Glass plates, yachts, maps and more

Librarian Catherine Bisley with the Neil Family Collection (ATL-Group-00044), comprising 41 folders with approximately 1539 letters and three photographic prints, which she arranged and described in 2016. The majority of the letters were written by Major Arthur James (Ginge) Neil to his wife Robina Olive (Deanie) Neil while he was on active service during World War II. Photograph by Valerie Love.Librarian Catherine Bisley with the Neil Family Collection (ATL-Group-00044), comprising 41 folders with approximately 1539 letters and three photographic prints, which she arranged and described in 2016. The majority of the letters were written by Major Arthur James (Ginge) Neil to his wife Robina Olive (Deanie) Neil while he was on active service during World War II. Photograph by Valerie Love.

It’s become a bit of a tradition for the Arrangement & Description Team at the Alexander Turnbull Library to start the new year by taking a look back at some favourite collections that we’ve worked on in the previous year (2013, 2014, 2015). The work of arranging and describing collections entails analysing materials, describing their contents, and ensuring appropriate housing and storage of physical materials, and processing and preservation of digital materials. Following the archival principles of provenance and respect for original order, we create finding aids and descriptive records to allow access to materials. In 2016, the Arrangement & Description team worked on nearly 300 collections, and published over 23,000 descriptive records via Tiaki.

Here are a few of our favourite collections from 2016, which are all searchable both through the Tiaki catalogue for unpublished materials, and the National Library’s aggregated search.

Martin, Pearl Ivy, 1935-2001: Papers relating to Inia Te Wiata and other singers (ATL-Group-00040) – Ariana Tikao

Ariana Tikao. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.Ariana Tikao. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.

One of my favourite collections from 2016 is primarily made up of letters from the singer and actor Inia Te Wiata to a young English fan, Pearl Ivy Martin. The collection also includes letters to Miss Martin from other people, relating to other musical groups such as the Bowman Hyde Singers and Players.

The correspondence starts off with a letter from the BBC to Miss Martin dated 1955, informing her that they had forwarded her letter to Inia Te Wiata. It follows with a reply from Te Wiata to Miss Martin in which he thanks her for her letter and kind remarks. There is a generosity of spirit which permeates his 16 letters to Miss Martin: answering her queries, organising for them to meet after performances, and observations on his career. There is also a photograph of Inia Te Wiata, inscribed with "Kia ora Inia Te Wiata". He is dressed in a kahu kiwi cloak, wears pounamu ear pendants, feathers in his hair, and is holding a pounamu mere. The photograph is a still image from the 1954 film 'The Seekers'.

One letter dated 22 March 1963 is from Te Wiata’s wife, Beryl, writing from Queen Charlotte’s Hospital after the birth of their daughter, saying “She is a dear wee thing – very dainty – and her daddy adores her!” Mrs Te Wiata mentions they were going to call her Heather or Rima. In fact Rima Te Wiata’s name record on Tiaki reveals she is officially Heather Rima Te Wiata!

The collection concludes with a small clipping that Miss Martin must have cut out from the newspaper, relating to Te Wiata’s death in 1971, and a draft letter from Miss Martin to Beryl Te Wiata, stating: “Just a little note to offer our sympathies and to say how very very sad were I my family and my friends to hear the tragic news of Inia. We were stunned, and still can’t really believe it. He was the nicest of men and will always live on, his glorious music through his words and his endearing personality...”. Although small, this collection is quite precious, as it gives an insight into a personal side to a very well-known figure from our past. Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu.

Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club: Records (ATL-Group-00073) – Flora Feltham

Flora Feltham. Photo by Sascha Nolden.Flora Feltham. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.

One highlight of 2016 was arranging and describing the records of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club. This collection contains 268 folders, 26 volumes and sneaks into three centuries (1882-2001). It provides a remarkable and vivid picture of the club, its community, and sailing in New Zealand.

My favourite series is the Executive Committee minutes because they run almost uninterrupted from 1891 to 2001.

One recurring subject I also enjoyed was the social side of club life. The collection contains Social Committee correspondence and minutes, records filed by the (delightfully named) Dance Secretary, fliers and programmes, as well as invitations, guest lists and RSVPs for events held from the 1920s to the 1990s.

