Friday 20 November 2015

Four libraries of Ireland and what they can teach us…

It’s no surprise that a country home to literary greats like Oscar Wilde and James Joyce should have some amazing libraries. I’ve just returned from a trip to the library land of Ireland having chronicled a list of my favourite Irish libraries and what they can teach us here in Australia.

The old Library, Trinity College

The Old Library at Trinity College features consistently on lists of the greatest libraries in the world. This is because it is enchanting. The Old Library has a hushed reverence that draws thousands to its quiet halls, wandering among the rows and rows of antiquated tomes.

The Old Library can teach us two things. Firstly, it is a legal deposit library and it highlights the importance of keeping legal deposit books in an archive for future generations to enjoy. Secondly, the Old Library is living evidence that people still love libraries and still love books on shelves. The day I visited lines of people stood waiting in the rain just to catch a glimpse of its Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels thought to have been created in c. 800. In the halls of the Old Library cameras and iPhones snapped away but even amid modern technology this library with its shelves and shelves of books remains timeless.

Marsh's Library

Marsh’s Library is the oldest public library in Ireland. This library taught me the value of unexpected libraries and that meaning can be found in things we might think are irrelevant or foolish. Marsh’s Library is like something from a Halloween story with shelves full of heavy tomes and creaking floorboards. But here I found a library embracing the present as much as the past. The library even has its own Facebook page!

When I visited Marsh’s Library they were holding an exhibition of marginalia, sketches and notes written in the library books that readers have added over time. Titled The Unicorn and the Fencing Mouse, after a sketch depicting both, this exhibition featured annotations made by hand in medical texts and other volumes. I loved the quirky, unexpected nature of this exhibition. It gave meaning to what might otherwise be considered trivial notations, even graffiti.

Chester Beatty Library
The Chester Beatty Library is part of Dublin Castle and houses religious and secular manuscripts dating from 2700 BC. This library also awakened me to the role humour can play in libraries. One of their many exhibitions was titled “Wicked Wit” and depicted the use of political cartoons in documenting relations between Ireland and Britain. This collection of cartoons reminded me of the potential for libraries to key into historical humour in their exhibitions. Our exhibitions can be entertaining and light-hearted as well as informative.

Another lesson I learnt from the Chester Beatty Library is how libraries can be embracing of all religions. In the exhibition galleries excerpts from the Quran went hand in hand with exhibitions about Christianity, proving that libraries truly are pluralistic institutions.

The National Library of Ireland

The National Library of Ireland taught me the value of genealogy as a way for people to piece together narratives of the past. The Library has featured internationally as a recommended tourist destination for genealogists. This is because of the rich and varied history it preserves, including the Library’s unique set of Catholic parish registers. The National Library of Ireland also has a significant manuscripts collection which includes such gems as letters of Oscar Wilde and the papers of Irish poet, W. B. Yeats.

Visiting the Genealogy Advisory Service in this library impressed upon me how family history research is intrinsically tied to our social histories so that a name on a census can tell you about gender relations or economic status. It reminded me of the social and historical importance of the detailed family histories our clients are compiling in libraries every day.

Anne Reddacliff @AMoodiLibrarian

Event Officer, ALIA Sydney

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Looking for the future of Libraries?

Western Sydney Institute of TAFE, Graduate event (10 Nov 2015).

Speaker: Mylee Joseph from State Library of New South Wales

Don’t look at what libraries are doing now to see what they should be doing in the future?

See what the users are doing now to see what libraries should be doing in the future. Look at how people are looking for information and the tools they use to find it.

Library websites should be mobile friendly - as Google Analytics now gives preference to sites that are mobile friendly. Current trends show that smartphones are outselling pcs by 5-1. Some predict that to go to 10-1.

When you think search engines consider that YouTube is the second most popular one after Google.

Social media - how can it help advocacy?
Know where your audience/users are? Who are they (demographics etc.)
Use platform where they are - e.g. Tumblr growing – favourite of teens, Facebook steady – with a mainly older user group

Libraries have to ‘redefine successes’ - should not be confined to getting feet in the door. Be happy to put content out in the world to be discovered, shared, and used. Success can be measure by how much your material is shared.

Focus on creating content that is easy to share. Do not worry about the actual sharing, as this will get done by others for your library.
Only 1% create the content - others push it out - they are the influencers.
Influencers spread content; they are the key to success.

Experiment – even things that may appear failures may take off over time or lead to other more successful programs. Consider your programs as being in perpetual beta, roll them out and improve as feedback comes in.

§  social metadata

§  curators – everyone’s a curator

§  experts are outside the library – people with particular passions will find you content if you share it on the Web

§  digital makers – the adapters and creators of digital content

§  open access and commons – Make your content open access / creative commons feeing it up for reuse an adaption

§  crowdsourcing – Opening programs up for help

Smartphones were originally the toys of the wealthy - now becoming some peoples only way the to access information and government services. With many low socioeconomic families not having an internet connection at home relying on their smart phones and free Wi-Fi. Libraries providing free Wi-Fi access to the internet helps to reduce the digital divide.

Libraries have to consider what copyright they apply to their content. OA or CC makes it more useable.
If people can discover your content and play with it without having to come into the library, this may not be a bad thing (goes back to redefining success)
People who discover, play and reuse/remix your content may come in through your door one day!

