Inconvenient or Accessible? Archives and Research Libraries in Australasia

I have been meaning for some time to write about the accessibility of archives and libraries in Australia and New Zealand. I don’t mean issues around accessing collections themselves—archivists with much greater specialist insights than me have written about the issues that pertain to describing archives and making them available to communities and researchers. I mean actually getting to the physical repositories in the first place. No point having the most well-described, immaculately catalogued collection if the only people who can use it are locals with cars who can pop to a remote location on the two afternoons a month it is open.

Fortunately, the major archives and research libraries in Australasia are not quite that extreme in terms of limited hours. A number of them, though, are currently located in suburban sites where land is cheaper to save costs. This is to the detriment of access, especially for people (like myself) who cannot drive. Some have restricted their hours and/or items you can order, which also comes at the cost of access—especially for people poor financially and/or in time, who cannot afford a lengthy stay to view all the items that they need. Do note, though, that if you are travelling a long distance, email the archive beforehand and you might be able to order more items and/or stay past the designated closing.

So, here is my guide to how accessible I have found the various archives throughout Australasia that I have used. This is mainly in terms of how easy it is to get there on public transport or foot. I am legally blind but physically fit, so I might have missed some obstacles for people with more limited mobility—but I’ve noted the missing footpaths and long walks. I have also described an alternative way to get to State Records of South Australia that does not appear on their website (but, spoiler alert, it is the most inaccessible of all the archives described here).

Opening hours refer to the ordinary hours rather than current covid-related restrictions. I am also including the availability of food not just because I like good bakeries and pubs (though, as you will see, I do), but because many researchers have very good health reasons to need to eat regularly. They simply can’t push through a whole day without food. And even those of us who can—I did a few times during my PhD to avoid spending money I didn’t have—we’d probably rather not have a growling stomach for company during our time in the reading room.

I have gone through the repositories in alphabetical order. They are:

  • Archives New Zealand (all four locations)
  • Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections
  • Hocken Library, Dunedin
  • Libraries Tasmania, Hobart
  • National Library of NZ/Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
  • Public Record Office Victoria, Melbourne
  • Queensland State Archives, Brisbane
  • State Archives and Records NSW, Western Sydney
  • State Library of NSW/Mitchell Library, Sydney
  • State Library of Queensland/John Oxley Library, Brisbane
  • State Library of South Australia, Adelaide
  • State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
  • State Library of Western Australia/J.S. Battye Library, Perth
  • State Records of South Australia, Adelaide
  • State Records Office of Western Australia, Perth

That’s right, no National Archives of Australia or National Library of Australia. My research subjects were state bodies, not federal ones, so I am yet to use NAA; I will be using NLA collections for the first time next year. I have also never been to the Northern Territory, let alone used a research institution there.

[Update, 07/10/20: Well this got more attention than I expected! Noah Riseman has surveyed most NAA locations in a short Twitter thread. Other feedback has also emphasised the remoteness of the Brisbane and Sydney offices. I’ve added notes below to indicate state branches that are co-located with an institution I do discuss. Those institutions are Libraries Tasmania, Public Record Office Victoria, and the State Library of SA; in Perth the NAA is near but not in the State Library of WA. In the course of making this update, I’ve added a couple of other extra bits and pieces from comments I’ve received. Thanks, everyone!]

Archives New Zealand (all four locations)

Very modern, very inaccessible—the Christchurch regional office of Archives NZ

There are four Archives New Zealand offices in New Zealand: the main office in Wellington and regional offices in Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin. An announcement in late 2019 controversially limited the opening hours of the reading rooms, although if you are travelling long distances it is worth emailing Archives NZ to find out if any special arrangements can be made.

One general note about ordering files: you can order only 5 at a time, but you can order at any time during the day. At the regional offices, you will often get a new order within minutes of submitting it; in Wellington, you will rarely wait over 45 minutes for a new file to come up. I normally order 5 online to be ready for me in the morning, use 3, return them and order another 3, use the remaining 2, and when I return them the next 3 will have arrived. Order another 2 and they will be ready when I’m done with the current 3, order another 3… you get the idea. It is possible to work through a very large number of files in a day; I’ve done over 50, and I am not the speediest person in the archives.

