Historians hit out at merger plan for Archives NZ

Merging Archives New Zealand and the National Library with the Department of Internal Affairs would be "dangerous and unsound", historians say.

The Government announced the merger yesterday as part of its shake-up of state services, saying it would save between $3 million and $9 million and cost about $2.5m to set up in the first year.

Jobs across both bodies would be cut by 15.

The merger has worried some archivists and historians, who say the move could have potentially dangerous implications for the democratic process.

It has also sparked criticism online, with a group opposed to the merger attracting more than 600 members on the social networking website Facebook.

New Zealand Historical Association president Catharine Coleborne said historians were concerned the merger could lead to political interference at Archives NZ, which is the agency tasked with collecting government and community records

It became an independent body in 2000 after it was spun off from the Department of Internal Affairs, and reintegrating it would be a backward step, Dr Coleborne said.

"We're very uncomfortable about the threat that this could mean for the autonomy of national archives, and also of the Chief Archivist's role within Government," she told NZPA.

"To just create a new ruling that merges these institutions is very dangerous and unsound without the opportunity for comment and consultation.

"What we would really like is for a period of appropriate consultation."

The merger would make it harder for academics and members of the public to access records, she said.

"The danger is that those activities will actually become subject to more government scrutiny, and once that happens, you find that access to certain kinds of records becomes more difficult," she said.

"These kinds of materials need to be collected and kept for the posterity of the nation, rather than being subject to possible interventions."

The Archives and Records Association and the Library and Information Association have also expressed concern over the merger.

State Services Minister Tony Ryall said the state service mergers announced yesterday would future-proof agencies during a time of increased restraint and rising public expectations of service delivery.

"Some agencies are going to need to work differently within their existing baselines to meet those expectations."

A Cabinet paper released yesterday said independent bodies were not needed to retain independence, an opinion backed by Crown Law advice.

The risks of losing specialist staff could be reduced through "good change management" and communication, the paper said.

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