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Watch: Behind the scenes with Auckland Libraries’ heritage team

Published: 30 August 2019

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Storehouse of history

Deep in the heart of Auckland’s Central City Library is a little-known treasure trove of valuable letters, photographs, and yes, books.

Here is where Auckland Libraries’ heritage team lives and breathes.

Taking a wander through the hallowed corridors, you’ll find rare riches beyond belief.

The Gallery on Level 2 is the starting point. For the last few months it has played host to the Charles P Dawes Exhibition, a masterful collection of photographs of the Hokianga, dating back to the late 1800s.

The exhibition featured glass plate negatives and photos collated over the years from a box rescued from a junk shop in Upper Queen Street in the 1970s, to the 1650 shots stored in the rafters of a barn and gifted to the library by descendants of the photographer’s wife, Jessie Dawes.

“Remarkably, most of the glass plates – and it’s amazing considering glass is a very fragile medium – were in very good condition,” says Keith Giles, Principal Photographs Librarian of the large donation.

These treasures are housed along with other precious items in the collection in a special room.

As Georgia Prince, Principal Curator Rare Books explains, “This is where our most valuable material is kept, where there are special humidity and temperature controls to keep the atmosphere stable.”

A fire suppression system is installed to protect books should a fire break out; gas floods the rooms not sprinklers and lighting is automatic to protect the books and manuscripts.

The shelves are lined with historical editions from an early copy of the seminal children’s classic Winnie the Pooh to a 1492 edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

Next, the journey takes you to the engine room of preservation.

Here, the team is kept busy as spines are fixed using Japanese tissue and items placed in carefully crafted and exacting protective grey boxes.

You’ll be introduced to a handy machine which wets paper using vapour; over the course of five minutes, it flattens documents that have been folded for decades.

The final stop is the digitisation department. Here, documents, photographs, newspapers and maps are photographed and saved using specialised machinery – sort of like a photocopier for historical artefacts.

They’re then uploaded to Kura – Auckland Libraries’ online heritage collection – for all Aucklanders to browse from the comfort of their living rooms.

This storehouse of treasures and historical artefacts, all full of history, so carefully and lovingly preserved by a team of professionals who take their responsibility and stewardship seriously in an environment that will keep these valuable items of the past for the future.

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