Wellington office: This location is superbly accessible on Mulgrave St, a block from Wellington railway station. Wherever you stay in Wellington, it is easy to walk or get public transport. The cafe on site is unremarkable and dated but alright, and the Thistle Inn and Backbencher pubs are both nearby for a good feed afterwards. When I stay in the city, I usually stop for breakfast on my walk to the archives at La Cloche or Bordeaux Bakery, both on Featherston St, or Artcraft on Bond St. Unfortunately, the reading room is now only open Wednesday–Friday 9am–5pm, a serious impediment for travelling researchers. If your work takes longer than three days, I hope you can afford four-day breaks in between! Perhaps you’ll be lucky and also need to use material at the National Library.

Auckland office: The location is remote from the city, out near the airport. Don’t stay in the CBD, although the 380 bus does stop nearby. Ironically, though, it might be less convenient for residents than visiting researchers. If you are visiting Auckland just to use the archives, you can fly in, stay at one of the many airport hotels, and walk a short distance (on mostly quiet streets with footpaths) to the reading room. This office, unfortunately, now has the same inconvenient opening hours as Wellington; you’re a bit stuffed if you’ve got a lengthy stay. It’s not far, at least, to a small set of shops: I found The Orchard good for breakfast/lunch and the Post Office Public House very nice for dinner and a beer. The Hollywood Bakery, though, was pretty mediocre.

Christchurch office: Hands-down one of the most inaccessible archives in Australasia. It is located out in Wigram, and the facilities themselves are the newest and nicest of all Archives NZ locations, but if you do not have a car getting to or from this location is either difficult or, if you take taxis/ride-shares, expensive. Buses stop nearby on Main South Road, which is fine for getting to Archives New Zealand (if coming from the east). Leaving, however, you have to cross Main South Road to the bus stop going the other way. This area is not designed for pedestrians: you can either take your life into your hands crossing this busy arterial road or follow a circuitous route via mostly protected crossings at the Springs Road intersection (there is still a totally unprotected slip lane) and probably watch your bus sail by as you wait for the lights to get to a pedestrian cycle. If you have any form of limited mobility, this is frustrating to say the least. I made the mistake of staying at a motel in Sockburn, which was nice and walkable until I got to the Main South Road/Blenheim Road roundabout. Honest-to-god terrifying.

The Christchurch reading room is open Monday–Friday but only 9am–1pm. Again, this is not very good for visiting researchers, but when I visited from Australia the staff permitted me to stay well into the afternoon. As for food, the staff told me the cafe at the nearby Air Force museum is good. I never ate there; each morning I ate at the Sockburn Bakery on the way and bought sandwiches there for lunch. Nice staff, standard bakery fare—probably won’t win awards but filled me up and started my day well.

Dunedin office: This office is wonderfully convenient on George St, a few blocks north of the Octagon and a stone’s throw from the University of Otago. Heaps of accommodation nearby and almost any bus will get you within easy walking distance. You will be spoilt for choice with food at any time of the day; The Good Earth is not the closest option but I found it worth walking a couple of extra minutes for breakfast or lunch there. Scribes Books is also handy, one of my favourite secondhand bookshops in New Zealand. The only problem with this Archives NZ office is, again, the opening hours—they are the same as Christchurch, closed in the afternoon.

Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections

The Sir George Grey Special Collections are viewed at a reading room upstairs in the Central City Library of the Auckland Libraries network. As the name of the Central City Library ought to suggest, it is located right in the heart of the city. You will have no problem getting here or finding something to eat. Better still, the reading room is open every day, 9am–5pm on weekdays and 10am–4pm on weekends, and there are no set retrieval times to worry about—items are retrieved as needed. I haven’t worked here since the early 2010s but the policies look pretty much unchanged and I found it pleasant and straightforward.

(I am told that the Auckland City Archives down in the basement of the same building is much less salubrious! It also has quite restricted hours, 2pm–5pm weekdays, but will open by appointment.)

Hocken Library, Dunedin

Spring had sprung when I was at the Hocken last—26 September 2019.

The Hocken is located pretty centrally. If you stay in the city, it will be within walking distance; if you take a bus from a suburban location into the city, you will be able to get off a short walk away. You might have to walk a little further for breakfast and lunch options than at Archives New Zealand’s Dunedin office, but it’s a flat walk and the main University of Otago campus is nearby so you’ll find something pretty soon. My tip? If you need material at both Archives NZ and the Hocken, start your day at Archives NZ, then when they close at 1pm, eat lunch somewhere on the way to the Hocken.

