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Source: New Zealand Parliament

5pm to 6.30pm

For the first time a substantial block of the historic Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (A to Js) published by Parliament, is being made available in digital form, through the internet. It is “A to Js Online”.

We are here to launch the digitisation of 24 volumes covering the 1860s and 1870s – a small but vital part of the entire set of volumes. These pilot volumes include 1604 reports, and 158 foldouts comprising maps, plans and tables.

They are searchable, are available in both text and facsimile versions and include all material within the volumes including foldouts.

Since its earliest days, publication of the A to Js has always been an essential part of Parliament’s record-keeping. It is part of the accountability of government departments and other statutory bodies to Parliament. These reports and papers are tabled in the House, Parliament orders that they be printed, and they are bound into the volumes we know collectively as the ‘A to Js’.

Now some of these weighty volumes – accumulated for more than 150 years – will reveal hidden treasures previously not accessible to many New Zealanders. They are an impressive resource.

These are hidden treasures indeed. One researcher at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, when ordering the New Zealand A to Js from the stacks, found that they had to be retrieved from an underground salt mine in Cheshire! He got them 48 hours later. Apparently a salt mine has an ideal dry and constant temperature environment. Not everyone has to go to the lengths of this particular researcher in getting access to the hard-copy A to Js, but the difficulties of access cannot be denied.

The A to Js of the 1860s and 1870s cover a crucial period in our history – the land wars and the confiscation of land, the discovery of gold and influx of a great many migrants, Vogel’s public works and immigration programme involving a mass government-assisted immigration scheme and the building of railways and roads, and the abolition of the provinces and strengthening of central government.

As a by-product of this turbulent period of our history, the A to Js contain a myriad of information about the people of that time – lists of civil servants, sheep owners, land purchasers, Maori landowners and petitioners, and many more, as the activities of government intersected with people’s everyday lives.

The digitised A to Js will be made available in a similar format to the popular ‘Papers Past’, the National Library’s digitised historical newspaper collection. Those of you who have used Papers Past will know just how much research opportunities are opened up. I would bet that if you took a look you would not leave the Papers Past website for hours – such is the fascination once you start browsing!

We have only just begun to lift the curtain on the hidden treasures in the A to Js. We now need to digitise the whole period 1854 to 1999 when the modern-day Parliamentary Papers begin.

It is hoped that this pilot website will provide a launching pad through which further digitisation of the A to Js can be achieved with the support of other stakeholders, and to date, some have indicated their financial support to enable this to happen.

The first 24 volumes will eventually become an estimated 600 volumes, though the speed at which that happens will depend on available funding.

In a recent on-line poll, conducted by Digital New Zealand on candidates for digitisation, the A to Js were voted one of the top information source priorities.

Responses described the A to Js as providing open access to the treasures of the past and I am sure we will see a surge in scholarly interest by anyone studying New Zealand history. There is a desire to keep the momentum going.

For making this start on digitising the A to Js I wish to acknowledge the work and funding of the National Library and Digital New Zealand; the assistance of the Hocken Library which provided the volumes; and the Parliamentary Library staff who checked those volumes for completeness.

Other organisations also to be thanked include the Office of the Clerk, the Council of NZ University Librarians, the NZ Law Librarians Association, the Association of Public Library Managers and Te Puni Kōkiri.

I now officially launch ‘A to Js Online’. There is no button to press or champagne bottle to break over the ship, but I invite you all to press some buttons on the keyboards across the room. Take a look at what is on offer, and consider how magnificent this resource will be when all the A to Js are digitised.