Story: Te Ara – a history

Page 8. Image and media research

All images & media in this story

The role of non-text content

As well as over 3 million words, by September 2014 Te Ara included around:

  • 21,900 images
  • 1,800 videos
  • 570 graphs
  • 900 maps
  • 440 diagrams
  • 950 sound files
  • 2,100 interactives.

Beyond the call of duty

Resource researchers often found themselves photographing unusual things for entries. These have included pet rats, a school worm farm and Te Ara’s general editor ingesting a variety of herbal medicines. Members of the resource team have also driven the back roads of Taranaki looking for old dairy factories, searched the Waikato for Māori carvings and cooked a roast duck dinner.

Collectively, these are called resources, and they do more than illustrate the text. Resources add value, tell stories and often provide the opportunity to talk about ideas that do not fit within the strict word limits of the entries.


A Pātaka committee was established in 2002 to liaise between Te Ara and the institutions that would provide material for Te Ara entries. The committee comprised representatives of Archives New Zealand, the Historic Places Trust (later Heritage New Zealand), the New Zealand Film Archive (later Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision), the Alexander Turnbull Library and Auckland Museum. Allison Dobbie of Auckland City Libraries was chair. The first meetings were held in 2003.

World famous in Te Ara

Te Ara staff often contributed personal photos to be used in entries – including writer Kerryn Pollock’s son Amos hitting a piñata and resourcer Emily Tutaki celebrating her 21st. Staff whose own childhood photos appear in Te Ara include writer Carl Walrond as a child in Swaziland; resourcer Mel Lovell-Smith on her fourth birthday, with cake; production editor Caren Wilton in an Aran jersey knitted by her mother; general editor Jock Phillips playing ball in his Christchurch backyard; and Reference Group manager Janine Faulknor and her siblings swinging from a climbing frame in suburban Wainuiomata.

In 2002 general editor Jock Phillips and resources team manager Shirley Williams began to negotiate memoranda of understanding and licensing agreements with many organisations and repositories, including TVNZ, the Alexander Turnbull Library, Radio New Zealand Sound Archives (later Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision), Archives New Zealand, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, NIWA, the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Herald. Further agreements were signed with scientific institutions such as GNS Science in 2004.

Over time the resourcing team came to include a specialist Māori researcher and staff who focused on copyright clearance.

Resources research

Resourcers searched out images, video, sound and other material for each entry from a multitude of sources, taking about a week to research each entry. Because of the physical location and time restrictions, the Alexander Turnbull Library and Archives New Zealand were the primary local sources, but there were also:

  • online catalogues and collections for material held in New Zealand and international museums, galleries, archives and libraries
  • published sources
  • private collections
  • professional and amateur photographers
  • newspapers
  • Crown research institute and government department archives and libraries, including those of the Department of Conservation, NIWA and GNS Science.

Purple, pink, green and yellow

A system of different coloured forms developed to chart the progress of the thousands of resources and related captions. Purple sheets were for resources that required rights clearance; green meant that the resource had been replaced or changed; pink was a reminder to publish an unpublished resource. Yellow meant that the resource was a map, graph or diagram to be made by Te Ara’s designers. Yellow sheets were known to fill people with dread when one landed on their desk for drafting or checking.

Digitisation of historical sources increased the amount of material available to be used in Te Ara.

Resources for each entry were decided at a resource meeting, which included the writer or checker of the entry, the resources manager and the general editor. These meetings could be long and involved, and often contained discussion about balance, ethics and budget. Some topics were challenging, sensitive or technical, or difficult to illustrate.

Resourcers also prepared information for graphs, maps, diagrams and interactives. For many of the entries, technical understanding of geology, economic principles and geography were needed. Facts, data and accuracy were scrupulously checked. Resourcers, writers, editors and designers were all involved in the process to ensure that the resulting graphics were accurate and comprehensible.

Heroic debate

Hero meetings, when resourcers, writers and theme and general editors met with designers to choose the hero (main image) for the entry, as well as the background colour, were often noisy. Personal tastes were expressed, intense debate sometimes ensued and cries of ‘not Coral’ were often heard (mostly from Māori editor Basil Keane). Choosing a background colour was especially difficult for one theme editor, who was colour-blind. He politely excused himself from the first hero meeting to which he was invited.


Clearing copyright and iwi permissions for resources was an ever-growing aspect of resourcing Te Ara. The rights administrators cleared copyright from private collections, photographers, newspapers, art galleries and international institutions. Eternally patient and persistent, they secured material often unavailable from any other source.

The team also worked hard on clarifying rights statements, applying Creative Commons licences to Te Ara images and other material and supplying Te Ara material in response to external requests.

How to cite this page:

the Te Ara team, 'Te Ara – a history - Image and media research', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 December 2022)