ACCESS STANDARD LAUNCH, Archives NZ Wellington

  • Marian Hobbs
Archives New Zealand

Greetings everyone, and Merry Christmas!

I am delighted to launch officially this evening Archives New Zealand’s fourth record keeping standard: the Access Standard.

Standards are a vital component of the record keeping regime which we are building for the future in new public records legislation. The law already requires government offices to retain and protect public records, so that government can be held accountable for its actions. By supporting these raw requirements with more detailed standards in key areas, we aim to improve the quality and accountability of government record keeping, in all environments from government agencies to Archives itself.

The Standard being launched tonight can be added to those that have been released over the last few years. These include standards on storage and standards which detail the information required before records can be disposed of or transferred to Archives New Zealand.

Over the next year these standards will be brought together to give all government agencies clear guidelines on what they need to do to ensure that their record keeping is adequate. The launch of the access standard fills an important gap, and adds to the suite of the most important standards.

For many, access is the ultimate purpose of record keeping. Why would we make and keep records, if they cannot be used?

Access to government records supports:

Øaccountable decision making,
Øeffective public participation in government,
Øour collective memory, and
Øpeople’s freedom to ‘seek, receive and impart information’.

As many of you will remember, Archives New Zealand moved its head office into this building from a number of inadequate facilities around Wellington 10 years ago this week – a worthy anniversary to celebrate! Since that time, over 16,850 people have registered as readers and used records held by Archives in Wellington. Last year alone, almost 54,000 items were made available to users in Archives’ reading rooms around the country.

Accessibility is the cornerstone of any archival institution’s public programmes, and ease of access and the integrity of records are the benchmarks against which the public judges Archives New Zealand. Without quality access systems, Archives is merely a very large warehouse full of records. It is through access and use that archival value can be defined.

Tools and conditions for use, therefore, reflect the value an institution places upon its users, and upon the records it holds in custody for them. It is with this in mind that Archives New Zealand has codified the principles of best practice that will guide the access regimes of the future.

The Access Standard provides the overriding principles that should guide provision of access to archives, to support the interests of government and people’s research needs. The Standard reaffirms the public’s right to access unrestricted records equitably and without charges for basic services, a right which was confirmed by Cabinet in 1992. It states that the environment should be conducive to research, users’ cultural differences should be taken into account, and the many different ways in which people interact with records should be acknowledged and catered for.

Use of government records takes many forms, including Treaty of Waitangi cases, land disputes, major works of history, proof of New Zealanders’ rights and entitlements, investigative journalism, genealogy and student projects. All these activities depend on being able to find specific pieces of information. With records, this information can be deep within complex layers of government structure. The environment and tools for accessing information can also impede the process.

In recognition of the value of complete documentation of government and the creation of finding aids which can be queried in many different ways, this Government is contributing more than $7 million over five years to build GLADIS (government locator, archival documentation and information system). This will finally result in access tool that take advantage of available technologies to provide key word searchable finding aids that will eventually be available over the internet.

By setting out the best practice guidelines for providing access to users, Archives New Zealand increases its own expectations of the services it can provide, and the ways in which it can help satisfy its users, whoever they are, however they may use the material, and whatever they are trying to find.

This Standard will ensure that our government archives are easily accessible to future generations of New Zealanders.