Digitising our nation’s history

The issue

Have you discovered Trove? It's a website run by the National Library of Australia, which brings together books, photographs, newspapers, maps, manuscripts and much more, from collections all around the country. Visit Trove and you can search for records of famous Australians, friends, family, places and anything else that interests you. There are already more than 400 million items on Trove, but there is much more that could be included.

These Australian cultural records and heritage artefacts are national assets. While much has been achieved to date through federal and state government grants, digitisation has been on a piecemeal basis and much of our history, in terms of original documents, images and other physical forms, remains undiscoverable online. Libraries and other cultural institutions have the infrastructure in place to enable mass digitisation to take place, but there is no national cultural asset digitisation agenda established in partnership with the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives, museums), and there is no long term funding arrangement at a federal level to enable the sector to prioritise and plan the process over a number of years.

Trove continues thanks to the commitment of the National Library staff and the enthusiasm of hundreds of volunteers, but it needs more investment from government in the IT infrastructure if it is to continue to grow and be a window for the world on Australian culture and history.

At the same time, in a land subject to bushfires, cyclones, floods and other natural disasters, digitising collections is a way of protecting our memories. When the Black Saturday fires swept through Marysville in Victoria in February 2009, they destroyed the village Historical Society's records. Then Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction Bill Shorten said about Marysville, 'it's got a future but, of course, for every future you need to make sure that you keep hold of some of your past.' 

Our position

We call on the federal government, supported by the state and territory governments, to play an active role in setting the national cultural asset digitisation agenda and to set aside appropriate funding to pay for the digitisation of Australian content over time, in order to bring Australian history to life online; to make family history and cultural records discoverable; to preserve vital information for future generations as a safeguard against natural and manmade disasters; and bring Australia in line with other first world nations.

We support the National Library's Trove website and would like to see funding through the Australian Government Ministry for the Arts to secure its future.

What we are doing

We are working with colleagues in libraries and museums on developing the case for a national digitisation agenda and for further investment by government.

How you can help

Watch this space for more news about lobbying initiatives later in the year.

In the meantime, you can connect with other supporters on the Trove Forum and you can become a volunteer Trove newspaper text editor.

Share your story 

Do you want to tell us about your experiences in accessing or contributing to digitising our nation's history? Please drop us a line or post your story on our Facebook page.

Also if you have used one of our tools or suggestions, tell us the results of your actions. For example, if you have written a letter, made comment in the media, or received a response on a issue, please let us know and then we can keep the FAIR community informed via our newsletter.