Vanuatu National Archives
Vanuatu National Archives, Port Vila, August 30 - September 7, and September 14-19, 2010.
ICAS fieldwork began at the National Archives of Vanuatu on the grounds of the Cultural Center in Port Vila. I met with the National Archivist, Anne Naupa, and the Archivist Trainee, Augustine Tevimule, to get an update on the development of the new National Archives. Good news awaited me upon my arrival, as I learned that the Australian Government had agreed fund the construction of the new National Archives building as a gift for Vanuatu's 30 year Anniversary of Independence.
Much progress had been accomplished since my last visit in February 2009. Anne had taken over a storeroom near the loading bay and had converted it into the Archives office. It is a small room, but will be sufficient until something more suitable becomes available when the new building is constructed. Also, a second forty-foot container was obtained to store records; it is now placed adjacent to the other container. This, of course, is a temporary solution to keep records dry and pest-free, however it works well as a place to store materials in substitute of the very limited space throughout the Cultural Center.
Since the archive is mostly in the accession stage, I wrote up a very simple Accession Procedure. This was used to help train the Archivist Trainee. Sorting records and creating container lists is another major priority at this stage. During my two weeks, I helped sort records belonging to the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Educational Department, as well as Medical and Presbyterian records. When sorting through records, it is not unusual to come across some true gems. In one particular box, we found the Records of Land Transfers/Sales of 1913. These included individual land requests, oppositions to the request, and the Joint Court decisions on these requests. We also agreed that these records would need conservation treatment.
When the weather became too hot or rainy to work outside on the records in the container, we moved inside to work on a couple of projects. I helped create box lists of the Supreme Court records. This is a project that will continue for some time, as we do not know the contents of each box. These highly sensitive materials cannot be accessed without prior consent of the Supreme Court Department. Thus, we created a "Request Permission Form" for approval before a user can access the records. It is a generic form that could be easily applied to other highly sensitive materials.
Starting a new National Archives from the ground up requires the establishment of new policies. During this visit, I created a Preservation Policy that was revised and approved by Anne. On a previous volunteer trip to the National Archives of Solomon Islands, I had written a Disaster Management Plan. I thought this policy could be easily adapted at the Cultural Center, and showed it to Anne. She believed the plan could prove to be useful at the Cultural Center. We printed a copy of it, and showed it to the Film Archivist who will use it to write a similar policy. Anne and I also got creative and created a brochure to promote the Vanuatu National Archives. It contains pertinent contact information, and states the archives' mission. Additionally, the brochure colorfully and simply articulates what are archives and why they matter.
One of the 2010 objectives for the National Archives is to draft guidelines. Anne and I spent a couple of days bouncing ideas back and forth to each other before writing it all down. After a couple of days of revisions, we finalized the document "Guidelines for National Archives Vanuatu Procedures". This included guidelines for accessioning, appraising, processing, preservation & conservation access, as well as references, disposal, and the formation of a National Archives Committee. This was a major accomplishment. Its objective was to reassure that proper archival practices will be sustained long after Anne and I have moved on. Simply written, it also offers a sense of checks and balances to ensure that records will neither be added unnecessarily, nor disposed of accidentally or prematurely. The guideline was then translated into Bislama and French.
These are exciting, but labor intensive times at the Vanuatu National Archives. With only one full time staff, one part time staff, and an occasional volunteer the work at times can seem overwhelming. There is still a lot to do. Nevertheless, morale is good. Understanding the importance that this archives will have to the people of Vanuatu, the South Pacific and the world at large is also the impetus behind the motivation to keep going. Anne and Augustine's enthusiasm is inspirational, and ICAS looks forward to working with them in the future.