Googallisation leads to discoverability – Through the Google Cultural Institute Goggle, and many of the world’s cultural institutions have collaborated to provide access to their collection via the web.
This is an excellent site - explore collections and venues! You can also create your own. Play and have fun.

For those interested in metadata check out the British Library’s collection metadata strategy

Try new technology
The library staff buy the latest technology and play with it and lend it out to their patrons. In this video, Arapahhoe Library staff talk about google glass.

If you don’t have the budget consider looking around for other who may have already tried the technology

For fun try the Smithsonian page for creating animated gifs - they used Photoshop but in the comments read how someone did it without. 
Something to play with!!!

Setting content free leads to many interesting uses
State Library of Vic has over 200,000 copyright free images that have been made available to the public and they encourage everyone to use/remix. Check out #remixvic on Instagram to see what others have done.

We are continuing to see information is being discovered, accessed, used and shared in different ways.
New ways of looking for information
§  Mobile technology
§  Social Signals
§  Googallisation
§  Visual interfaces - (facial recognition technology) 
i.e. matching images in a search rather than the more familiar and popular matches to text
(Missing the last one)
§  Search new and different facets such as by colour on Flicker   

New ways of sharing information
§  social metadata
§  curators
§  experts are outside the library
§  digital makers
§  open access and commons
§  crowdsourcing

We are looking at major issues with the preservation of digital born content. Digital content is more fragile than print content. Lots of work need to be done in this area. Libraries needs to consider how they are going to preserve their digitally created content.

Some organisations have started including Associated Press (AP) which has produced an online archive of news footage and stories.

An area where Libraries and heritage groups can add value is though taking digital photos of their local area and preserve them for future.
Parramatta Heritage Centre
In particular their project which captured the demolition of David Jones Building a local Parramatta landmark.

Authors: Annie Pinto, Saba Mainer, Rosanne Motha Victoria with addition and adaption by Tracey McDonald

"Library date due slip" by Labratmatt - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Shared under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Wednesday 28 October 2015

The best places to volunteer in Sydney for aspiring Librarians

In the years that I was studying my way through high school and university, I’ve had a number of different part time jobs. I’ve worked in fast food, supermarkets, retail, hospitality, call centres, teaching, office support, data entry, public events and even (briefly) housekeeping. This year, I was finally able to put all of this behind me - for the time being, at least - and have found my dream job as a News Librarian with SBS World News. It’s a truly wonderful position, and a fantastic organisation, and I couldn’t be happier in this role.

But it wasn’t an easy path to get there. For many years, while working and studying, I’ve also been heavily involved in volunteering for a number of different organisations, all doing amazing work in local communities and across Sydney. Whether I stayed in a particular volunteering position for only a few short months, or for many years, I believe that these experiences are the ones that have truly shaped me both personally and professionally today. It’s through volunteering that I have been granted the privilege of meeting some inspiring, passionate and diverse people throughout Sydney, and have developed a much better understanding of the issues affecting this community today. It’s also through volunteering that I’ve learnt many important skills related to working as a librarian, including communication, organisation, negotiation and problem solving.

I would like to share a list of places I have volunteered with in and around Sydney, as well as how they have helped me in my career as a Librarian, in the hopes that it may help others to have similarly awesome experiences with volunteering too!

The Japan Foundation Sydney

If you only have time to volunteer at one place, make this your pick! I’ve been a loyal volunteer with JPF since 2011, and keep coming back to help out with events because I always have a wonderful time there. The volunteer coordinators are very friendly and approachable and are eager to get everyone involved in assisting with public events. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to mingle with fellow volunteers and I have made some fantastic friends this way. JPF volunteers can have any level of Japanese language ability, so you are welcome to volunteer even if you don’t speak Japanese at all! As a librarian, volunteering with JPF gives great insight into organising public events and working with multilingual, multicultural communities. JPF also has its own small library dedicated to Japanese language studies. The library staff are incredibly kind and no doubt would be willing to have a chat about what they do if you’d ever like to stop by!

By signing up online as a volunteer, you will receive regular emails about upcoming volunteering opportunities throughout the year. This normally involves assisting with gallery exhibitions and public talks by providing information to guests, distributing flyers and promoting the event to the community. The highlight of the JPF volunteer year is the annual Japanese Film Festival, held at Event Cinemas George St and in Parramatta. This involves performing the same types of duties for normal events, and features an after party at the end of the festival. You also get a few free and discounted film tickets to check out any of the screenings you choose.

You can find out more about volunteering with JPF at:

Volunteering with refugee communities:

Between the end of 2012 and the start of my study abroad year in 2013, I volunteered with an organisation called the Australian League of Immigration Volunteers (ALIV). This was my shortest volunteering experience, yet in many ways it has also been the most memorable and inspiring. As an ALIV volunteer, I worked with young girls aged 7-15 from recently resettled families in Australia. Within a small management team, we put together a summer camp for these girls that included loads of fun activities, such as arts and crafts, a water balloon fight and a trip to Luna Park. The best part of this work was being able to spend time with these young women and learn about them, and being able to make them happy was a hugely rewarding experience. I particularly enjoyed working with this organisation since they were non-political and non-religious, meaning that all people, regardless of their personal views, were welcome. Aspiring librarians who are interested in the Education sector, or in working with diverse communities in public libraries, would enjoy this work.