The best thing about the Hocken is that it is over the road from Emerson’s Brewery. Perfect for an after-work bevvy and a feed. (Walk a little further the other way, along Albany St, and you’ll hit another one of my favourites, Eureka.) The second-best thing about the Hocken is that it is not only open every weekday but also Saturdays. Its hours are 10am–5pm every day. Pretty good for out-of-town visitors. Orders are retrieved promptly throughout the day, and the staff are all very helpful.

Libraries Tasmania, Hobart

Note: the Hobart office of the National Archives of Australia is also located here.

I can’t keep up with the name changes in Tasmania. Is it the State Library of Tasmania? State Reference Library? Hobart Reading Room? History Room? Archives Tasmania? Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office? LINC Tasmania? Libraries Tasmania? I’m sure some Tasmanian is going to reply with a detailed account of what changed names or merged when. Looks like Libraries Tasmania is the umbrella term right now.

What I know is that the facilities I used—and that you as a researcher likely need—are on the second floor of 91 Murray Street. For all the changes in nomenclature, I found the actual facility easy to use and very easy to get to. It’s right in the heart of Hobart. Stay in the city and you will have both your research and plenty of food options on your doorstep. I recall the cafe on site being decent, especially when I needed a quick feed and to get right back to work. I recommend popping to Lark Distillery at least once on your visit. I also had a couple of very enjoyable breakfasts at Jackman and McRoss, Victoria Street, on my last trip to Hobart.

National Library of New Zealand/Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

The National Library is located a block from Archives New Zealand and just up Molesworth Street from Wellington railway station. Perfect! My food advice for Archives NZ applies here too. There is a cafe on site, which is very popular for lunch. Try to take an early lunch if you can to beat the rush or you’ll struggle to find a seat. Despite its popularity, I consider it a bit overpriced and nothing special. Note that on weekdays the building opens at 9am but the reading room not until 10am–5pm. Happily, the reading room is also open Saturdays, 9am–1pm. I wish the reading room opened at 9am weekdays too (you could get a lot done with those extra five hours a week!), but in general the National Library is convenient and accessible.

Public Record Office Victoria, Melbourne

Note: the Melbourne office of the National Archives of Australia is also located here.

PROV is one of the more centrally located state archives—it can’t quite beat Tasmania or WA, but it’s much easier to access than those in the other mainland state capitals. It’s in North Melbourne near the CBD and you have multiple public transport options. The 402 bus from Footscray to Carlton Gardens passes directly outside on Shiel St and runs regularly. There are three different tram routes that get you nice and close. Catch the 57 to the Haines St stop and PROV is just a 5-minute walk down quiet suburban streets; catch the 58 or 59 to the Royal Children’s Hospital stop on Flemington Road and it’s about 10 minutes’ walk. If you catch the train to North Melbourne station, the walk is about 15 minutes, and if you feel fit you can get there from the CBD on foot, it’s around half an hour from the LaTrobe St side of the Hoddle Grid.

The main problem I have at PROV are the ordering restrictions. It was alright for me when I lived in Melbourne, since I resided in Brunswick and worked at Melbourne Uni, so it was straightforward to pop to PROV for an hour or two. It’s less convenient now. You can order 8 records per delivery, to a maximum of 24, with one delivery a day—it used to be twice, I don’t know if this is a permanent reduction or a covid temporary restriction (moot point as PROV is shut right now). So you need to really plan in advance, and if you are coming a long way you are only going to be able to view a maximum of 40 records in a week, 48 if you happen to come on one of the weeks when PROV is open Saturday (second and last Saturdays of the month). If you chug through your files by lunchtime, too bad; go find something else to do. PROV is only open 10am–4:30pm, and missing 90 minutes out of the workday can really add up if you’re going through large records.