It’s also worth noting that this collection has an unusual relevance to the Alexander Turnbull Library: Alexander Turnbull himself was a devoted sailor and Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club Commodore from 1899 to 1901.

Accruals, accruals, accruals! – Tim Lovell-Smith

Tim Lovell-Smith. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.Tim Lovell-Smith. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.

In addition to receiving wholly new collections, the Library receives additions to existing collections, referred to as accruals.

Among the collections which I found of most interest during the year was a large scale accrual to the Llewelyn Richards Papers (MS-Group-2417). Richards was a Quaker teacher who taught not only in New Zealand but also in Nigeria, where he was involved with the production of a Yoruba language school journal. He was also a keen handcraft printer, an extremely active peace campaigner, and a writer of plays and short stories.

Another accrual was that to the papers of Peter Northe Wells (ATL-Group-00026). An extensive addition to his earlier papers, the accrual contained his earliest writings in the form of drafts of stories, film reviews and other works, tracing in detail his evolution as an important New Zealand writer.

And most recently, I have been adding accruals to the Dennis Huggard Jazz Archive (ATL-Group-00118), a large multi-format collection including sound recordings from New Zealand jazz festivals, photographs, subject files, publications, and more.

Accrual to Christie, John Hellard, 1897-1985: Photographs (PA-Group-00757) – Dolores Hoy

Dolores Hoy with negatives from the John Hellard Christie collection. Photograph by Valerie Love.Dolores Hoy with negatives from the John Hellard Christie collection. Photograph by Valerie Love.

This year I’ve really enjoyed working on an accrual to the collection of John Hellard Christie, 1897-1985, consisting of glass plate negatives from the 1920s-40s and digital scans of the negatives. Christie was a notable New Zealand mountaineer and tramper, and had many opportunities to explore the back country of New Zealand during his career in the Public Works Department. The Christie Falls on Falls Creek in Fiordland bears his name.

During his lifetime, our landscape was under a process of change as the huge road, tunnel, rail and hydro projects of the 1920s-1990s got underway. Christie was in the right place to document some of those projects in which he participated, and the surrounding landscapes which he explored. He also had a strong interest in the history of the mountains, so accumulated photographs by others in his collection as well.

There’s always something magical about the small fragile glass plates which hold such detailed photographic images. This particular set of glass plates were bequeathed to the New Zealand Alpine Club after Christie’s death. Later, a member of the club, Brian McGlinchy, had them scanned; and deposited the original glass plates and digital scans with the Alexander Turnbull Library for safekeeping and public access.

NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd: Mosaic aerial negatives, prints, and transparencies (PA-Group-00055) – Merryn McAulay

Merryn McAulay with a print showing Marine Parade, Napier. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.Merryn McAulay with a print showing Marine Parade, Napier. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.

In 2016 I was very pleased to finish the large, multi-year project of arranging, describing, and re-housing a collection of photographs, NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd: Mosaic aerial negatives, prints, and transparencies (PA-Group-00055. This collection consists of 4458 items, mainly black and white film negatives but with some prints and transparencies too. The negatives are large-format, and they vary in size up to 85 x 105 cm. In large numbers and sizes such as this collection, negatives can be surprisingly heavy and unwieldy to work with.

The images were made by NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd for clients between the 1940s and 1990s. They are composite or montaged images, copied from prints that were made from the original aerial films. The images show views of urban and rural areas throughout New Zealand and the Pacific. Some of the negatives are large format vertical aerial views that were prepared for cartographers to trace at the scale of one inch to the mile - prior to the advent of computer based mapping systems. They will make for a valuable comparison to contemporary satellite views as well as being a fascinating record of what we looked like from above.

In order to describe the photographs, we removed them from the old cardboard supports they had been stored in, looked at them on a large backlit light-box and described what we were looking at. They usually had a title block giving us a title and other useful information such as dates and scale. The title was often simply the name of the farm, homestead, or customer who ordered the mosaic, which could make identifying the location difficult. It was interesting to note that the dates of photography and compilation were often years apart.

Library staff across teams worked together in multiple intensive project days over the last three years to complete both the arrangement and description of this collection, and re-housing the negatives into large acid-free enclosures. My colleague Ingrid wrote about her experience with this project in a 2014 blog post: Fresh favourites from fourteen.