ALIV is no longer operational, but the organisation Australia Refugee Volunteers (ARV) operates similar programs. You can find out about these at:!who-we-are/crcc

Sydney Story Factory

I have only been with Sydney Story Factory since the end of 2014, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I have had there so far. Based in Redfern, the SSF provides children from all backgrounds with the opportunity to develop their creative writing skills with support from a team of workers and volunteers. As a volunteer, you are given the opportunity to work directly with the kids and to offer them encouragement and guidance with their stories. The volunteer coordinators are extremely passionate and dedicated, and offer an excellent training program to all new volunteers when signing up. This work could appeal to any librarians, but may be particularly enjoyable to those who love working with children, enjoy reading and aspire to a career in the Education sector.

You can find out more about volunteering with Sydney Story Factory at:

Hurstville Library, Museum and Gallery

Obviously the most directly related to a career as a librarian, Hurstville Library, Museum and Gallery offers a fantastic volunteer program for aspiring librarians as well as anyone in the local community seeking to become involved. I began volunteering in the library at the end of 2014. The staff and volunteer coordinators are dedicated, helpful and encouraging, and will endeavour to provide you with a range of different opportunities depending on what your interests are. The best part about volunteering in Hurstville Library is being able to learn all the ins and outs of working in a public library whilst in a supportive environment, and being able to interact with a vastly diverse and rich local community. I strongly encourage anyone interested in public libraries to investigate volunteering here!

You can find out more about volunteering with Hurstville Library, Museum and Gallery at:

ALIA Sydney

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my time volunteering with ALIA Sydney! As a newbie to the committee this year, I have been welcomed with open arms by fellow members, who have been willing to offer helpful advice on my future career and have been very encouraging of my involvement and ideas. It has been an excellent way to develop myself professionally as well as to expand my network of dedicated librarians. I strongly encourage you all to get involved with the committee next year!

I hope that some of you might consider some of these volunteering opportunities that relate to you and your career, especially if you are like me and are brand new to the profession. The path to success isn’t always clear and straightforward - but it is definitely what you’re willing to make of it!

Eleanor Gerrard
ALIA Sydney Event Officer
Follow me on Twitter at @gerryy91

Friday 23 October 2015

Tour the Art Gallery of NSW Library, Nov 21 2015

ALIA Sydney is really pleased to be able to invite you to tour the Edmund and Joanna Capon Research Library at the AGNSW with us on Saturday November 21st. Find out about the public and in-house resources available in this library and enjoy a guided tour. Follow up with a casual get together afterwards (weather permitting) at the Opera Bar at the Sydney Opera House. Visit two Sydney treasures in one afternoon.

Access is by stairs. If this is not manageable for you, please let us know with 24 hours notice so that alternative entry can be arranged

Email us on to RSVP or phone Lauren Castan 0409 831 812 for information and contact on the day of the tour.

Monday 19 October 2015

Library 2.015 Worldwide Virtual Conference this week

The annual Library 2.015 Worldwide Virtual Conference begins this week, from 7am Sydney time on Tuesday 20th for Teacher Librarian Day, and then rest of the conference to follow on the next day.

This year there a five keynote or distinguished speakers, the first of which is at 1am on Wednesday morning, and the conference continues through until 1pm on the same day. There are presenters from all around the world, including Australia, so have a look through the schedule.

Join in, via their Blackboard Collaborate set up, or via twitter using #lib2015. There is plenty to explore. However, if you find that real life is interrupting your virtual conference attendance, there are always recordings made that become accessible shortly after the conference.

Hope you find something that tickles your fancy. Here is the link

Lauren Castan

Monday 21 September 2015

The Library Collector

The National Library of Latvia

Some people collect shoes, their closets a dazzling rainbow of stilettos. They treasure glittering ruby slippers and purple cowboy boots. But I never understood shoes. I collect libraries. My Instagram account is a dazzling rainbow of photographs from libraries I have visited. I treasure the amazing foyer in the National Library of Latvia and the colourful book sculpture ceiling at QUT Library, Kelvin Grove.

Book sculpture ceiling at QUT Library, Kelvin Grove

In an article for The Guardian newspaper psychologist, Christian Jarrett put forward a theory of collecting. He argues that collecting is how we cope with hidden anxieties and desires. It’s how we make up for the feeling of being unloved or create intimacy with celebrities. It’s even ‘survival of the fittest’. We accumulate possessions to enhance our status in a consumer-driven society.

As a teenager I collected memorabilia from the sci-fi drama, The X Files. But my early collecting efforts were restrained, even half-hearted. I read about a young woman who used her entire pay cheque to buy the much coveted X Files bomber jacket. Such a ruthless, uncompromising passion for collecting was foreign to me… until I started collecting libraries.
Courtyard at the National Library of Russia, St Petersburg

My collection began last year in St Petersburg. I found a rare collector’s item: the National Library of Russia. I stood outside this magnificent library surrounded by marigolds, in a courtyard looking up at the sky. And that was the moment I knew I would collect libraries.

For a collector the desire to acquire goes beyond reason and sense. I nearly missed the tour bus from Lithuania because I was entranced by the Wroblewski Library. I braved severe weather warnings in Minsk so I could see the National Library of Belarus. In a Moscow underground station I walked up to strangers and asked for directions to the Russian State Library using the only three words I knew in Russian language: please, thank-you and library.

