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Archives New Zealand in danger of running out of space

Archives New Zealand, Archives building, 10 Mulgrave Street, Wellington

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The Archives New Zealand building is set to be replaced, but the new facility may not be big enough.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Nick-D / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The national archive will not have enough space to store vital records even after its new $290 million building is ready in Wellington.

The construction project is also making current storage pressures worse.

Archives NZ said it was “acutely aware” of the pressures.

These have been “compounded” because Wellington was not taking any more physical records until the new Heke Rua Archive opens, due in 2026.

Even then, the new central city building will offer only “a small amount of shelving space” for extra records, Archives told RNZ.

Instead, these records, currently held in the bowels of government agencies and departments, are meant to go into a new storage space at Levin/Taitoko.

But though the land for this was bought with Budget 2020 funding and a design had been done Archives said there was no money for building it, Internal Affairs’ director of Tāhuhu Rob Stevens told RNZ.

The goal of opening it in 2025 “was subject to securing Budget 2022 funding for construction which was unsuccessful”, he said.

The new aim was 2027. RNZ asked what plan B was, if it did not get funding.

“The business case for the next stages of the project will include analysis for a range of options,” Stevens responded.

National strategy gap

Archives NZ did not yet have a national property strategy, according to a separate OIA response.

RNZ asked why the agency did not finalise a strategy before signing up for the big Wellington building.

Stevens said back then, they were only looking at lower North Island demands, and at the fact the existing Mulgrave St building was at the end of its life.

“We are now looking at long-term storage and physical property needs around the country to form an integrated view for Archives NZ, the National Library and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision,” he said in a statement.

Dossiers of historical documents

Physical archives require a lot of space.
Photo: 123RF

In the meantime, Archives has to rely on departments and agencies to keep safe all the physical records that, in total, laid end-to-end would stretch 270km. This is despite it being Archives’ job by law to safeguard them.

“Currently all physical records are being retained in public offices,” it said in its annual report.

“Te Rua Mahara [Archives] is acutely aware that the moratorium on the disposal of records is putting pressure on the sector for storage.”

The moratorium began in 2019 to ensure the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse could get all the records it needs.

“This [pressure] is compounded by the fact that Te Rua Mahara is not currently accepting the transfer of records in physical format in Wellington, whilst work is underway to build the new repository space.”

The new Wellington archive was “one of the most significant public buildings of our time”, it said.

However, as well as only a few shelves spare for extra records, it will also only have a small reading room for about two dozen researchers, and the main reading room will instead be next door in the National Library.

There was still space in Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin, but “it is essential that we develop a space in the Wellington region to ensure we have capacity to accept the transfer of archives in the future, particularly following the conclusion of the 2019 moratorium on the disposal of records”, Archives’ annual report said.

Digital squeeze, too

There was also not enough room for digital records.

“At present, we do not have the capacity nor resource to accept digital archives from the sector at the required scale, which is an issue that will compound as more information is created.”

That put Archives in danger of breaking its own mandatory duties, it said.

“The increase in audio-visual footage is adding to this dilemma.

“There are petabytes of security camera footage, CCTV, videoed meetings, and online recordings all being added to the overall public record across agencies.”

Archives NZ is in the middle of figuring out what it keeps and what it dumps, under a project aimed at fundamentally transforming its appraisal and disposal processes, and how it manages paper information.

“It has been 25 years since the public sector began its digital information management journey and it is fair to say that there is still a lack of preparedness for digital archiving across the system,” its report said.

The storage in Levin is meant to be for Archives NZ, the National Library, Ngā Taonga and Muaūpoko Tribal Authority (the mana whenua iwi of Taitoko).

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