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.

Central Leader - - NEWS -

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.

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