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2.3 Strategic Priority One: Collect


  • Build a comprehensive collection of Australian publications so that Australians—now and in the future—can participate fully in the creative and knowledge economies, using Australian content.
  • Build a rich collection of Australian pictures, manuscripts and oral histories, enlivening the national story with the unique voices and viewpoints of individuals and organisations.
  • Collect works from overseas, particularly Asia and the Pacific, that enrich the Australian community’s understanding of its place in the region.

ACTIONS 2018-19

  • Shift collecting effort from physical to digital across published collections, leveraging the Library’s digital library platform to develop, preserve and provide access.

Since its launch in February 2016, the Library’s edeposit service has contributed to its collection over 346,000 digital objects, including: 18,300 ebooks; 700 music scores; 2,500 journal titles; 40,000 sheet maps; 35,000 journal issues; and 250,000 serial articles.

After three years of successful operation, the Library closed off its edeposit service in April 2019 and migrated its digital files to National edeposit. NED is the new collaborative national deposit service enabling Australian publishers to comply with Commonwealth, state and territory legal deposit obligations for digital publications through a single easy upload.

Importantly, the Library built on its trusted relationship with the Australian Publishers Association to secure agreements with 12 commercial publishers authorising view-only onsite access to their titles through Trove at all nine national, state and territory libraries. These agreements go beyond the legal minimum of access only at the deposit library and contribute significantly to citizen access to library collections.

There was strong support for digital deposit during the year, thanks to relationships strengthened during negotiations for NED. This year saw a 30 per cent increase in the deposit of ebooks and government publications compared with the previous year. Nearly 60 per cent of all books, serials, music and maps, and 70 per cent of new journal and magazine titles acquired this year were in digital form.

Library staff have continued to encourage print serial publishers to transition to digital deposit, resulting in 40 per cent fewer magazines and newspapers requiring manual processing each year.

Further afield, the Library expanded its licence agreements with publishers to acquire ebooks from China and other countries in South-East Asia. These agreements are an efficient and sustainable means of filling gaps in Asian collections, following reductions in physical acquisitions.

  • Strengthen collections that better reflect Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

With the support of of Modernisation funding, the Library established the First Nations Consultation Project to build access to selected collections that are rich in Indigenous language and other cultural information. These include Pitjantjatjara photographic collections and the Robert Hamilton Mathews Collection (documenting languages of several groups in south-eastern Australia). The Library is consulting with relevant communities to ensure that material identified for digitisation is appropriately and respectfully presented and meets cultural protocols, and to add context to, and enhance understanding of, the items. This will be a long-term, iterative process guided by local communities. Along the way, staff are developing skills in liaising with communities and building enduring working relationships.

As part of the First Nations Consultation Project, Indigenous published materials within the collections were digitised, including the Torres News. Library staff also contacted Indigenous publishers to raise awareness of legal deposit requirements and ensure that contemporary publications are collected.

The Library has initiated an oral history project interviewing descendants and other members of communities referenced in the Mathews Collection, providing context for the collection material. Peter Read also interviewed Frances Peters-Little, filmmaker and Australian National University Research Fellow, and Jackie Huggins AM, author, oral historian and Aboriginal rights activist, for the Seven Years On—Continuing Life Histories of Aboriginal Leaders project. This was Peters-Little’s fourth, and Jackie Huggins’ ninth, interview for the project—demonstrating a meaningful and long-lasting collaboration with the Library.

The Library continued to acquire collection material that reflects culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, taking in non-English newspapers and periodicals and Australian works translated into Asian languages, including a series by Aboriginal Studies Press.

In late May 2019, the Library completed its input into a module of an Australian Research Council Linkage Project: Representing Multicultural Australia in National and State Libraries. Academic researchers worked with Library collection managers to develop criteria and a methodology for establishing how the diverse histories and cultures of people in Australia are represented in the Library’s collection. They found that recent migrant communities were less well reflected (but that this would improve with the launch of the Australian Web Archive); that successful collection building relied on community engagement; and that public knowledge of CALD collections could be improved by providing greater detail in catalogue descriptions. In 2019–20, the Library will act on recommendations by piloting projects to upgrade and enhance bibliographic metadata for selected CALD groups.