Digital Cartoons by Sharon Murdoch (DC-Group-0045) – Valerie Love

Valerie Love. Photograph by Jessica Moran.Valerie Love. Photograph by Jessica Moran.

When people think of research libraries and collecting archives, it’s often books and older papers that they think of. And indeed we do have a lot of historic printed materials in the collections. But we also have significant contemporary collections, such as the born-digital cartoons that we receive from political cartoonists around the country, literally on a daily basis. It’s ever fascinating to see the different perspectives on New Zealand politics, social issues, and international events through the unique lens that political cartoonists offer.

Sharon Murdoch, as the only female editorial cartoonist currently published in mainstream New Zealand newspapers, has an especially important perspective to share. In 2016, Murdoch won the Canon Media Cartoonist of the Year award, the first ever woman to do so. Murdoch’s cartoons are bold and incisive -- wry and witty at times, and heart-breaking at others. Murdoch donates her cartoons to the Library on a regular basis, and this past year, Murdoch’s cartoons covered topics as varied as the flag referendum, the plight of Syrian refugees, the dairy industry in New Zealand, superannuation, reproductive rights, mental health services, detention at Nauru, child poverty, and the environment. And in 2016, Murdoch definitely didn’t shy away from satire and representations of New Zealand politicians, as well as depictions of United States president-elect, Donald Trump.

Cartographic Collections – Dr Sascha Nolden

Sascha Nolden. Photograph by Merryn McAulay.Sascha Nolden. Photograph by Merryn McAulay.

Over the past year we have processed a large number of items from the Cartographic Collection, including both new acquisitions recently accessioned and those that have spent some time waiting to be discovered, identified, and described. Working with Merryn McAulay, along with Mark Bagnall (Curator, Cartographic) and various other contributors, the cartographic project work has progressed well.

Unpublished manuscript maps and printed base maps with annotations have been assessed for their preservation needs and re-housed as applicable, provenance has been researched to create links back to the creators of collections and between material in archival collections, and most importantly, these maps have been individually described, making them discoverable to researchers.

Working with maps and plans is both fascinating and challenging – the informational content is represented in a range of symbols and subject specific conventions, while the physical objects range in size and nature of the material from small fragile plans on brittle tracing paper to large maps on canvas-backed substrates. Additionally, while most published maps inherently include clearly defined metadata, many unpublished maps lack the sort of information one may easily capture for the purposes of populating fields in a descriptive record, e.g. titles or dates.

Once the locality and the nature of what is being represented is identified, for example the topography and cadastral information, or land use such as forestry or mineral resources, the maps are then given a unique library identifier, which in most cases consists of a prefix ‘MapColl-‘, and the name of the collection or a formal library classification (in accordance with a system known as the Boggs & Lewis Classification Schedule first published in 1945), which incorporates the date, or an attributed date range in square brackets.

The descriptive records are also linked using indexing or authority terms for the Geographic Place (e.g. Otago Region), the Genre/Form (e.g. Cadastral Maps), and Name Authority terms for cartographers, surveyors, publishers, and printers.

Two examples from the work on the cartographic project completed this year include 58 World War One military intelligence and message maps from the collection of Hugh Stewart (1884-1934), a New Zealand military officer who served in Europe, and four New Zealand land deeds, including a 100-year-old document from the Clutha District with a survey plan sewn in.

Kühne, Thomas, active 2007-2015: Photographs relating to the MODELS conference, Wellington, 2011 (PA-Group-00994) – Kirsty Cox

Kirsty Cox. Photograph by Valerie Love.Kirsty Cox. Photograph by Valerie Love.

In October 2011, the 14th International Conference of the Association of Computer Machinery (ACM) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) on Model Driven Engineering Languages and Systems (MODELS) was held in Wellington, New Zealand. The Library received the digital photographs taken of this event in 2015 from Thomas Kühne, who was the General Chair of organising committee for the conference. The photographs depict delegates at the conference venue, presentations, social events, reception and dinner.

