Documenting the pandemic – how the NZ Archives and the National Library are keeping tabs


The National Library – the one that houses Te Tiriti o Waitangi collect memes.

For millennia, humans have documented their time in unusual and humorous ways that people before or after did not understand.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, people shared cartoons and jokes that shed light on a terrible situation, many of which now make no sense.

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So, as part of their work to document the Covid-19 pandemic, Alexander Turnbull library staff keep an eye out for popular memes.

Associate Chief Librarian Jessica Moran said staff also kept a recording of the IMDB page of the daily Covid-19 press conference and accompanying comments.

“Once we realized there was this IMDB, with all the comments, we collected it through our web archiving program, and stuff like that, you know, we have a fleeting collection of paper. very rich – going back 150, 200 years.

“And they [memes] only makes sense if you are in this community and this world and get all the references and jokes about the jokes. So part of that was a fun thing to collect, it gives us a little bit of a breathing space, but also, it gives you a bit of that context of the way people were talking.

Jessica Moran, Head of Digital Collections Services at the National Library.

Monique Ford / Stuff

Jessica Moran, Head of Digital Collections Services at the National Library.

The library also collects all written news, digital and physical copies, as well as any books written in New Zealand.

People donate personal journals – again, physical books or online journals such as daily videos on Facebook, for example – photos, letters, anything related to their experience with the pandemic.

Te Pouhuaki National Librarian Rachel Esson said Archives New Zealand documents official ministry records, but the National Library is looking beyond that.

“Our focus is a lot more on the company, and in the reaction of people, and in trying to be representative by gathering all of these different voices and perspectives,” Esson said.

“I’ve always loved a story that a colleague who worked at the Archives told when there was a lot of work going on with the WWI commemorations.

“He said the archives contained what officers thought of soldiers, so this official record, and the library contained what soldiers thought of officers, which was much more interesting from my point of view. Wasn’t it that sanitized view? “

Diseases have come before, like swine or bird flu, and have not caused a lasting global impact like the Covid-19 pandemic.

Library staff said the most recent event of such significance is likely World War II, when the entire world was essentially shut down for a period.

Abi Beatson said photos showing Wellington's empty streets showed the impact of the pandemic.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Abi Beatson said photos showing Wellington’s empty streets showed the impact of the pandemic.

The library’s digital archivist, Abi Beatson, said an item from the Alexander Turnbull collection is now stuck in his mind.

“This is a photograph of the streets of Wellington which are completely empty during the level four lockdown. This was donated by a photographer, ”Beatson said.

“I think there is one element that really speaks to the enormity of the impact of this pandemic, of the fact that it has managed to clear our streets of the hustle and bustle of daily activity. It’s objects like that that really help tell the significance of this event.

Down the road from the Alexander Turnbull Library is the New Zealand Archives base.

It plays a key role in documenting the government’s response to major events, but documents, videos and other material recorded by a government agency are not returned to the Archives until 25 years after the fact.

During a major event, the Archives conducts audits and advises agencies on what information they should store and make sure they are doing what they are told.

Vernon Wybrow, director of the Disposal and Acquisition team at the Archives, said his team makes sure the right information is collected and the Archives has the technology to accept the information.

“The recordings we get are about a generation after they’re created, basically,” Wybrow said. “Right now the records we’re getting are a hybrid mix of paper and digital, so that’s what was created 25 years ago, that’s what we’re dealing with now.

Cartoons and gifs created by Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles are part of the collection of the National Library.

Toby Morris; Siouxsie Wiles / Supplied

Cartoons and gifs created by Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles are part of the collection of the National Library.

“But if we take what’s going on now and how these recordings are being created now, it’s pretty much digital. And in 25 years, that’s the kind of thing we’ll be dealing with.

Government record keeping director Antony Moss said the Archives had consulted with government agencies on their new duties and what should be archived.

For example, he said the managed system of isolation and quarantine is brand new and something that has never been seen before, so the Archives are making sure that the Department of Business, Innovation and ‘Emploi documents everything he owes around the MIQ.

They also gave advice on things like keeping records in government buildings or the upcoming vaccine pass system.

“The rules that existed before Covid pretty much apply,” Moss said. “In today’s environment, they still make sense. But when there are areas of confusion, we offer advice to agencies. “

One area of ​​confusion has been Zoom meetings, with agencies debating whether to keep all of the recorded video of a meeting, or just the minutes as before.

Wybrow said that in some situations the minutes and a summary are sufficient, but for larger or meaningful meetings they expect agencies to keep and archive the full video.

He said another area of ​​interest is algorithms.

Groceries waiting in a queue outside Pak N Save in Royal Oak.


Groceries waiting in a queue outside Pak N Save in Royal Oak.

“One of the challenges we’ll face is how to make sure that an algorithm is represented accurately so that you have the context in which a decision was made,” Wybrow said.

“If you allow an algorithm to make the decisions for you, at least you need to know what the basis of the algorithm is to make that decision. “

They said agencies need to be able to explain how their algorithms work and keep that data for later review.

The Archives and the National Library also have Treaty of Waitangi obligations, but they are broader in scope for the Archives.

For example, if a treaty claim were made regarding government decision making during the pandemic and the impact of those decisions on Maori, the Archives would play a key role in providing evidence to the Crown or Maori.

Wybrow said the treaty is one of the three key principles of information retention decisions.

As for memes, unless they were used for official government business, they are unlikely to be kept in the National Archives.


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