There used to be a cafe on site but it was closed when I was last there in 2019 and remains so now. But, not to worry, you can pop around the corner to a small set of shops on Melrose St, where there is an IGA and a couple of cafes and takeaways—I had a nice lunch once at Mr Tucker. Once you’re done at PROV, walk a short distance to Errol St for plenty of evening options. I haven’t dined along there for a few years, not since I left Melbourne, but I liked Agraba for Lebanese cuisine, and the Courthouse Hotel and the Town Hall Hotel for bevvies. A bit further still is another old favourite, Prudence. You can let me know if they’re still good.

There are also PROV reading rooms in regional Victoria but I have never used any of them.

Queensland State Archives, Brisbane

Without a doubt QSA is one of the most inconveniently located repositories for visiting researchers and anyone without a car. It is all the way out in suburban Runcorn on the southside. It will take you about an hour to get there if you are coming from the city. There are a couple of options.

You can take a bus all the way. The 150 runs from the city and drops you off at the intersection of Gowan and Compton Roads. You will then have a 15–20 minute walk to QSA. Remember, Brisbane gets hot and humid, so this walk will be uncomfortable in summer if you don’t enjoy that sort of thing. You can connect with buses along Compton Road that drop you near QSA’s driveway but they aren’t frequent and you will probably find it better to just walk (as I did). Check a journey planner for when you want to travel as there are various options to use two buses if you need/prefer to be dropped close.

You can also grab the train part of the way. It’s no quicker, but I like it. Catch a Beenleigh train as far as Runcorn. Head from Runcorn station onto Beenleigh Road and catch the 152 bus. It will take you to a stop very close to QSA’s driveway. Just beware: the 152 runs hourly. You will need to time it appropriately.

Photo of a train departing Runcorn station for Brisbane city in September 2019. The bus stop is over by the white building to the left of the train.
Total joke of a timetable. But that 8:52am bus will get you to QSA just after they open.

If you’ve looked at a map, you might wonder if Fruitgrove station is walkable. It’s about a 40 minute walk, and need I remind you of the Queensland heat and humidity? But here is the main reason you might not want to walk:

Yep, the footpath runs out. Now, you can keep going (don’t worry, you don’t end up on the motorway), and it’s not as unpleasant as the footpath-less walk to State Records of South Australia that I describe below. But for those of you with limited mobility, that’s cold comfort. Google Maps does suggest a couple of other routes that take only a couple of minutes longer, but I haven’t taken them to check if the whole route is paved. Plus, once you get to the train, you’ve still got an all-stops journey back to the city.

QSA has decent opening hours. It is open Monday–Friday, 9am–4:30pm, and also the second Saturday of every month, same hours. Don’t miss the retrieval times for orders, though, or you’ll sit around twiddling your thumbs for an hour or more.

Last, food? I made two research trips to Brisbane in 2019 and there was a room at QSA in which you can eat, with a fridge for storing a packed lunch, etc. There were signs indicating an actual cafe is planned; I do not know if this has happened yet. Between Compton Road and QSA are some places to buy food—you can pick up sandwiches, wraps, salads, and similar from the 7-11 or Coles Express, which is what I did. There is also a Subway and a couple of other cafes.

State Archives and Records New South Wales, Western Sydney

I have not been here, so why is it on my list? Because I have not been here, even though I need to visit. It is quite possibly the most inaccessible state archive in Australasia. I live in Wollongong, and here’s the thing: I could almost get to some interstate archives and libraries quicker than I can get to the NSW State Archives. The State Library is a straightforward commute from the Gong, and the State Archives is the exact opposite. If I could drive, it would be fine, about 80–90 minutes each way. But I cannot, and the door-to-door trip (involving two trains and two buses) is over 3 hours one-way. No way I can sustain that for a week or more. It’s one thing to move State Archives out to Western Sydney, and quite another to put it in a location inaccessible even by the standards of plonking it out west. Boggles my mind that this was removed from a convenient central Sydney location.

I actually need to use files here, and I’m probably going to end up paying for a hotel later this year in Western Sydney (assuming all well on the covid front). This is one of those annoying costs disabled people face that an able-bodied person can avoid easily. At least State Archives are open Tuesday–Saturday, which isn’t too bad—they used to be open Monday too, but that has ceased. It is not clear to me from their website whether they charge for a locker; it indicates you require a $2 coin, but fails to clarify if it’s one of those lockers where you get the coin back at the end of the day or if it’s an actual $2 charge. (Edit: I am informed you do get the coin back. But don’t forget to find one first! I sure don’t normally carry cash.)

