Being registered to do research with Archives New Zealand, our government department that stores up historical government records, I received an email today advising that nationwide reductions in reading room hours will be implemented as of March 2020. All reading rooms nationwide will be open for only four hours per day instead of 7.5 – 8 hours nationwide at present (except for Christchurch which has been 3.5 hours since the 2011 earthquakes).
Archives is justifying this by the drop in demand for reading room access due to their digitisation programme which has been underway since 2017. This programme has only digitised the most commonly accessed records. Whilst it is useful to be able to access scanned content online without visiting a reading room, the fact is that there are no plans to digitise all of the content they hold, only the stuff that is used the most.
The problem is that for researchers like myself we will always have to visit a reading room to access the majority of the content from multipage files that will never be scanned because it is too expensive. But it is also expensive to visit a reading room if you are coming from out of town, with accommodation and travel expenses, when potentially the number of days you would need to spend could be doubled by this decision. As it happens, Christchurch is flexible in that they have assured me that if an out of town researcher visits they are prepared to allow them to work in the afternoons beyond the closing time and also make special arrangements for local researchers who have a large amount of research to undertake.
I have been fortunate to be able to access some special arrangements myself as the research undertaken to document the Greater Christchurch maps I am drawing does need access to a large volume of files, which I am working through as quickly as possible. So for the last 3 months I have viewed around 500 files which is a throughput about 40 a week and to get through those I really have to skim them very rapidly at around 5-10 minutes each and hope I don’t miss any important info. All I am really seeking to get out of them is diagrams that show the yard layout and the names of the sidings so that maps can be properly labelled. So I have literally hundreds of photos of diagrams and other info to go through for map production and this has been taking up a lot of my time and less time has been spent actually drawing maps because I want to be finished in the Archives as quickly as I can. Hopefully in fact I will finish the current series by Christmas.
So having these arrangements with Archives is highly desirable if you need to get through a lot of material in as quick a time as possible because of time constraints. An example is, for the private siding research I have done, some of the files needed for the complete picture are only held in Wellington. I would have to go there and research them to get all of the information on a siding, and that is pretty well unjustifiable at the present time. But that is an example of how if you are from out of town, you want to be able to get the most done in the shortest possible time. Therefore anyone who is doing this type of research that they have to travel to get things done should be pushy about seeing if the Archives office they are visiting has that flexibility to enable them to work outside the regular times or other contraints if needed.