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Posts Tagged ‘Archives New Zealand’


Webstock used to be my no-miss conference until this week. It’s like a combined rock festival and party for geeks – the learning and fun are intense and amazing. If Webstock was a keyword it would be “awesome”.

Nethui was not a rock festival, and less of a party in terms of headiness. Yes, there were superstars like Lessig. Yes the were miraculous acts of collaboration like the special on-off licence for that audience in that room granted by the BBC for a one-off showing of their documentary The Virtual Revolution. You might have watched it, but you can’t say you’re one of the few people in the country who have done so legally. Both of those wonderful things were not what the three days were about – quite the opposite.

The three days were about New Zealanders coming together to look at the challenges of the future and start the conversation around the question, “What do we do now?” It is easy to be brave in an environment in which one’s heroes are on the stage. At Nethui, we were required to be the heroes, in all our everyday ordinariness, speaking in that drab accent we wince at when we hear it from our neighbours and carrying all of the feelings of cultural unworth we New Zealanders seem to cherish.

There are plenty of good summations of the event available – I recommend Russell Brown‘s usual solid effort as a good starter for ten. You can even be a virtual attendee of large parts by viewing the videos collected here.

But if you weren’t there, and you had a question, answer or idea nobody else in the room did – then it wasn’t just you that missed out, it was all of us.

Don’t worry, libraries were well represented. In the last combined session on access, someone at one of the mics said the following:

“It’s not like you can go down to your local library for a lesson on how to use the internet.”

“Yes you can,” came a voice from the far side of the auditorium. I’m not sure who – but I have a suspicion it might have been a new friend from Dargaville. *waves* Whoever it was, they have my applause. *applauds*

When you’re “at the mic” you can often can only keep one thought in your head. “No, but you can’t just go your local library and…”

And then what you really should have been there for happened.

We, all of us from libraries, sitting wherever we were gave him the SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH!

Zippy Shut Up. by stev.ie
Zippy Shut Up., a photo by stev.ie on Flickr.
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Last week Jim Traue had this opinion piece published in the Otago Daily Times about the merger, I mean integration, of The national Library, New Zealand Archives and the Department of Internal affairs.  When I read it I had a curmudgeonly response, mostly because the article got me angry. It wasn’t a full response and Jim dropped by the blog to say he didn’t understand why I was angry.

I have been thinking on how to respond without provoking a flame war, which is why it has taken me awhile to compose this. That and the day job got in the way. 🙂

Firstly my general response:

As readers may know, I am not philosophically opposed to the idea of the integration.  New Zealand as a nation is relatively small, and it seems to me that if we have a number of government departments all within shouting distance of each, and all running  fairly similar operations, why do they need a duplication of administrative functions? I share the concerns that Jim and others have that the integration will dilute the abilities of the organisations to function properly, and will have a negative impact on statutory officeholders.  How ever I have been comforted by the approach of the C.E.O.s to the integration, and while the rational from the ministers has been a little sparse, the documents from those implementing the integration have had enough detail to temper those concerns.

Jim asks do I agree with the precept that “1, “personal identity information, information relating to the ownership of property, public records, official statistics, electoral rolls, and published and unpublished documentary material and images” are all “civic information”.”

My answer would be why yes I do. ALL that information is of vital historical importance.  Jim is implying that personal identity records are of a lesser value to personal archives which is to my mind wrong.  Historians and genealogists rely on that information to gather an accurate picture of society in general.  The personal records give a vital view of how the individual works within that society. It may be that this move will accord those records with a greater respect.

Jim also then asks whether I agree with  “2, Therefore, the Dept of Internal Affairs, because it has “the enhanced technology capacity and expertise to enable New Zealanders to access information” should control the National Library and Archives New Zealand.”

No, not necessarily, but if the three organizations are doing very similar work, then eliminating unnecessary duplication can be beneficial.

To address why I was angry. In the original piece, my reading of it implied that Jim was dismissive of the current workers in their ability to act professionally. This was in part informed from his email alerting nz-libs to the article, in which he asks if “The national library have been hoisted on their own petards”. Since I have a lot of respect for the current holders of office in the National Library, I was angry at the pattern of denigration I have perceived, that Jim has used in his writings with reference to those office holders.

As a couple of points of counter argument to Jim’s view that the Department of Internal Affairs is somehow going to run down the other institutions or will not value them. The DIA currently puts out some fabulous resources, such as the Jock Hobbs Te Are [Encyclopedia Of New Zealand]. If they value that, why won’t they value the archives or library? Yes over the last century there are examples of bureaucracy making poor decisions, but we also should remember that as a stand alone department for the last twenty years the National Library has been in a leaky building!

