Archives Outside

For people who love, use and manage archives

Archives Outside - For people who love, use and manage archives

A Day in the Life of a State Archive (part 3)

– from request to delivery

[or: The Amazing Adventures of Dame Nellie Melba’s Probate Packet]

OK, it’s retrieval time; OMG, how exciting! The clerk on retrieval duty is on her way to collect me. Boy, does she have a long way to walk. The retrieval staff at State Records NSW walk, on average, 10-12km a day. According to her GCC pedometer she has already walked 15,564 steps.

If you are just tuning in to the “Day in the Life of a State Archive” series then here is a brief run-down: I’m a Probate Packet living at State Records NSW. Someone found me on the Internet and has requested to see me. I’m about to be retrieved.

Retrieving the record

Before setting off to find me among the 60km of State archives, I was located electronically in our in-house business operating system. The clerk now knows which part of the building to head towards, the compactus in which I live…even which position on the shelf I take up.

Retrieval - why are they always up the top!

Identifying conservation issues during retrieval

I’m a bit nervous, actually. The clerks have basic training in identifiyng conservation problems and if I have any abnormalities I’ll be sent straight to Conservation. I could even be listed as “Too Fragile to Issue”…The box is on the move, the lid is being opened…oh my, the bright light, I’m blind! I’m being manhandled …this isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be…the temperature out here is different, the space, the light

Checking for damage during retrieval

…I’ve passed the preliminary checks. I don’t suffer from mould, I’m not torn and my pages are not stuck together. I also have not been eaten by vermin or insects, phew!

How long does a retrieval take?

The turnaround time for retrievals is 30 minutes. The probate packets are extremely popular and SRNSW have introduced set retrieval times during the day, called Probate Runs. This is to maximise the number of packets delivered to the reading room at Western Sydney.

Of course, I wasn’t collected during a Probate Run as I’m a pre-order. I have been collected the afternoon before ‘the visit.’

Lights out

I’m in the waiting room. The clerks deliver all pre-orders to a ‘holding area’ near the reading room.

Awaiting issue in the holding area

Don’t worry, the space is archivally sound with the correct temperature and safety measures in place. From here it is an easy trip to the reading room and we (the pre-orders) will be there in time for the 9am opening (10am on Saturdays).

The big day out is tomorrow…


  1. Do your records have to pass a ‘conservation test’ before being issued?
  2. Do you have set retrieval times?