Trove – National Library of Australia

The internet has opened up a host of treasures, and never more so than when it comes to accessing historical or digitised information. Once upon a time, if a community group wanted to engage with historical sources – either by researching or sharing them – they had to go through a laborious process of libraries and archives. Now, databases like Trove at the National Library of Australia have opened up a world of possibilities.

Trove brings together Australian-related content from archives, libraries and research and cultural institutions across the country, including photos, objects, newspapers, maps, music, sound and video, government papers, diaries and letters, and archived websites. I briefly mentioned Trove in this blog post discussing public access archives and databases, but its possibilities are far more extensive.

Today, Trove Outreach Officer Catriona Bryce shares what the platform can do and how it can be used by community groups and not-for-profits.

What is your role in Trove?

My job is to talk to people about their use of Trove, and tell other people about inspirational uses of Trove. We want everyone who has an interest in Australian history and culture to see Trove as the first stop on his or her information journey.

How and why was Trove developed?

The most important thing the National Library of Australia does is to get Australia’s cultural heritage out into the world where it can inspire, inform and delight. That’s what Trove is for. Trove didn’t come out of a box, ready for the National Library to install. Trove has grown out of other services and evolved through the influence of people, technological developments and business needs. Trove was built from the experience and knowledge gained through the Library’s many years of sharing and collaborating with other organisations. From the collected catalogues of the Australian National Bibliographic Network launched in 1981, through to Picture Australia in the 2000s and the digitised newspapers, Trove was the coming together of a variety of standalone services. In the next few years Trove will be improved to make access to Australia’s collections even better.

What are the main services you provide?

Trove provides free access to the cultural collections of Australia, including university repositories, small historical societies, Australian libraries and government information.

There are three basic types of material in Trove:

  • Digitised items –  A newspaper, for instance, that was first published as printed pieces of paper. It was a tangible item. It’s had its picture taken, and been loaded into Trove. This is a digital copy of the original physical item. People can look at them right now, in Trove. We call this the digitised content.
  • ‘Born digital’ material – Think of an academic article that was created on a computer as a word document and published as a PDF, then submitted to and kept in a repository. There was never a physical version that we could hold in our hands. People can look at some of these digital copies right now on Trove, just like the digitised content.
  • Links to other collections – Only a description of the item comes into Trove. People click on a link and they’re taken to an organisation’s own website to either view more information about the item and hopefully a digitised version, or to consider if it’s possible to come and visit the item in person. Most of our cultural heritage is not digitised and available in a few clicks. We think letting people know an item exists is really important for a more complete story of Australia.

We also help organisations of all sizes share their collections with the world, through a content partnership (where we link to an external website) or a digitisation partnership (where we digitise material and share it through Trove). For both partnerships the Library has teams of people to assist organisations.

What do you find most fulfilling about your work? What’s the biggest challenge?

A couple of years ago a woman from Victoria contacted us to thank us. Her father had been reminiscing at dinner that evening about his childhood in a Victorian state home. He remembered that one day a photographer had come out to take a photograph of the children and wondered if it was possible to find it. Ten minutes’ searching in Trove and his daughter had found the only photograph of this man from his childhood. Trove returns people’s histories to them. Whenever the challenges of organisational inertia and dodgy data begin to get me down I remember this story and I know that Trove is worth the effort.

What sorts of community groups and not-for-profits use Trove, and how do they use it?

Trove works with a variety of groups from the community and non-profit sectors, from organisations like RSL Victoria, and the Tatura Irrigration and Wartime Camps Museum, to local historical societies like the Berrima Historical Society. Each of these organisations has shared their collections with Trove through a content partnership. It’s as simple as telling us that you have a collection to share.

Increasingly, local groups are working with us to digitise their local newspaper, journal or newsletter and provide free access to it in Trove.