The Russian State Library, Moscow

For me collecting libraries is challenging. But when I look at the photographs on my Instagram account I don’t think of the difficulties, the anxiety or the confusion. What I remember is how visiting the Wroblewski Library was like kneeling in a church. Being under a glass roof in the National Library of Belarus felt as though I were standing beneath a canopy in a tropical rainforest, watching the rain drops fall. I remember sitting on the majestic stone steps of the Russian State Library, watching as people meet and greet on a sunny autumn morning. Whether I’m in Moscow or Melbourne, what I see are libraries as meeting places, places of community.

Craigieburn Library, Melbourne

I have collected more than twenty libraries now. I finally found that ruthless, uncompromising passion for collecting. And the girl who spent her entire fortnight’s pay on an X Files bomber jacket: that is me. Only it wasn’t a bomber jacket, it was a deposit on a trip to London. So I can finally add the British Library to my collection. @AMoodiLibrarian

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Make Your Own Fun

Since reading about the Little Free Library movement, I have paid more attention to micro libraries as I have come across them in my daily life. Have you noticed any? 

They are quite common in holiday accommodation, and are appearing in upmarket apartment buildings. I saw one set up in the staff room of my children’s school, where staff put books on a shelf that were available for others, mainly fiction, but also some books about education, available with the expectation of a swap or return. I spotted this same sort of arrangement in operation at Roseville Bowlo, and at Roseville Golf Club, where members have some shelf space to leave books and take books for the enjoyment of all members. (In my experience, these two types of club are also excellent sources of health care information, especially if seeking information and recommendations for health specialists in the area, with the possible exception of obstetrics, and new medication or medication combinations for chronic or ongoing medical conditions. Your doctor will be amazed!)

Remote communities have always experienced challenges in the provision of library services and have found ways and means to overcome these. In recent years a friend of mine has worked summers in Antarctica, and tells me each station has some kind of library. At South Pole it is an honour system with a few historic books you can check out from the store. At McMurdo it is more of a traditional library that is run by volunteers with check outs. Most of the books were probably brought down and left or sent as donations. The advent of ebooks and ereaders has positives and negatives in that environment. The station library has a bunch of e readers that can be checked out, however, I am told the wireless gets turned off in summer months, so they don’t always work well. My friend also was able to purchase ebooks for her reader and transfer them across using USB, but had some challenges borrowing ebooks from her local library (in Alaska), and had to phone Amazon from Antarctica to give them the device number so it could be linked to her account. After this, it worked well. Another friend was living and working in Myanmar and we sourced some book donations for a children’s library set up by a local community worker. Printing, especially colour printing, had been prohibitively expensive, and after a local freight forwarder came to the party with some free shipping, we shipped perhaps 10 boxes of books to seed this library.

Now consider communities in space. Some time back a Freedom of Information request produced a list of material in the multi media library of the International Space Station, supplied by NASA. I am keenly awaiting the new movie “The Martian” . In one part the main character, Mark Watney, investigates the music library left by one of his colleagues and laments the heavy weighting towards disco. This won’t be a problem in the planned future of Mars colonies if Elon Musk’s vision comes to pass.

This year’s Hallowed Ground offering is titled Unexpected Libraries and promises to be another success in this annual series presented by City of Sydney Libraries as part of the Art and About festival, in conjunction with ALIA. It’s been fully booked the last two years, so if you are thinking of going, book now. It has been a great social and networking catch up for the Sydney library community, with interesting considerations of the future, and lots of choices for post event catch up venues. Hope to see you there, 7th October, 6.30pm - 7.30pm.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Comic Con-Version Back for 2015

Following the success of last year's event at Ashfield Library, Comic Con-Versation is back in 2015, even bigger, and now presented jointly across several libraries in Sydney.

If you have a personal or professional interest in graphic novels and their kin, mark your diary to find out about the local scene for working writers and artists, events for the public who love this style, and workshops for those who want to begin creating their own works. A broad range of events are presented across six libraries over the six days, with exhibitions, workshops, children's activities, panel discussions (a highlight for me last year), and a visit/photo opportunity from the Iron Throne at Concord Library, all capped off by a closing evening at Ashfield Library on Saturday 3 October from 3pm - 8pm. Some events require bookings, so get your act together soon.

With graphic works being mined for movies and TV,  prose works being reworked into graphic form, and graphic works for education growing, build your knowledge of this format and geek out with some of your established favourites. Last year's event was so rewarding (See my blog post from then) I can't wait for the long weekend to come around.

For more information, check their Facebook page

Lauren Castan

Tuesday 30 June 2015

Blog Every Day in June Day 30: Life on the outside: Collections, contexts, and the wild, wild web by Tim Sherratt

It's the last day of #blogjune!

We hope you've enjoyed reading through the posts for this year, our regular posting schedule will return, starting next week.

Today's post comes from the blog of Tim Sherratt, who is on the Trove Managment team at the NLA and an Associate Professor of Digital Heritage at the University of Canberra.

You can follow Tim on Twitter @wragge!

Keynote presented at the Annual Conference of the Japanese Association for the Digital Humanities, 20 September 2014, Tsukuba.
The full set of slides is available on SlideShare.
Cross-published on Medium.