State Library of New South Wales/Mitchell Library, Sydney

SLNSW contains one of the world’s great research libraries, the Mitchell; it is a pleasure to sit in this glorious space. If your work is in the Marie Bashir room, it’s… modern but much less inspiring. SLNSW is superbly accessible, just up Macquarie Street from Martin Place railway station. Depending on your line, it might be more convenient to disembark at St James or Circular Quay and walk slightly further. Cafe TRIM on site is passable but some items are completely overpriced and I can’t escape the impression that the quality has declined in the past couple of years. You’re in the Sydney CBD, anyway, so food options are plentiful.

My main beef with SLNSW is that they charge for lockers unlike almost everywhere else in this entry. It’s $1 for every four hours, which if you have a lot to do will start to add up. Also, you need cash, so if you’re like me and rarely carry cash, go to an ATM first. You cannot take any bags into the special collections area of the Mitchell; you can take smaller bags into the Marie Bashir (up to 30x35x30 cm, and some larger laptop bags might be permitted). So, before you go, consider if you can avoid carrying a bag.

State Library of Queensland/John Oxley Library, Brisbane

This is one of the most accessible repositories on my list, and it has enviable hours too. It is open every day, including the Oxley reading room, and retrievals are very frequent. Current covid hours are 9am-5pm (slightly more limited on weekends and in the Oxley), but I recall them being more generous pre-covid. SLQ is located centrally near South Brisbane railway station, buses, and ferries, and easily walkable from the CBD across the river. There are plenty of food options nearby.

State Library of South Australia, Adelaide

Note: the Adelaide office of the National Archives of Australia is also located here.

SLSA is enviable like SLQ. It is located very conveniently, right on North Terrace in the city. The trams go right out front, heaps of buses run nearby, and Adelaide railway station is a short walk. Before covid, it was open 10am–8pm Monday–Wednesday, 10am–6pm Thursday–Friday, and 10am–5pm on weekends. Ideal for visiting researchers. I found the cafe on site to be mediocre but apparently it’s been done up since I was last there and is now much nicer. In any case, you are a short walk from lots of great places. Whatever you like, you should find it close at hand. My personal favourite is Abbots & Kinney for great baked goods and toasted sandwiches; they have an outlet in the Hub at Adelaide Uni, or walk a bit further down to their main digs on Pirie St.

State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

This is becoming a theme—state libraries are located centrally but archives often are not. SLV is right in the heart of Melbourne. It’s glorious. You want to go here. It’s on Swanston St, the busiest tram arterial in the whole city, and right by Melbourne Central railway station and shopping centre. I could not even begin to list the food and drink options nearby. It could not be easier to get to SLV. In fact, it’s easier to come by public transport than by car. That is how it should be.

Be aware, though, that many items are held off-site, including in Ballarat, so make sure you order ahead. I have in the past encountered some librarians reluctant to place one big order when I have needed lengthy runs of periodicals, too.

State Library of Western Australia/J.S. Battye Library, Perth

Note: State Records of Western Australia is also located here, though I have described it separately below. The Perth office of the National Archives of Australia is not located here, but it is only a very short walk away in Northbridge.

Another state library, another conveniently located facility. SLWA is just north of Perth railway station. You should have few challenges getting here. The opening hours, including for the Leah Jane Cohen reading room, are generous: 9am–8pm Monday–Thursday, 9am–5:30pm Friday, 10am–5:30pm weekends. Records are retrieved half-hourly, so there are no worries about sitting around twiddling your thumbs if you missed some twice-daily delivery. As an interstate researcher last year, this was invaluable: I took full advantage of those 8pm finishes to get everything done.

SLWA is another example of researchers being spoilt for choice when it comes to food. I had lunch at the on-site cafe one day but the only thing I remember is eavesdropping on a quite interesting theological debate among the diners at an adjacent table. I suppose this means the food was OK but nothing special. Most days I walked about two minutes to Eillo for delicious toasted sandwiches. Flipside, a couple of doors further, is a good choice if you fancy a burger.

State Records of South Australia, Adelaide

The people who work at SRSA have been consistently nice and helpful to me, so I say this with no malice towards them or their institution in the abstract: this is the worst archive I have used in Australasia.

