International Congress on Archives 2004 pres 235 SHAPLEY CIT 01 E Page 2
International Congress on Archives
Digitisation on demand at the National Archives of Australia
In April 2001, the National Archives of Australia introduced a digitisation on demand service. Through this
service digital copies of records in the Archives collection selected by the public are made available on the
Archives website. Almost three and a half years since the service was implemented, the Archives has
loaded over 4.2 million images of collection material to the website. This represents the delivery of over
one hundred thousand images per month. Today, I'd like to explain how this service was developed and
implemented and where we see this initiative heading.
The National Archives is the archives of the Australian government. Our collection largely dates from
Federation in 1901 and consists of some 265 kilometres of archives. We have a network of offices,
repositories and reading rooms in each of the eight State and Territory capital cities and our headquarters is
Our collection consists of approximately 50 million records in a range of formats including paper files,
photographs, audiovisual records, maps and plans. We hold records of government departments, royal
commissions, the armed services, the Cabinet, and the papers of Australian Prime Ministers, Ministers and
Records are generally available for public access after 30 years. Our database RecordSearch is accessible
from our website but until the introduction of the digitisation on demand service in 2001, records had to be
consulted in the reading room in the office where they are located or photocopies were available for a fee.
Like all cultural institutions, the Archives is committed to promoting our collection and making it more
accessible. In any given year only a very small proportion of the collection is used by the public. The size
and distribution of the collection and the wide geographical distribution of Australia's population prevents
many people from having direct access to the collection. We hoped that promoting the collection would
lead to its greater use. Servicing increased use of the collection however, would require more resources
unless that use could occur without the intervention of reference staff.
The Internet and digital technology offered a solution to both these issues. It enabled us to put digital copies
of collection material on the website allowing members of the public to access the collection without
needing the assistance of an Archives reference officer.
In 1998 we took a small step into the digital world when we made digital images of some of our
photographic collection available on our website through our PhotoSearch database. Initially PhotoSearch
contained captions for 130,000 photographs, only a small proportion of our photographic collection, and
digital images for some 10,000 captions. We planned to progressively make more images available online.
We also offered the public the opportunity to select captions of interest and request that the associated
image be made available online, free of charge. Meanwhile we are adding more captions. There are now
over 500,000 captions for photographs from our collection and over 90,000 images online.
These images in PhotoSearch are also available through Picture Australia. I'll say more about Picture
Australia later. The success of the PhotoSearch initiative led us to consider making collection material in
other formats available online, particularly paper files, which are the predominant format in our collection.
This would allow the collection to be used online at the time and place chosen by the researcher removing
the cost and distance barriers which previously had impeded access. We anticipated that making the
collection available this way would see a decline in the number of researchers visiting our reading rooms
allowing resources to be directed to other priority tasks.
In 2000, the Archives began a series of trials to investigate digitisation using a number of different methods
to determine the most appropriate means of producing large quantities of images quickly and cheaply.