This is Tatsuzo Nakata. In 1913 he was living on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, just off the northern tip of Australia.

life on the outside.002

From the late 19th century there was a substantial Japanese population on Thursday Island, mostly associated with the development of the pearling industry.
I’ll admit that I know very little about Tatsuzo, and I’ve selected him more or less at random from a large body of records held by the National Archives of Australia.
I present him here out of context and in too little detail, simply as an example. Working backwards from this photograph I want to restore some layers of context and reveal to you a complex and shameful history.
This photograph was attached to an official government form called a ‘Certificate Exempting From Dictation Test’.
From the form we learn that the 32 year-old Tatsuzo was born in Wakayama. He had a scar over his right eye.
life on the outside.004

Tatsuzo carried a copy of this form with him when he departed for Japan aboard the Yawata Maru in May 1913. When he returned the following year the form was collected and compared with a duplicate held by port officials. The forms matched, and Tatsuzo was allowed to disembark.
To help confirm his identity, the form carried on its reverse side an impression of Tatsuzo’s hand.
life on the outside.005

You might think that this was a travel document — an early form of visa perhaps. But at the top of the form you’ll notice a reference to the Immigration Restriction Act, a piece of legislation introduced by the newly-federated Australian nation in 1901. The Immigration Restriction Act and the complex bureaucratic procedures that supported its administration came to be known more generally as the White Australia Policy.
If Tatsuzo had tried to return to Australia without one of these forms, he would have been subjected to the Dictation Test, and he would have failed. Despite its benign-sounding name, the Dictation Test was a form of racial exclusion aimed at anyone deemed non-white. No-one was meant to pass. If he hadn’t carried this form exempting him from the Dictation Test, Tatsuzo would most likely have been denied re-entry.
This certificate is drawn from one of more than 14,000 files inSeries J2483 in the National Archives of Australia. This series is solely concerned with the administration of the White Australia Policy. There are many other series from other ports and other time periods full of documents like this. The National Archives holds many, many thousands of these certificates documenting the lives and movements of people considered out of place in a White Australia.
Photographs, forms, files, series, legislation — this small shard of Tatsuzo’s life is preserved as part of a racist system of exclusion and control. But what happens when we extract the photos from their context within the recordkeeping system and simply present them as people?
I’ve created a site where you can explore some of the records relating to Japanese people held in Series J2483. Instead of navigating lists of files, you can start with faces — with the people, not the system.
life on the outside.008
I’m starting today with Tatsuzo and this wall of faces because what I want to explore are some of the complexities of context.

Shark Attack!

After a series of fatal shark attacks in Australian waters, the community of Port Hacking, in southern Sydney, began to wonder if they too were at risk.
In January 2014 the local newspaper published an article under the heading ‘Shark “cover up” in Port Hacking’ alleging that research into the dangers had been suppressed.
Ten days later the newspaper followed up with details of the area’s only recorded fatal shark attack in 1927. A local government member, it reported, had ‘unearthed the article on Trove’.
‘It’s long been a story that a boy was killed by a shark at Grays Point many years ago’, he said, ‘I knew about it 30 to 40 years ago but if you talk to people around here, nobody knows about it’.
‘A lot of people say there are no sharks in Port Hacking but this is rubbish’, he added.
Let me reassure anyone thinking about coming to DH2015 in Sydney next year that shark attacks are extremely rare.
What interested me about these articles was not the risk of gruesome death, but the relationship between past and present. The question of whether shark attacks were possible could be answered — simply by searching Trove.


For those who don’t know, Trove is a discovery service developed and maintained by the National Library of Australia. LikeEuropeana, the Digital Public Library of America, and DigitalNZ, it aggregates resources from the cultural heritage sector, and beyond.
It also provides access to more than 130 million newspaper articlesfrom 1803 onwards. The articles are drawn from over 600 different titles — large and small, rural and metropolitan — with more are being added all the time.
Search for just about anything and you’re likely to find a match of some sort amongst the digitised newspapers. So of course I searched for Tsukuba
life on the outside.015

Trove is also a community. Users correct the OCR’d text of newspaper articles. They also add
thousands of tags and comments to resources across Trove.

  • 138,000 users
  • 3,000,000 tags
  • 139,000,000 corrections
  • 58,000 lists

  • Perhaps my favourite example of user-generated content on Trove are the Lists. Lists are pretty much what they sound like — collections of resources. They make it easy for you to save and share your research. But more than tags or comments they expose people’s interests and passions. They give some insight into the many acts of meaning-making that occur in and around Trove.
    Lists are also exposed through Trove’s Application Programming Interface (API) in a form fit for machine consumption. So with just a dash of code I can harvest the titles of all public lists and do some very basic word frequency analysis courtesy of Voyant Tools.
    life on the outside.017

    There’s nothing too surprising here — we know that family historians are our largest user group. But we can also see the long tail in action — the way that huge collections like Trove can support very focused, specific interests.
    Which leads me back to shark attacks.