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Sigh. Jim Traue weighs in on THAT merger.  There are a number of aspects of his opinion piece that I can agree with, and there are a number of aspects of that I disagree with. I am however finding it difficult to formulate a proper response, because it has got me angry.

Why am I an angry? Because, and I may be wrong in my reading, I found the article insulting to the dedicated professionals that work at both the National Library and Archives New Zealand.  A great swath of the hyperbole seems to be based on the assumption that the Librarians and Archivists working in those institutions would somehow view the treasures entrusted to them with less care than they do now.

Quite frankly Jim owes a lot of people an apology after that.

Plan to integrate collections is dangerous nonsense [Otago Daily Times]

The Government plans to merge the National Library and Archives New Zealand into the Department of Internal Affairs. Jim Traue has serious reservations.

John Milton’s body will spin in its grave on the other side of the world when his spirit receives the message that Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, his other poems and political pamphlets, including his classic defence of freedom of expression, highlights of the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, are now all equated by Her Majesty’s Government in New Zealand with the registers of births, deaths and marriages in the Department of Internal Affairs.

It’s enough to make the man a raving republican.

The Maori Party, the Iwi Leaders Group and Maori voters will be incandescent when they discover that their taonga held by the Turnbull, its collections of Maori language books, periodicals, newspapers and manuscripts, now have the same mana as the electoral rolls.

Thousands of sons and daughters who have entrusted private family letters, diaries and photographs to the Turnbull because they trusted the library to preserve them and ensure they would be used with proper sensitivity will be ropable that they are now classified as “civic information” on a par with the census records gathered by Statistics New Zealand.

Katherine Mansfield will be very bitchy at the thought that the manuscripts of her short stories, poems, letters and diaries are just like passport documentation.

Susan Price and Dorothy Neal White will be flabbergasted that their fine libraries of children’s books, highlights of the National Library’s research collections, are “civic information”, lumped in with the records of naturalisation, gambling, lottery grants and film censorship.

Charles Heaphy VC will be appropriately heroic when he learns that his paintings and drawings of early New Zealand are equivalent to the land registration records held by Land Information New Zealand.

Read the rest here.

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The process by which Archives New Zealand and The National Library are subsumed into the Department of Internal Affairs continues at full pace, with the release of the Integration Plan.  You sometimes have to quietly appreciate management speak. Calling the process an integration seems less ominous than a merger. Maybe there is less baggage with that terminology.

The plan itself looks to be quite fast passed. I did note that implementation starts in November, so that will mean that the inevitable redundancies from the process will start at just in time for Christmas. I feel for the staff.

The Questions and Answers on the new Integration site were fairly interesting. Of particular interest to me was this:

Statutory officers

Summary

There will be no change in the standing or functions of statutory officers.

Issues raised

The Chief Archivist and the National Librarian are statutory officers. Concern has been expressed that such officers should not be employees of a Chief Executive, but must be completely independent. It is argued that the changes announced by the Government will lead to a reduction in necessary independence, and make the Chief Archivist and National Librarian subject to undue influence. It is argued that the positions are similar to that of the auditor-general or the ombudsman, and should be treated in the same way.

Response

The Chief Archivist and National Librarian are statutory officers, but not officers of parliament, as are the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman. At present, they are employees of the State Services Commissioner. Under the Government decision to integrate, it is very likely that the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs will appoint people to these positions. The Chief Executive would be the employer, rather than the State Services Commissioner, in the same way that the Chief Executive would be the employer of all staff in the new Department.

The Chief Archivist and the National Librarian will act independently, and not be subject to the direction of the Chief Executive in matters of their statutory authority.

They will be accountable to the Chief Executive for their effectiveness, efficiency, and managerial actions.

The positions will then have the same status as other statutory officers now within Internal Affairs, for example such as the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the Chief Executive of the Local Government Commission and the Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management. Examples in other departments include the Commissioner of Crown Lands, the Surveyor-General, the Registrar-General of Land and the Valuer-General, who are each employed by the Chief Executive of Land Information New Zealand.

It would be unlawful for the Chief Executive to interfere in the statutory decision-making of any of these officers, and unlawful for the statutory officer to accept such interference.

The intention of the three Chief Executives in advising Ministers is to ensure the legislation required by integration does not:

    • alter the nature of the services associated with Archives New Zealand or the National Library.
    • constrain the current levels of independence of the Chief Archivist and the National Librarian.
    • diminish the ability of key stakeholders to take action to protect the independence of the National Librarian and the Chief Archivist.
    • change the role of the Alexander Turnbull Library.
    • change the role of Ministerial Advisory Groups.

