist Lynette Furuhashi and Curator Peacock have worked to build on the strengths of their predecessors and to expand Collection activities in the areas of instruction and use of new technologies. Dr. Peacock retired as Curator on February 1, 2010. Lynette Furuhashi currently serves as Senior Pacific Specialist, along with Pacific Specialist Stu Dawrs, who joined the Pacific Collection in 2006.
The close alliance with the Center for Pacific Islands Studies (CPIS) has continued over the years, and Center funding provided staff as well as acquisitions travel. The Collection also benefits from the generosity of donors, including the many gifts from Robert Kiste (Director, Center for Pacific Islands Studies), Leonard Mason (Professor Emeritus of Anthropology), Norman Meller (Professor Emeritus of Political Science) and Douglas Oliver (Professor Emeritus of Anthropology), among others. The Pacific Collection receives donations of books and archival materials from University of Hawaiʻi faculty and students, colleagues in the island nations and researchers from the U.S. mainland, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.