    Old Speak

    The Port Hacking article made me wonder how many other web pages there might be out on the wider web that cited Trove newspapers in a discussion of shark attacks. The answer was many. But what was most interesting wasn’t the volume of references, it was the variety of contexts — in blog posts, on Facebook, in fishing forums.
    ‘Ahh, old time newspapers are fascinating things aren’t they?’, notes one post in a weather forum, citing details of a shark attack in Sydney from 1952.
    On a fishing site, a thread on bull shark attacks in Western Australia’s Swan River begins: ‘I found a great website to view really old newspapers in perth. Just found a few swan river shark storys [sic]…’.
    The author follows up with a direct link to the Trove search page, prompting the exchange:
    Redfin 4 Life: ‘Haha you would never know there had been that many incedents in the swan without seeing these…’
    Goodz: ‘Oh how newspapers have changed the way the write… love the old speak!’
    Alan James: ‘That’s right Goodz, and more often than not I’m sure they actually reported the truth.’
    So a discussion of shark attacks turns to a consideration of the changing style of newspaper reporting.
    Perhaps even more interesting is the way that digitised newspapers are used to test a hypothesis, challenge an interpretation, or argue a case. As in the Port Hacking case, questions about the history of shark attacks can be explored without needing to turn to experts, history books, or official statistics.
    So when a local politician is quoted as saying ‘there have not been any serious or fatal shark attacks at Coogee Beach since records commenced in the 1800s’, a reader can respond with two Trove newspaper citations and the comment: ‘No previous shark attacks? Or are they only searching for fatalities?’
    When a media outlet asks its Facebook followers whether the export of live sheep from Western Australia might be increasing the number of shark attacks off the coast, one follower can simply share a Trove link to a newspaper article from 1950 and ask ‘Did they have live sheep export in 1950?’
    I don’t want to argue that these interactions are particularly profound or remarkable. In fact I’d suggest that they’re interesting because they’re not remarkable. 130 million digitised newspaper articles chronicling 150 years of Australian history are just another resource woven into the fabric of online experience. The past can be mobilised, shared and embedded in our daily interactions as easily as pictures of cats.


    And it’s not just shark attacks. To explore the variety of contexts in which Trove newspaper articles are used and shared, I started mining backlinks.
    Backlinks, as the name suggests, are just links out there on the wild, wild web that point back to your site. You can find them in your referrer logs, in Google’s webmaster tools, or simply by searching. I started with a ‘try before you buy’ sample of backlinks from an SEO service.
    From there I wrote a script to harvest the linking pages, remove duplicates, extract the newspaper references, retrieve the article details from the Trove API, and save everything to a database for easy exploration. You can play with the results online.
    life on the outside.025

    I ended up harvesting 3116 pages from 1780 domains containing 13,389 links to 11,242 articles in Trove. Remember that’s just a sample of all the links to Trove newspapers out there on the web.
    What was more surprising than the raw numbers was the diversity of content across those pages. I knew that family and local historians were busily blogging about their Trove discoveries, but I didn’t know that Trove newspapers were being cited in discussions about politicssciencewarsportmusic — just about any topic you could imagine.
    Nor are these discussions just about Australia. A little quick and dirty analysis suggests that more than 30 languages are represented across those 3000 pages.
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    This is a work in progress. I hope to expand my hunt for traces — crawling sites for additional references, mining referrals, and inviting the public to nominate pages for inclusion. By adding a simple API I could make it possible for Trove to include links back to relevant pages, like trackbacks on a blog. I also want to understand more about the scope of the content and the motivations of its authors. What is going on here?
    Undoubtedly some of these pages constitute link spam or attempts to game search engines, but most do not. Browsing the database you find many examples of interpretation, persistence, and passion. People around the world have something they want to say, something they want to share, and Trove’s millions of newspaper articles provide them with a readily-accessible source of inspiration and evidence.
    It’s clear that those many small acts of meaning-making we can observe in Trove’s activity statistics extend beyond a single site — to a much much wider (and wilder) world.


    One day earlier this year, Trove received more than three times its usual number of visitors.
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    The culprit was the WTF subreddit — a popular place for sharing the weirdities of the web. Someone posted a link to a Trove newspaper article describing the unfortunate demise of a poodle called Cachi, whose fall from a thirteenth-story balcony in Buenos Aires resulted in the deaths of three passers-by.
    As well as causing a dramatic spike in Trove’s visitor stats, the post received more than 3000 votes and attracted 677 comments on reddit. Cachi was a hit.
    Trove articles pop up regularly on reddit. The traffic spikes they bring are reminders that however proud we might be of our stats, we are but a tiny corner of the web. There’s something much bigger out there.
    Michael Peter Edson has long sought to alert cultural heritage organisations to the challenges of scale. In a recent essay he described the web’s ‘dark matter':
    There’s just an enormous, humongous, gigantic audience out there connected to the Internet that is starving for authenticity, ideas, and meaning. We’re so accustomed to the scale of attention that we get from visitation to bricks-and-mortar buildings that it’s difficult to understand how big the Internet is—and how much attention, curiosity, and creativity a couple of billion people can have.
    Libraries, archives and museums, he argues, need to meet the public where they are, to recognise that vigorous sites of meaning-making are scattered across the vast terrain of the web. Trove newspaper traces and reddit spikes are mere glimpses of the ‘dark matter’ of cultural activity that lurks beneath the apps, the stats, and the corporate hype.
    People are already using our digital stuff in ways we don’t expect. The question is whether libraries, archives and museums see this hunger for connection as an invitation or a threat. Do we join the party, or call the police to complain about the noise?