The Library commissions oral history projects that reflect the diversity of Australian society. This year, they included interviews with members of the Australian Lebanese Historical Society and the Australia-China Council, and projects exploring postwar migration from Greece. These projects have unearthed and preserved accounts of immigrants, many of whom have made major contributions to Australian cultural life.

National Folk Fellow Dr Salvatore Rossano recorded extensive material showcasing the richness of Australian folkloric culture and the influence of migrants on its form and development. Included among his recordings are harp and folk music by Paraguay-born Alfirio Cristaldo, and Italian songs and music by Elvira Andreoli and Kavisha Mazzella.

  • Integrate and streamline description of published and unpublished collections to reduce processing time and improve access.

As the Library's collections continue to grow, we are pursuing and developing smarter, automated processes that streamline manual processing and enhance discoverability of individual items while maintaining the integrity of complex collections.

For many years, Library staff have prepared finding aids—tools for navigating large and complex collections—for users. While past system upgrades enabled the Library to bring all existing finding aids online, new ones can now be quickly created based on simple data spreadsheets prepared by staff, volunteers or collection donors. This information is converted to an archival metadata encoding standard and passed through Library systems to create online finding aids for large and complex collections.

While these online finding aids have increased collection discovery, their potential as discovery tools has been extended with the digitisation of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) collection (see page 37). Enhanced finding aids for this content greatly improve discovery within previously formidable collections, with users able to search for individual items via nomenclature, geographical locations, dates or physical characteristics. With sophisticated re-coding of metadata, collections are also accessible through four entrance points—via finding aids, the Library catalogue, Trove or search engines—further enhancing discoverability.

Item-level records and links automatically created from detailed finding aids are said to be ‘atomised’. The atomisation of finding aids makes managing unpublished collections—a process that would otherwise be so time consuming as to be unaffordable—much more efficient. In effect, it marries a labour-intensive archival approach with cutting-edge bibliographic processes.

Strategic Stories

AUSTLANG—Unlocking Indigenous Australian Languages

There are more than 1,200 contemporary and historical Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander variants of language, reflecting the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of our First Nations peoples. However, until last year, all were covered by a single language content identifier in the main international library code. Researchers searching for material in or about a specific language were forced to sift through results from hundreds of languages. Library staff, including many from the Indigenous Graduate Program, had made important inroads into improving discoverability, but it remained complex.

In October 2018, the Library partnered with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to successfully petition the Library of Congress to have its single code replaced by the AIATSIS AUSTLANG coding system. The AUSTLANG schema assigns alphanumeric codes to variants of language to produce more accurate search results—a transformative change for the National Library and for libraries globally. It is also a timely acknowledgement and celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.

With AIATSIS, the Library has been encouraging the uptake of AUSTLANG codes among Australian libraries. Team AUSTLANG has presented at conferences, published articles, produced training guides and, in May, convened a webinar broadcasting to over 70 libraries from all states and territories. Immediately after the webinar, Catherine Johnston, from the Coffs Harbour City Library, began working her way through their fiction and studies (historical non-fiction) collections in the local Gumbaynggirr language. She observed:

This work has reduced barriers for our local Gumbaynggir community to these learning opportunities. The value of the expertise and the knowledge base at the webinar was so amazing. To have linguists and cataloguers, researchers and librarians all in the same room at the same time was an incredible opportunity. I want my records to

be inclusive and accessible and to recognise our local Australian languages. From a personal point of view, if there is something I can do as a white Australian to bridge a gap I’m absolutely going to do it. It’s my opportunity to say sorry.

The promotional and training strategy culminated in an AUSTLANG code-a-thon held during NAIDOC Week in July 2019, supporting Australian libraries to update their records.

Collection of Asia–Pacific Online Electoral Material

The Library has built a strong reputation for documenting Australian federal elections, referendums and plebiscites. Less well known are the Library’s collecting activities relating to elections held in the Asia–Pacific region, which reflect its commitment to informing Australians about their place in the world.

This was a bumper year for elections in Asia, with the Library collecting material from Thailand, Indonesia and India. The Library also leveraged its tools and expertise to include elections for Pacific nations (Fiji and Solomon Islands).

