Archives houses gems
In the basement of the Central City Library lies the civic history of the Auckland region. Simon Smith talks with Auckland Council Archives staff and finds a world of fascinating items.
The boxes of council archives held in storage would stretch for 20 kilometres if placed end on end.
And this doesn’t include the at-hand files and items stored at the four specialised Auckland Council Archives facilities across the city.
Looking after the civic history of the area is a big task, but archives manager Jacqui Davidson says it is also an incredibly important one.
‘‘It’s not just about history, it’s about making sure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes,’’ she says.
The public has a statutory right, with a few exceptions such as personnel files, to access the archives.
But Davidson says the collection is not always foremost in people’s minds when they think about doing research, for example on community issues or family history.
‘‘We are, I feel, an underutilised resource that everyone is welcome to come and use.’’
All sorts of records and items are available – from council decisions to rating records, cemetery plans, building permit plans, aerial photos, correspondence and subject files. The oldest item is an 1851 agenda for the Auckland Borough Council. ‘‘But really, we don’t get going till the 1860s,’’ she says.
Davidson says not only are the archives a wealth of information, but they are a record of the development of language and culture in Auckland.
There are also some ‘‘invaluable gems’’, she says.
One of which she found amongst the files of the former Auckland Regional Water Board. Sitting there was a job application letter from former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon when he was straight out of school, complete with a reference from his headmaster that said he showed leadership potential.
Other items are conspicuously missing. Such as the mayoral chains of the Waitemata City Council (1974-1989), which are believed to have been lost by a former mayor.
Minute books from the super-city are now starting to be archived. They are being kept in hard copy as Auckland Council does not have an electronic signature protocol yet in place.
This will change, Davidson says, but going digital brings its own challenges. The problem of file formats becoming impossible to access in the future is one, and another is ensuring it is all properly searchable.
‘‘There is a huge plethora – it’s almost a tsunami – of information,’’ she says.
‘‘Unless it is managed with the right metadata and the context, and organised appropriately, we are going to have a huge problem in years to come of this sort of electronic chaos where we are looking at misinformation which creates false histories.’’
Auckland Council Archives is also digitising its back catalogue, but due to cost is focusing on items that are of most use and value.
Auckland Council Archives team leader Helen Donaldson and manager Jacqui Davidson delve into some of the stored material.
Auckland Council Archives staff are now starting to store the records of the super city.