    There’s something fundamentally human about sharing. Yes, it’s easy to mock the shallowness of a Facebook ‘Like'; to see our obsession with followers, friends and retweets as evidence of our dwindling capacity for attention — reducing engagement and understanding to a single click. But haven’t we always shared — through stories, gossip, jokes, performances, and rituals? Rather than being measured against a threshold of meaning, surely each act of sharing exists on a continuum from the flippant to the philosophical. Just because the act of sharing has been commodified by large social media services seeking to mine our preferences for profit, doesn’t mean it lacks deeper human significance.
    A retweet can represent a fleeting interest, a brief moment of distraction. But it can also mark the start of a journey.
    Cultural heritage institutions around the world have begun to recognise that sharing is not just a marketing strategy, it’s a mission. As Merete Sanderhoff notes in her foreword to the anthology Sharing is Caring:
    When cultural heritage is digital, open and shareable, it becomes common property, something that is right at hand every day. It becomes a part of us.
    Aggregation services, like Trove, the Digital Public Library of America, Europeana, and DigitalNZ, bring resources together to share them more easily with the world. Aggregation is only worthwhile if it serves discovery and reuse — it’s a process of mobilisation, rather than collection. As Europeana argues in their 2020 strategy:
    We believe culture is a catalyst for social and economic change. But that’s only possible if it’s readily usable and easily accessible for people to build with, build on and share.
    Of course the hard part is understanding what makes something ‘readily usable and easily accessible’. What balance do we need between push and pull? Between ease-of-use and technical power? Between licensing and liberty? Between context and creativity?

    Busy Bots

    The Mechanical Curator was born in the British Library Labs as part of their innovative digital scholarship program. In September 2013, she started posting to Tumblr random images automatically extracted from a collection of 65,000 digitised 19th century books.
    It was, Ben O’Steen explained, an experiment in ‘providingundirected engagement with the British Library’s digital content’. The book illustrations moved from inside to outside, opening opportunities for discovery beyond the covers.
    But that was just the beginning. A few months later the Mechanical Curator dramatically expanded its labours, uploading more than a million public domain images to Flickr.
    What followed was something of a cultural feeding frenzy as people from all over the world starting sharing, tagging, collecting, and creating with this rich assortment of 19th century illustrations. Since then the images have been mashed up into new works, added and organised in the Wikimedia Commons, and featured in aninstallation at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
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    Having been locked away within books for more than a hundred years, the illustrations were given new life online as works in their own right. Opportunities for innovation and expression were created by a rupture in context.
    Meanwhile on Twitter, a growing army of bots was liberating items from cultural collections around the world. Inspired by the bot-making genius of Mark Sample, I created @TroveNewsBot in June 2013 to tweet newspaper articles from Trove.
    He was joined by @DPLABot@EuropeanaBot@Kasparbot,,@cooperhewittbot@bklynmuseumbot, and no doubt others — all sharing random collection items. Of course @MechCuratorBotsoon joined the fray from the British Library, and I eventually added @Trovebot to tweet material from all the non-newspapery sections of Trove.
    The possibilities of serendipitous discovery are receiving increasing attention within the digital humanities. At DH2014, Kim Martin and Anabel Quan-Haase critically examined four DH tools — including @TroveNewsBot — in the light of existing models of serendipity. Their discussion noted that randomness is not the same as serendipity, and outlined how serendipity could be understood as type of encounter with information. I do wonder though if what makes the bots interesting is not randomness as such, but the way randomness can play around with our assumptions about context.
    Steve Lubar observes that the random offerings of collection bots can also expose the choices that are made in the creation and display of cultural collections. Randomness can challenge our expectations. Describing the genesis of the Mechanical Curator,James Baker notes:
    And so as what at first seemed simple descends into complexity the Mechanical Curator achieves her peculiar aim: giving knowledge with one hand, carpet bombing the foundations of that knowledge with the other.
    The Trove bots I created do more than tweet random offerings, they also allow you to interact with Trove without ever leaving Twitter. Send a few keywords their way and they’ll do your searching for you, tweeting back the most relevant result. You can modify their default behaviour by adding a series of hashtags — #luckydip, for example, will spice your result with a touch of randomness.
    More interestingly, perhaps, you can tweet a url at them and they’ll extract keywords from the web page and use them to construct the search. This means that @TroveNewsBot can offer commentary on current events.
    Several times a day he retrieves the latest headlines from a news site and searches for something similar amidst Trove’s 130 million historical newspaper articles. What emerges is a strange conversation between past and present.
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    These bots do not simply present collection items outside of the familiar context of discovery interfaces or online exhibitions, they move the encounter itself into a wholly new space. Just as the Mechanical Curator liberates illustrations from the printed page, the Twitter bots loosen the institutional context of collections to allow them to participate in a space where people already congregate. They send collection items out into the wilds of the web, to find new meanings, new connections and perhaps even new love.