The following information was added on 9 June 2010:

Clarification has been sought on the exact scope under which the Chief Archivist and National Librarian would act independently of the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs. The decisions that have been made to bring about the integration of the three departments have made clear that the legislative changes will give effect to: the Chief Archivist and the National Librarian being appointed by the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs; the appointees being responsible to the Chief Executive, without predetermining reporting structures and without compromising the statutory roles they are responsible for performing; the intent that current statutory independent functions will be retained, including protection from improper influence.

Legislation will need to be introduced to Parliament before the end of the year and the implementation of the integration. Inevitably that legislation is likely to be fast tracked. When it does come down the stakeholders will need to go over it with a fine tooth comb to ensure that it does what the above response states.

Looking for a positive in the whole process, it may mean that The Chief Archivist and National Librarian will have more time to put their energies into their statutory roles, and have less administration to worry about. I am thinking that the best thing we as external observers can do is to engage in a positive manner to ensure that our concerns are dealt with properly.

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Yesterday the government made it’s announcement of the various proposed restructurings that were rumoured last week, including the merging of National Library and Archives into the Department of Internal Affairs.

Like most Government documents the “Cabinet Paper” detailing the rational and the proposed actions is a longish, dry paper, full of management and political speak. Most people would put it down within thirty seconds of picking it up. I wonder if they do that on purpose?

Anyway the bits that concern us are from page 9.  As I have said previously I have no philosophical objections to such a merger, being of the mind that for a small country do we really need so many departments replicating work. While I know centralisation doesn’t necessary mean efficiencies, there is a good argument to be made for attempting go gain efficiencies through centralisation and pooling of resources. My biggest concern was in the dilution of the scope and purpose of the Chief Librarian and Archivist, and the place of the Turnbull within the resulting amalgamation.

So the following part was of small comfort:

“Risks have been considered and can be mitigated. We are conscious that stakeholders are likely to express concerns that specialist services and skills in the separate departments would be lost. While Archives New Zealand and the National Library are currently well regarded and successful institutions, the prospective role of an enlarged DIA is not as well understood. Officials consider that good change management and communications can mitigate these risks. Stakeholder concerns could include a view that the Chief Archivist’s independence or archival practice would be undermined, or that the separate status of the Alexander Turnbull Library would be threatened. This risk can be mitigated by retaining, with only necessary minor amendments, the legislative provisions which currently set out the role and powers of Chief Archivist and National Librarian, together with associated bodies such as the Archives Council. However, it is unlikely that mitigation of risk in these ways will allay a level of publicly expressed concern.”

They are right. It won’t allay publicly expressed concern, especially with such a lack of detail. My biggest fear is by the time we get the detail we need, what we find out will be all wrong and it will be too late.

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It was announced, or was it rumoured but not denied, earlier on in the week that the National Library and Archives New Zealand were possibly to be taken into the Department of Internal Affairs, and not have there own stand alone agencies. I have been waiting for more details to come out on this, but alas I have seen nothing. While on one hand I can see the economic sense in bringing them in house to one administrative department, I also can see philosophical and technical difficulties that would need to be overcome.

I was glad then to see LIANZA putting out the following press release.  I too am concerned over lack of consultation, or any sort of documentation. Are we chasing at windmills or is this a serious proposal?   

LIANZA concerned over lack of information and consultation over proposed merger affecting the National Library

The Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA), is concerned there has been no detailed information released to date about the Government proposal to merge the National Library of New Zealand and Archives New Zealand within the Department of Internal Affairs.

Libraries adhere to the general principle of Freedom of Information whereas the Department of Internal Affairs has a censorship role which could potentially result in a conflict.

The National Library enriches the cultural and economic life of New Zealanders by supplementing and furthering the work of other libraries across the country. The National Library allows New Zealanders to be connected with information through the protection of New Zealand’s documentary heritage, ensuring that access to information is facilitated and that New Zealanders are skilful and confident in using information.

LIANZA fears that a merger could compromise the vision and core services of the National Library and this could ultimately decrease literacy skills in New Zealand.

The National Library provides national frameworks, knowledge systems and professional guidance to all New Zealand libraries and is a key partner in ensuring effective collaboration with others in the cultural and education sectors. It also enjoys an international reputation as an innovative leader in regard to preservation and access to culture and heritage.

LIANZA and the National Library have a very long working relationship; the Association played a strong advocacy role by lobbying government between 1911 and 1945 which resulted in the establishment of the National Library.

LIANZA would expect that any structural changes made would enhance rather than detract from the many services provided by the National Library and enjoyed by New Zealanders today.

As a key stakeholder LIANZA has a lot to contribute and would appreciate the opportunity to be involved in the wider consultation process.

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