For instance, a ‘hidden’ journal is now accessible on Trove, according to Jaci Grant, archivist for the Catholic Diocese of Bathurst, who partnered with the Library to digitise the diocesan newsletter, The Record (1877-1884; 1929-1931). The Library completed the 200 issues of this journal just before Christmas 2016. According to Ms Grant, “it was a rewarding and enjoyable process…the hard copy of the Record is often required for research purposes, now that the title is digitised and has been delivered to Trove there is no longer anything to hold up researchers. Having the journal digitised will mean that the hard copy no longer needs to be handled so will help preserve the copies for a longer time.”

Apart from sharing collections or digitising, museums use to Trove to research new exhibitions, historical societies use Trove to find out more about their history, and they train their members in the use of Trove.

Trove brings people together. A small town of 500 people in Western Australia, 300 kilometres north of Perth, is a vibrant centre of historical discovery and sharing. Formed in 1983, the Carnamah Historical Society collects, records, preserves and promotes their local history. They have been using Trove for years to better understand their community and they share their understandings in a museum, a heritage-listed building and the Biographical Dictionary of Coorow.

Being able to search across newspapers has been a game-changer for historians and organisations like this. Trove supports a wide range of the society’s ‘Virtual Volunteering’ projects, such as the Biographical Dictionary of Coorow, Carnamah and Three Springs. Searchability of their local newspapers benefits both their organisation and the broader community and – since October 2015 – has resulted in a steady workforce of virtual volunteers. Some nine months later and in any given week they have between 10 and 60 volunteers from across Western Australia working on Trove correction tasks.

Andrew Bowman-Bright from the society says that volunteers have corrected 1,460,034 lines of newspaper text. This work has led directly to discoveries they would never otherwise have made. “If Trove didn’t exist we’d miss being able to easily discover so much about our history and heritage,” he said.

What’s the most innovative use of Trove you’ve seen?

There are so many innovative uses of Trove, but my current favourite has to be Dr Katherine Bode from the Australian National University discovering Australian fiction long forgotten.

In nineteenth-century Australia, newspapers were the main local publishers as well as the major sources of fiction, both local and imported.

Dr Bode, who is an Associate Professor of Literary and Textual Studies at the Australian National University, wondered about the fiction that had not been studied or even recorded as part of the body of Australian literature. What works of fiction were out there? And what is their contribution to Australia’s literary history?

Fortunately, Trove has now digitised and made freely available around 1,300 of the estimated 7,700 Australian newspapers ever published.

Trove has made it possible, for the first time, to explore this nineteenth-century Australian newspaper fiction in a systematic and extensive way.

Dr Bode devised a paratextual method to mine Trove’s digitised newspapers to automatically identify and harvest fictional content. She discovered over 16,500 fictional works, which has massively expanded the record of nineteenth-century Australian literary culture and its connections with the international circulation of fiction in this period. Her discoveries will be published in a new book called A World of Fiction: Digital Archives and the Future of Literary History, due in 2018.

These newly found works will be highlighted in Trove. Dr Bode is now working with the Trove team to load this newly discovered fiction back into Trove as brand new records, describing works of fiction where any member of the public can easily find and enjoy them.

What’s the best way for a community group or non-profit to get started with Trove?

Click in the search box, type your name, or a topic you’re interested in and click search. Start exploring from there. You never know what you’ll discover!

If you have a collection you’d like to share through Trove, the best thing to do is contact us and tell us what you’ve got. We can then work out which sort of partnership is right for you.

Where can people get more information or become part of the Trove community?

There’s plenty of information in our Help Centre, both for searching Trove and for contributing a collection to Trove. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If you’d like to read some wonderful stories about the things people have found in Trove, I encourage you to visit the Trove blog. Ghosts, lawn-mowers, long-lost football trophies, the role of women in wartime…there’s a lot to discover in Trove!

Published by lmmerrington

L.M. Merrington is a freelance writer, editor, academic and communications professional. Her journalism and academic writing has appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin, East Asia Forum, Inside Story and South Asia Masala, among others. Her first novel, Greythorne, will be published by Momentum Books, Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint, in 2015. She is currently completing an academic monograph, India and China in the Asia-Pacific, 1890–2030, and working on her next novel.

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