With limited resources, the Library focused its collection activities on highly vulnerable websites, including those of political parties and non-government and research organisations. To effectively collect material relating to the Fiji election, the Library also consulted with colleagues from the University of Hawai‘i to share collecting lists and reduce duplication. Once the focus areas had been finalised, the Internet Archive’s Archive-It tool was used to ‘crawl’ for material during a designated time period. This meant that the Library was able to capture rare and unique material that is often blocked during media blackouts or disappears after the election.

The Library supplemented its collection of Indonesian websites with print materials and election ephemera. This was sourced by staff at the Library’s Jakarta office and a network of suppliers and former staff. It included posters, T-shirts and pamphlets, as well as more colourful items demonstrating the expressive and intensive character of political campaigning. Election-campaign collateral is a minor industry in Indonesia and candidates compete to produce the most collectable objects. The Library now holds miniature figurines, cushions, a cigarette lighter, branded ATM cards, a cheese board and, for those wanting to keep their opponents underfoot, a pair of shoes with images of rival candidates emblazoned on the soles.

By carefully prioritising its collection activities and collaborating across the region, the Library has strengthened its highly regarded Asian and Pacific collections. In doing so, it continues to be an active player in the region with important soft-power capabilities for Australia.


Table 2.1 Number of Australian published works collected 2018-19

Performance Measure



Number of Australian published works collected, including digital



Note: This performance measures is taken from the 2018-19 Portfolio Budget Statements, Program 1.1, Table 2.1.2, page 198; and the 2018-19 Corporate Plan.

The number of Australian publications collected through legal deposit, including digital, is 7.7 per cent below the target but 5.3 per cent above the same period last year (28,912). The target for this year was ambitious and success dependent in part on the acquisition of bulk content via edeposit. The number of publishers depositing digitally continues to grow, enabling Australian publishers to readily comply with Commonwealth, state and territory legal deposit obligations for digital publications through a single easy upload process.

Table 2.2 Number of Australian unpublished works collected 2018-19

Performance Measure



Number of Australian unpublished works collected, including digital


No target set

Note: This performance measure is from the 2018-19 Corporate Plan.

The number of Australian unpublished works collected, including digital, showed a twelvefold increase on the previous year’s figure of 25,248. Contributing to this significant increase were the Robert McFarlane photographic archive of over 190,000 items received in June; the Weston Langford Railway photography collection of over 38,000 items; and Fairfax (Sydney) photographic material of Indigenous subjects, comprising 6,850 items. Unpublished collections vary widely in size and in type of material, and acquisition may take many years to negotiate, making it nearly impossible to predict the quantity that will be acquired in any given year.

Table 2.3 Number of overseas works collected 2018-19

Performance Measure



Number of overseas works collected, including digital


No target set

Note: This performance measure is from the 2018-19 Corporate Plan.

The number of overseas works collected, including digital, showed an increase of almost 10 per cent on the previous year’s figure of 12,922.

Qualitative Evaluation

Measure: Collection Depth and Breadth Relative to the Needs of Our Researchers

Target Group: Recipients of National Library of Australia Fellowships and Scholarships

Recipients of National Library of Australia fellowships and scholarships are among the most intensive users of the Library’s collections and were identified as a natural target group for a survey measuring the collection’s relevance to the needs of researchers.

A survey of former Fellows and scholars was undertaken in early 2019. Respondents were overwhelmingly supportive of the programs and considered the collections to be highly relevant to their research topics. Ninety-three per cent agreed that the material they accessed at the Library would not be available in any other institution. This confirms the high volume of rare or unique material at the Library and reflects the fact that manuscripts are the most popular collection format for this group.

A number of respondents commented on the surprising depth of the collections, which often led to new lines of inquiry. Fellows also appreciated the long-term outcomes of their Library placements, which continued to inform their scholarship over several years.

The survey explored other measures of relevance associated with fellowships and scholarships, including contact with experienced Library staff and other colleagues. Ninety-five per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their placement added to opportunities for networking and professional interaction. Summer Scholarships are targeted at early career researchers; for Summer Scholars, the camaraderie and peer network were almost as important as the collections themselves.