First, the opening hours are not good for visitors to Adelaide. SRSA opens Tuesday–Thursday, 9:30am–4:30pm. If your research will take more than three (slightly abbreviated) workdays, I hope you’ve got something else to do in Adelaide for four days, the spare time to stay that long, and the money to afford it. But, somehow, SRSA’s location manages to outdo its opening hours for inconvenience.

The location is, frankly, hopeless. It’s out in an industrial area of Gepps Cross, and no matter which direction you come from, there are no footpaths along Cavan Road. There are two ways to get to SRSA by public transport: bus or train. Curiously, SRSA’s website only tells you about the bus, and gives a very cheery account of how to do it that does not match the reality. I suspect whoever wrote the website has never actually tried to get to SRSA without a car.

If you are coming from the city and decide to take the bus, there is no direct route. You can either take a bunch of options that all stop 15–20 minutes away on Great North Road, or connect with the 225/225F along Port Wakefield Road. SRSA’s website says that the 225/225F drops you at “a bus stop within a minute’s walking distance”. This is true… except, as I said, there is no footpath on Cavan Road. Good luck if you use a mobility aid. Worse? The one time I did this, there was a big ol’ sprinkler on, leaving me with two options: step out onto a busy road to walk around it, or run through it. I ran through it.

SRSA’s website doesn’t tell you, but you can also catch the train to Dry Creek. Ignore Google Maps’ directions. This is what Google thinks you should do as a pedestrian:

Besides the fact this is an hour walk, you literally cannot do this. It is a walk along a mainline railway and through a rail yard. I would do this walk if I could because I am a railway nerd. You can’t do it. It is trespass and, if you don’t know railway safety, dangerous. Somehow, Google Maps has no idea how to enter Dry Creek railway station. Here are the actual directions:

Turn right along Railway Terrace when you come out of the railway station. Hang a left down Rowell St, which takes you to Churchill Road. Cross it, and follow Gum Ave all the way to Cavan Road. Turn left, cross at any convenient moment, and you’ll come to SRSA. This walk takes me about 15 minutes.

Sounds alright-ish? Not so fast. First, you have two unprotected crossings of busy roads, Churchill and Cavan. Although Cavan is busier, it has a median, so you can do it in two stages. If you have a physical impairment, Churchill is scarier. With my low vision, I dreaded crossing this road every time. Second, there is no footpath for most of Cavan Road. People have worn thin desire lines alongside but this walk really sucks, especially when huge trucks barrel past you. (Also, if you have photophobia like me, you will have to walk into the sun in both directions, which makes this all the worse—but that’s always the way eh.)

Cavan Road looking in the general direction of SRSA, on the opposite side.

If you are a visitor to South Australia, your best option is probably to stay in the CBD—especially if you are also using the State Library or visiting any of the various university campuses located there. I really rate Adelaide, it’s my second-favourite city in Australia, just behind Melbourne. The CBD is very walkable, the parklands are pleasant, and you will not want for food or things to do.

This gets me to another problem with SRSA: food. There is no food available on-site or nearby. I mean, sure, there are some cafes not that far away for workers in local factories if you want to brave the walk, but it’s not fun and it will consume a fair chunk of your time. Pack a lunch. There is a small room in which you can eat; it also has coffee and tea facilities, which I never used.

Also, this entry is mainly about the accessibility of physical archives (and the accessibility of food so you don’t faint of hunger at 3pm), but SRSA also has the worst online catalogue of any archive in Australasia. It’s positively ancient. If I remember correctly, one of their archivists told me they bought it from PROV in the very early 2000s. It’s barely functional now. It’s like a trip back in time. You can’t order in advance from a Mac (I think you can from some Windows browsers). I email/phone ahead to get some files brought up and order the rest on site. The system suggests some ostensible limits and time cut-offs for orders but I’ve never had problems getting requests for files filled promptly.

Anyway, the people who work at SRSA are great but the location is so bad that it makes me dread the very thought of using their materials.

State Records Office of Western Australia

SROWA is co-located with the State Library (its collections used to be part of the Battye Library), so unlike most other archives in this entry, it’s super easy to get to. Last year, when I went to Perth, it had a separate reading room on the ground floor of the SLWA building, which was open four days a week. In writing this entry, I have discovered that since July this year it now shares the Cohen reading room with the Battye on the 3rd floor of SLWA again.