    Broken & Repaired

    But letting go can be scary. A 2008 survey of libraries, archives and museums revealed that one of the main factors inhibiting the opening up of online collections was the desire to avoid misrepresentation, mislabeling or misuse of cultural objects. Easy sharing brings the risk that our carefully curated content will be shorn of context and bounced around the web — adrift and abused.
    Earlier this year Sarah Werner took aim at Twitter feeds that pump out streams of ‘historical’ photos — unattributed and often wrongly captioned. But it wasn’t simply the lack of attribution that angered her:
    These accounts capitalize on a notion that history is nothing more than superficial glimpses of some vaguely defined time before ours, one that exists for us to look at and exclaim over and move on from without worrying about what it means and whether it happened.
    I have to admit that the excitement of seeing Trove’s visitor numbers suddenly soar thanks to reddit is frequently tempered by the realisation that what is being shared is yet another story of gruesome death, violence, or misfortune. 150 years of Australian history is reduced to clickbait by our tabloid sensibilities. Most of those who arrive from reddit read the article and click away — the bounce rate is around 97%. This is not ‘engagement’?
    And yet, I can’t help but wonder about the 3% who don’t immediately leave, who pause and look around. Three percent of a lot is still a lot — a lot of people who might have been exposed to Trove and Australian history for the very first time. Similarly while the viral pics industry is frustrating and exploitative, it might yet offer opportunities to learn.
    One of my favourite Twitter accounts is @PicsPedant. It monitors many of the viral pics feeds, researches the images, and tweets the results — providing a steady stream of attributions, corrections, critiques, and context. Not only do you find out about the images, you pick up research tips, and learn about the cannibalistic tendencies of the pic bots themselves — constantly recycling content from their kin.
    @AhistoricalPics offers a different form of education, satirising the whole viral pics genre with its fabricated captions, and pricking at our own inclination to believe.
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    Freeing collections opens them to misuse, but it also exposes that misuse to analysis and critique. Contexts can be rediscovered as well as lost, restored as well as broken.

    Generous signposts

    It’s wonderful to see many Trove newspaper articles shared on Twitter. Unfortunately a significant proportion of these come from climate change deniers, who mine the newspapers for freak weather events and past climatic theories, imagining that such reports undermine current research. This is bad science and bad history. Their efforts are also well-represented in my database of web page citations, along with expressions of hatred and prejudice that I’d prefer to stay submerged. It’s depressing, but it seems inevitable that people will do bad things with your stuff.
    In a recent post about the DPLA’s metadata licensing arrangements, Dan Cohen suggested we should look beyond technical and legal controls around online use towards social and ethical guidelines:
    The cynics, of course, will say that bad actors will do bad things with all that open data. But here’s the thing about the open web: bad actors will do bad things, regardless… The flip side of worries about bad actors is that we underestimate the number of good actors doing the right thing.
    Bad people will do bad things, but by asserting a social and ethical framework for the use of digital cultural collections we strengthen the resolve and commitment of those who want to do right.
    Already there are examples in the work of the Local Contexts project which is developing a series of licenses and labels to guide use of traditional knowledge and cultural materials. Similarly, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand have been developing an Indigenous Knowledge Notice to educate the public about what constitutes appropriate use.
    We should remember too that footnotes have always been at the heart of an ethical pact. The Australian historian Tom Griffiths has described footnotes as ‘honest expressions of vulnerability’ — ‘generous signposts to anyone who wants to retrace the path and test the insights’. This ‘professional paraphernalia’ has, he argues, grown out of a series of ethical questions:
    To whom are we responsible – to the people in our stories, to our sources, to our informants, to our readers and audiences, to the integrity of the past itself? How do we pay our respects, allow for dissent, accommodate complexity, distinguish between our voice and those of our characters?1
    Such questions remain crucial as we consider the relationship between cultural collections and their online users. If we expect people to erect ‘generous signposts’ we have to make our stuff easy to find and share. If we want them to consider their responsibility to the past we should focus on providing trust, confidence, and support, not permission.


    If my wall of faces seems seems familiar, it might be because a few years ago I created something similar called The Real Face of White Australia.
    The two walls use different sets of records, but they were constructed in much the same way: I reverse-engineered the National Archives’ online database, downloaded images of digitised files, and used a facial detection script to identify and extract faces.
    The Real Face of White Australia was an experiment, built over the course of a weekend. But its discomfiting power was immediately evident. Where there had been records, there were people — looking at us, challenging us.
    My partner Kate Bagnall is a historian of Chinese-Australia and we were working together on a project called Invisible Australians, aimed at liberating the lives of these people from the bureaucracy of the White Australia Policy.
    The project was motivated by a strong sense of responsibility — not to the National Archives, not to the records, but to the people themselves.
    We often talk about preserving context as if it’s an end in itself; as if context is just a set of attributes to be catalogued and controlled. The exciting, terrifying, wonderful thing about the wild, wild web is how it upsets our notions of relevance and meaning. Historic newspapers can find their way into contemporary debates. Century-old illustrations can be remade as art. Twitter bots can inspire conversations with collections. The people buried inside a recordkeeping system can be brought at last to the surface. Contexts are unstable, shifting. And through that instability we can glimpse other worlds, we can imagine alternatives, we can build something new.
    What’s important is not training users to understand the context of our collections, but helping them explore and understand their responsibilities to the pasts those collections represent.
    Let’s remove technical barriers, minimise legal restrictions, and trust in the good will of our audiences. Instead of building shrines to our descriptive methodologies, let’s create systems that provide stable shareable anchors, that connect, but don’t constrain.
    Contexts will flow and mingle, some will fade and some will burn. Contexts will survive not because we demand it in our terms of service, or embed them in our interfaces, but because they capture something that matters.
    The ways we find and use cultural collections will continue to change, but questions about responsibility, value, and meaning will remain.

    1. Tom Griffiths, ‘History and the creative imagination’, History Australia, Vol. 6, No. 3, 2009. [↩]