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Preserving records of our district's history

20 Nov 2009

Preserving records of our district's history

Much of the district’s history is on the move. Records documenting decisions made by borough, city and more recently district councils in this area are stored in council’s archive facility. The archives have now moved into a building in Banks Street that has been adapted to meet Archives New Zealand standards.

Under the Public Records Act 2005 Archives New Zealand set out the standards by which public records should be stored. This includes a climate controlled facility that can house a range of different archive media.  The renovated facility in Banks Street is fully compliant with these standards, one of the few council facilities in New Zealand that is. The area is not only climate controlled, but light in the room is kept to a minimum and the doors are all sealed to avoid dust entering the room.

Previously the archives were stored in a leased building in Awapuni Road. To bring it up to the required standard would have been an expensive operation in someone else’s building. “Purchasing the Banks Street site to build the wastewater treatment plant offered an opportunity to give our records the attention they deserve,” according to council property manager Matt Feisst.

“Records stored in the facility include minute books from meetings dating back to the first Borough Council in 1877 and correspondence books back to 1882.  Some of the most interesting records for researchers include the rate books which show who paid rates, on what property and how much they paid.  Records from all the county councils and the boards - from the East Coast Catchment Board to the Patutahi Domain Board - are stored in the facility along with photos, paintings, silverware and gifts to the city. Anything relevant with enduring, evidential, administrative or historical value comes to me,” said council archivist Mahea Tupara.

Archives staff have been pushing for a climate controlled facility for the last 15 years “Dust, dampness and temperature extremes are a major killer of records. Already many of our older records are too fragile to be handled. Photos and microfiche are the most affected. To preserve all our old microfiche building consents we have sent them away to be digitised. Eventually it is envisaged that electronic data will take over, replacing much of the paper to be stored, however, there is no evidence of this happening at the moment,” Mrs Tupara added.  

“The records held in the facility are public records. If public want to access the information they make a request to council’s customer services. People can visit the archives to do their own research or if they need staff to do it for them there will be a charge. Just recently we had a request from England about a particular property. After letting the woman know what was available she included Gisborne on her itinerary when she came to New Zealand. She was amazed at how much information on the property she could find in our records.”