News | 27 January 2022
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20 Twenty One: Adrian Humphris

As our staff look back on their long tenures at Wellington City Council, there’s probably no one better to ask about their history than Adrian Humphris, our Team Leader, City Archives.

A smiling middle-aged pakeha man wearing a tidy blue shirt, pictured in a polaroid with the words '20 Twenty One: Celebrating our People' printed on the bottom left.

Where did you grow up and when did you start your career at Council?

I’m Wellington born and bred – grew up in Newlands, flatted all around the city before finally settling in Karori.

To be honest, Dad worked in Council’s Treasury Department so wrangled me a holiday job. What was nice is that subsequently other managers asked if they could have me back, so obviously I did earn it! I was studying Geography at Victoria University, originally looking at town planning but with no real plan in my head.

My first job for the Finance Department was to box up all the archives in the Town Hall Basement to go to storage so that the Civic Square work redevelopment could proceed. All of a sudden, I was the person who knew about old rate books and could help customers access old files.

When the Archive programme was established in 1994, and the Wellington City Council Archivist needed an Assistant, I still had no idea what to do with myself, but liked working with heritage material, so applied for the role and got it; and have never quite got round to leaving ever since.

Tell us about your current role…

The role of the Archives team is to preserve records of the Council and other organisations relating to the history of Wellington, and make them accessible for anyone who wants to learn, play, or engage with them.

We are also the institutional memory of the Council, so we capture and record how the Council itself has changed over time.

So, my role is split between ensuring the records of long-term or permanent value, created by Council, are preserved so they will be there into the future, and making sure anyone who wants to access them can, in the way they want to.

I work with my fantastic team to make this happen. I train and mentor them, share my knowledge about our collections, provide opportunities for people to take ownership of work and how we provide our services. I have a wealth of knowledge and experience across the team, so empower them to use those skills.

A smiling woman with a blond bob and fringe in a blue suit with white shirt and a large collar, standing beside a tall man with black hair, black dress pants, a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a red and black tie, standing over large planning documents and heritage books.
Wellington City Archivist Michelle Redward and Archives Assistant Adrian Humphris in 1995, shortly after the Archives opened – initially there were just two staff.

We’re a small and incredibly busy team so often I get to roll up my sleeves and pitch in with the day-to-day work; something really rewarding is I love working with our customers and seeing the impact our services can have, but it also keeps me grounded in reality in terms of the work we do and what is involved.

I’ve held the Team Leader role since 2012.

How has Council changed since your beginnings?

My first memories as a student in the late 1980s are of linoleum-clad corridors and mazes of rooms; rooms full of cigarette smoke, typists’ rooms, the staff cafeteria at the top of MOB (Municipal Office Building) and so on.

I remember being taken to see the new VAX mainframe, 'the future', which had 1MB of memory; an amount at the time so huge that people weren’t sure how it could all ever be used!

Our access services have also changed beyond recognition. I remember when I started everything was manual – to find plans we used a giant card index in the middle of the office, ran out the back as customers just dropped in to get their plans, and photocopied things on the spot… later we had customers make appointments, but I remember days with 30-40 people coming in to view plans, making a long busy day! 

Now it’s online and digital, which is far more efficient (although a little lonelier!). Automation and self-service will be the next big change.

20+ years is a long tenure – what has kept you here?

I have been lucky enough to work with some amazingly talented and clever people and have learnt so much and grown as a person because of it. I look back at the naïve teenager with a holiday job back in 1989 and cannot recognise myself. Being surrounded by such a range of backgrounds, talents and abilities is a highlight.

The other thing is the collection. Think I have been privileged to be involved with the collections for so long, and in a weird way they are now a part of who I am and what I do. 

A high-angle shot of three men on left and two woman on right, standing in a row, with framed heritage photographs behind them.
Adrian (second from left) with the Archives team in 2000.

Having started ignorantly boxing up old rate books in a basement through to upskilling and becoming an archivist and leading the team whose responsibility is to preserve and ensure they remain accessible into the future has been a huge journey, so I have an intrinsic care for the material.

Although I have worked in the same team/unit my role has constantly evolved and changed. From assistant to archivist, to supervising our access services, to working on projects and leading the team, there has always been change.

I have also helped relocate the archives to our purpose-built facility, seen the introduction of digitisation and online services, developed at least three new collection management systems, installed and expanded our collection stacks, and so on – always new things happening.

While a lot of the collections are accessible, we still have a backlog of archives that cannot be used, and so far, have only digitised around 30 percent of the collections. Combine this with the proposal to integrate our customer services with the libraries at Te Matapihi in the heart of the CBD, and there is more than enough to keep working towards.

What have been your proudest moments at Council?

Seeing my team work together for our shared vision. Also seeing people come and go, proud of how past staff have gone on to greater things in the GLAM [galleries, libraries, archives, and museums] sector, in New Zealand and overseas, and knowing I have played a part in their development.

The launch of Archives online was a big achievement, along with digitisation of the collection – this made our content accessible for everyone, allowing them to search and find content in the ways that work for them.

The way the team have worked and adapted to constant change, especially over the past five years  implementing Archives Online; successfully installing new and replacement shelving and managing all the physical records coming from CAB with the move to Tahiwi (Council offices located on The Terrace); keeping our services responsive and available through two lockdowns (and especially managing the huge upswing in demand post-lockdowns in a proactive positive way).

Personally, the knowledge that I am making a difference for all the customers and staff who have needed to find information and access our services; we support and enable others to do their work or study, so seeing the outcome and success of that is amazing. 

I’m also proud of being recognised by ALGIM in 2009 when I received the Archivist of the Year Award; never expected that to happen!

How do you spend your time outside of the Archives walls?

With my wife Inka, who I met through work (she was working for the Environment Division at the time, but that’s a whole other story) and our two wonderful teenage boys.

I always find I can be a little restless – must have things to do and keep busy. Work spills into hobbies as well; have co-authored three books looking at different aspects of Wellington’s history, and I’m also the President of the Karori Historical Society. 

In my spare time I read a lot and enjoy Playstation and boardgames with my sons. Over lockdown I’ve also started walking a lot; it gives me time out of every day, I can leave everything behind and just be in the moment. Living close to Zealandia I also get to share walks with a cast of kereru and kaka.

And what’s the best thing about working here at Council?

The people you get to work with, such a range of diversity and talent. Council is such a large organisation doing so many different things, the opportunities to engage with and be involved in so many different things is priceless.

We’re sharing stories about our people who have worked at Council for 20 years or more. Find out more about the series in this story