This offers one improvement: you can now have SROWA materials delivered every weekday, so you get five days rather than the old four. You need to order by 4pm the previous day for delivery at 11am.

But there is one huge problem for visiting researchers. You can only order a maximum of 5 items held on-site and 5 held off-site, for a total of 10 items per day. Anyone who has ever used archives knows that sometimes those items will turn out to be five huge boxes that take ages to go through, and sometimes five thin folders that you use in the space of five minutes. At Archives NZ, I can churn through 50+ items a day. If you order something that happens to be a dud at SROWA, too bad. No speculative ordering if you’re short on time! Say everything you want to view is held on-site: Perth is a bloody long way to go to look at just 25 things over a whole week.

It’s worth talking to the archivists as they might be able to bring you more files. I explained I was visiting from Wollongong; my list of files to investigate was about 5 more than the total I could order in the number of days that I had. The archivists brought them all up for me. If I can say one thing for Western Australia, SROWA and SLWA have some of the nicest, most helpful staff I have met in my career. It was a real pleasure to work at both.

Concluding thoughts

The accessibility of institutions varies significantly. Some are so remote as to pose serious problems for people with limited mobility. Some have overly restricted hours. Some have very low ordering limits. Some combine those to really dissuade you. If you need the resources of a state library, you will usually find it much more convenient to access than a state archive. The worst located archives that I’ve visited are Queensland State Archives, the Christchurch regional office of Archives New Zealand, and State Records of South Australia, while State Records NSW is located so badly that I’ve been unable to get to it yet. Without a doubt the best city in Australasia for the researcher is Wellington, with the National Library and Archives NZ (and the Parliamentary Library) within a very short walk of each other and Wellington railway station. Archives NZ’s newly limited hours takes some of the gloss off it, though.

Anyway, my first blog entry concluded with the good old “now listening” segment and a train photo, so I think this one should too.

Now listening: “Wisteria” by Death and the Maiden, a great Dunedin band who I saw perform an excellent set in Auckland as part of the 2018 Others Way Festival, while I was in Auckland researching at the regional office of Archives New Zealand.

Train photo: if you do decide to take the train to State Records SA, be aware that Dry Creek is a very desolate station. Here is a 3100 class railcar arriving at Dry Creek at 5pm, 4 April 2019, to collect me after a day hard at work in South Australian Railways files—and a slightly nervy walk to the station:

2 thoughts on “Inconvenient or Accessible? Archives and Research Libraries in Australasia

  1. It’s been a couple of years since I visited, looking on the State Records NSW website it looks like the road out front now has a footpath which is a big improvement. There is no food nearby either, but they did have a fridge in which you could store your own. There wasn’t much at St Marys either.

    National Archives of Australia Sydney is a reasonably pleasant 15-20 minute walk from Chester Hill station, no food at the archives, but I think they announced in the reading room that the visiting food/coffee truck had arrived around mid-morning. There were food options opposite Chester Hill station.

    State Records of South Australia briefly flirted with co-locating the reading room in the State Library for a year or two before moving It back to Gepps Cross, this was much more convenient for access, but you had to be organised in making sure things were ordered and delivered beforehand. The walk from Dry Creek station is a bit of a pain and I have been confronted by the same sprinklers. My preferred option was to buy lunch from the milk bar in Adelaide Railway station. The opening days are a real pain when coming from interstate. The SRSA archives software is also definitely an old version of what PROV used to use. My recollection is that you could get the ordering to work on a Mac by using Firefox.

    The Public Record Office of Victoria ordering restrictions seem to wax and wane, they’re usually pretty quick to return things so you might be able to get 56 in a week if you make sure you have 24 waiting the morning you arrive, or take a friend! The bakery that preceded Mr Tucker had some of Melbourne’s best sausage rolls, but sadly no more.


    1. I’ve never been able to get SRSA’s ordering to work on any browser—Firefox is my default. I’ve tried it in both Safari and Chrome, too. Possibly could be because my version of Firefox is too old/new, since SRSA’s software sure seems temperamental. If only a state government would kindly fund SRSA to a level that they can develop an adequate website and deliver files to researchers at a site that is accessible and safe to get to.


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