What’s going on behind the scenes: an update

What’s going on behind the scenes: an update

Science, Library Services and Managing Risk to our Collections

You may have seen the story about Te Papa on Campbell Live on Monday night which questioned our commitment to Science, and the future of our collections.

Some of the points made in the story were misleading and inaccurate and this communication is to provide some clarification.

Te Papa’s collections sit at the heart of everything the Museum does. It’s the interpretation of the collections and the importance of research and scholarship behind that which supports us in telling and sharing our Nation’s story.  This has been a key driver behind the recent restructure and remains an important objective for the future.

Investing in Science

Te Papa’s commitment to Science is growing.  We have reorganised the structure of the existing Science programme to accommodate a broader approach to include Physical, Earth and Technological Sciences, including the remarkable history of Science in New Zealand, without diminishing our commitment to Natural History. This is an exciting prospect for Science at Te Papa which will take us in new directions and strengthen Te Papa’s long established position as the premiere Science museum in New Zealand.

We must adapt if Te Papa’s Science programme is to reflect the changing picture of Science in New Zealand and to inspire new generations of scientists for the future.

We are underpinning this commitment by strengthening our curatorial capability in these areas, and establishing six new scientific roles to fulfil this ambition. These include a new position of Head of Science to set the new strategic direction for Science and Technology, as well as two new Science Advisers for the Physical and Earth Sciences.  We have also created three Assistant Curator positions for the Sciences to ensure the foundations of our knowledge, its development and the nation’s curatorial expertise are secured for the future. Senior post-doctoral research positions will also be added as the research programme expands.

To care for our collections we need a mix of Collection Managers with broad skills to contribute across a number of collection areas and with the proven expertise to work in a specific area of the collections and work across other collection areas.  As a result, collection management roles will now meet a wider set of needs in regard to the collections.

We have not reduced our capability of practising/researching Scientists or Curators.

All research programmes that were in place in 2012 continue. To support the future direction of research, Dr Claudia Orange, Practice Leader Research is developing Te Papa’s research programme. A new independent Research Advisory Panel, which includes four external distinguished Science-based panellists, will provide oversight and monitor the direction of our research programme.

Our refreshment plan for the galleries at Te Papa over the next few years will include our major Natural History exhibits, Awesome Forces and Mountains to Sea, and these will showcase our own scientific research and that of our Science partners.

Library Services

Te Papa has changed the way the library service operates, which is also about ensuring our library collections sit with the departments or with the Curators that will use them. This model is in line with how most other Museums operate, internationally. We are also sharing our Library collections with other institutions such as Victoria University of Wellington with whom we have a Memorandum of Understanding specifically for mutual library access. There is no change to public access of the Library collection nor a reduction in the number of Library staff.

The Sciences Library (Hector Room) at the Tory St facility remains available to staff, in addition to an archive reading room available to the public by appointment. We also have a dedicated Sciences Librarian to support research in this area. There are no budget changes to Science Library resources, or Science publications, towards which a significant portion of the budget goes.

The Humanities Library located behind Te Huka ā Tai opened this week for staff to use for research purposes.

We will continue to provide a reading room service and research space for the public by appointment at a new location above Signs of a Nation, Level 4, which is due to open late-June. There will be no diminution of the existing service.

Prior to distributing the library collections to departments the Cable Street collection was reviewed; a practice which is normal in all libraries everywhere. It is standard practice for libraries to review their content to ensure that library collections are current and relevant.

Duplicate and out of scope publications were offered to other libraries and institutions. Those that remained were offered to staff. In some instances these publications were unable to re-homed, and were recycled. This was a very small proportion of publications.

Managing the Risk to Our Collections

Te Papa has the responsibility to ensure that all risks to its collections are minimised. We are examining long term storage solutions that take into account seismic and other natural risks as part of the development of our 10 year strategy. It would be irresponsible of the Museum not to explore such risks, which are real and present. We have been very proactive following the Christchurch earthquakes in improving health and safety and seismic strength of the building as well as the safe containment of the collections.

Te Papa is not diminishing any of its collections. We are scoping a number of storage options to minimise any risk to them. This includes ensuring that they continue to remain fully accessible research collections. The protection of our staff and its collections is at the forefront of our thinking. At this stage no decisions have been made any future locations. Any decision will take account of our stated commitment in the Vision to providing national access to the national collection through a variety of solutions.


  1. Having had my early art work recently purchased for Tory Street archive/ art archives it concerned me to hear my art archive (effectively the cultural memoire of the ‘Vacant lot of cabbages’ – 1978) should possibly be heading to Hamilton? – This was not what I was entering into when I made the offer etc.

    Also I find it rather concerning that still months after the event Te Papa has not come through with the promised contract / sale agreement after several attempts to solidify the terms of the sale… copyright, my access to digital copies etc.

    Can you please see a way to allay my concerns.

    Barry Thomas
    Artist/ film maker

    1. Thank you for sharing your concerns, Barry. One of our art curators will contact you directly.

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