However what was most interesting for me about this collection was that it was the first where we were able to use and apply an umlaut to the text of the finding aid - this was never possible using our former TAPUHI computer system. Our new system Tiaki supports the use of macrons, umlauts, double acute and other scripts such as Coptic, Brahmic (Indic) and many more! This is due to the fact that our new system is now compliant with Unicode, meaning librarians can now utilise the full list of Unicode characters when describing our unpublished collections, which will greatly improve access to these collections by researchers. We have only just started to apply Unicode characters to our descriptions and we have a project in 2017 to retrospectively apply macrons to all our Māori authority records, so these will increase over time and access will further be improved!

Brumfit, Ethel, 1881-1961: Diaries, compositions, related papers and photographs (ATL-Group-00024) – Dr Susan Skudder

Susan Skudder. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.Susan Skudder. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.

I’ve worked on many different collections this year, and all had their own interest and even delights, but the most interesting and delightful has to be the diaries of Ethel Brumfit.

Ethel Brumfit was a Wellington mezzo-soprano who, having had some success singing in New Zealand, went ‘home’ to England in 1903 to further her singing career, and remained there for the rest of her life. She married in 1904, had a daughter in 1906 and continued her singing and song-writing career until at least the late 1920s. Ethel moved in interesting circles – she was a friend of Sir William Massey, who stayed at her home in Surrey; she went sailing with Sir Thomas Lipton; and she was active in Conservative women’s associations.

Ethel kept diaries throughout her life, and the Library has acquired possibly all those that remain, which unfortunately is not a full sequence. We have diaries from her departure from New Zealand in 1903 through to the early 1930s, and some from the 1940s and late 1950s up to 1961, the year Ethel died.

Ethel not only wrote in her diaries, she used them as repositories for mementoes such as photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, and theatre tickets. When she had a lot to recount she continued her diary entries on loose papers that she then attached to the diaries using a variety of fasteners, such as paper clips, pins, glue, and adhesive tape. Sometimes she has even sewn a loose page or a memento into a diary! The diaries are a great illustration of the wisdom of the archival principle of original order, which states that archives should be kept in the order in which they were created and used. The way that Ethel has used the diaries to record her life tells us so much about her personality that would be lost if all the additions and insertions were removed and housed separately.

I haven’t read all the diaries, because it’s not my job to read them, but to describe them so as to make them available to those who will read them. I really hope there is someone out there who will want to find out more about this lively and interesting woman, and bring her back to life for us.

Ans Westra Photographs (PA-Group-00941) – Win Lynch

Win Lynch. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.Win Lynch. Photograph by Sascha Nolden.

As a part-time Librarian, this past year I have been working to enhance the descriptions of the Ans Westra collection of photographs. Westra, born in 1936 in the Netherlands, is one of the most prominent documentary photographers of mid-late 20th century New Zealand life. The Library holds an extensive collection of her photographs, many of which have been digitised. I have been working to describe album pages containing 12 frames, many of which have no information as to subject, location or identification of people. I find great pleasure in searching for information about the photographs and trying to include useful details for researchers, as words are the only way of searching images.

Examples I have come across recently are identification of a house in Tinakori Rd (AW-0984). I was able to blow up the image which gave me the street number 261, and a clearer view of the style which was very reminiscent of houses in Tinakori Rd. I was then able to find a modern image of the house clearly showing it to be the correct building. Other images on the page showed a house being demolished, which appeared to be linked with the construction of the new Wellington motorway, in the same Thorndon area.

Two other image sequences were identified from my research, one showing a protest by school dental nurses, and another showing a protest by members of the Pensioners and Beneficiaries Association both of which occurred in March-April 1974. My identification of the dental nurses’ protest came about with help from another librarian:

For more information about these, or any of the other collections at the Alexander Turnbull Library, please contact our friendly Research Enquiries team.

By Valerie Love

Valerie is the Senior Digital Archivist at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Peter Ireland January 25th at 12:12PM

I say a copy of this in every home, and compulsory appreciation by everyone in DIA.
I love these, for the names alone - Ethel Brumfit!! Thank you.

Valerie Love January 27th at 10:20AM

Thanks Peter! Glad you enjoyed the post - we certainly enjoy our work and the variety of collections that come across our workbenches!

Angela Peters January 27th at 3:30PM

I was fascinated to read about all of these projects. I am an Archivist for two schools and often find the work overwhelming, but you people have the knowledge, organization and expertise to turn difficult projects into exciting collections to be shared with everyone. Well done to you all!