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Archives turn new leaf

Methodist Archives began a fresh chapter last month with the departure of long-standing archivist Rev Marcia Baker and the arrival her replacement Jo Smith. Jo comes to the archives from the position of curator of manuscripts at Canterbury Museum.

In his speech at Marcia’s farewell function Rev Donald Phillipps looked back on the 26 years of service Marcia gave the archives and forward to the challenges Jo-Ann faces to bring the archives into the digital age. He talked about Marcia’s extensive family connections in the Methodist Church and the innumerable enquiries she handled for people seeking information from the archives.

“Those of use who are amateurs may regret, though I don’t think we should be too sad, that the archives have become like so many other things a highly professionalized world,” Donald says.

“Our archives are a major contribution to the history of our country, and their care and accessibility has to be carried out in accordance with the required standards. In this regard, a significant change that has taken place in Marcia’s time is the move into electronic data storage and retrieval.

“It has taken the Church a little longer than it might to initiate this but it’s happening now and it should proceed smoothly because of the foundations Marcia has laid.”

The initial priorities for Jo are to determine what archival material the Methodist Church has in repositories around New Zealand and to write a plan to manage the archives to internationally recognised archival standards.

She intends to prepare entries for the National Register of Archives and Manuscripts (NRAM) that will ultimately include an entry for all the material in the archives. Entries on NRAM will enable people all over the world to search what is in the church’s collections.

Jo says the archives need resources. “There is no budget for essential supplies, such as acid free files and folders that are essential for the long-term preservation of documents and photos. While it may seem like an expense, maintaining the archives and being able to retrieve information efficiently is good business practice that will actually save money.”

During much of her time at the archives Marcia was joined by her husband Fred. Marcia says an important aspect of their work in the archives was pastoral outreach. She, Fred, and the team of volunteers they assembled were able to help people learn about their families, their genealogies, and the roles their parents or grandparents played in the church.

“We loved the research we did. We were able to help people not only here in New Zealand but in Australia, England and the US. We also gave talks all around the country so people in the church would know what the archives are all about.”

Marcia says she would especially like to thank the volunteers who worked with her in the archives. Her thoughts are echoed by Jo, who says volunteers will continue to play an essential role in the work of the archives. If anyone wants to join the happy team of volunteers in the archives, contact Jo at 03 366 6049.