Annual Report - Director-General’s Review

Director-General Ms Anne-Marie Schwirtlich The National Library of Australia’s Strategic Directions 2012–14, which the Chair has noted, recognises that continuity and change characterise the work of the Library. In 2011–12, the Library has seen significant achievements in planning and preparing for change and in pursuing long-term goals.

The Library’s strategic thinking has been informed by trends in use, information seeking and publishing. We have also referred to consultation papers and reviews, such as the National Cultural Policy Discussion Paper, the Book Industry Strategy Group’s Final Report, the review of philanthropy, the development of the 2011 Strategic Roadmap for Australian Research Infrastructure and the review of Australia’s engagement in Asia.

If the Library is to succeed in the digital world, it is vital that it has the capacity to acquire, manage, preserve and provide access to petabyte-level information. The alternative is a significant and growing gap in Australia’s documentary memory. In the short term, the Library will meet its essential minimum requirements by redirecting internal resources, including IT resources, to focus on the Digital Library Infrastructure Replacement (DLIR) project.

The DLIR project commenced in early 2011 and runs over five financial years. It will replace existing systems that form the backbone of the Library’s digital library infrastructure and will deliver capabilities for digital preservation and online deposit, as well as the ability to support an extended range of digital formats.

Central to the project is an open approach to the market, with the aim of purchasing existing software or services to deliver the software, supplemented by in-house development activities to implement components that cannot be purchased. Formal project governance and management processes have been established and the procurement process almost completed. The implementation phase will commence in the new financial year.

Over the last decade, in response to the dramatic effect of digital technology on information dissemination, the Library has advocated for change to the legal deposit provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 (section 201). The Library advocates the inclusion of publications, such as CD-ROMs, DVDs, websites, blogs and electronic books, journals, magazines and newspapers, in the requirement that a copy of material published in Australia be delivered to the Library.

In early 2011, the Library welcomed the Attorney-General’s establishment of a working group to consider the Library’s legal deposit requirements and to prepare a public consultation paper on the issue. The paper, Extending Legal Deposit, was issued by the Attorney-General on 7 March 2012. It presented a model for how an extended scheme would apply to both online and offline e-publications on a physical carrier. 

Last financial year, the Library began a review of its collecting of books and journals published overseas. It assessed options for reducing the cost associated with acquiring and processing overseas materials, taking into account the needs of researchers and trends and developments in information dissemination, such as e-publishing and mass digitisation. The review was completed in August 2011 and the Library has begun implementing the recommendations. This includes immediate work to make processes more efficient and a long-term strategy to shift the Library’s largely print collecting model to a digital collecting and access model over the next five years. This means that, where possible, the Library will collect e-books and e-journals and it will provide access to freely available digital content hosted elsewhere, instead of collecting print versions. In addition, the Library will reduce its total expenditure on overseas resources, in order to release funds for strategic priorities, such as digitising more of the Australian Collection. As a consequence, the range of overseas resources accessible from the Library will decrease and a significant number of print journal subscriptions and electronic services will be cancelled. This will be reflected in a revised Collection Development Policy, which will be developed early next financial year. The Library will continue to give priority to both print and digital publications in Asian languages.

Over the course of the year, the Library initiated and completed some 20 projects aimed at advancing digital readiness and services. These are outlined in the Report of Operations.

The knowledge, expertise and skills of Library staff are vital to the advancement of the Library’s work, particularly as we seek to strengthen our digital capacity. In developing the Strategic Workforce Plan (2012–14), the Library has placed a premium on building expertise, skills and confidence to work in the digital world. 

On 6 October 2011, the Treasures Gallery was opened by the Governor-General, Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, marking the culmination of many years of planning. The gallery provides the Library with a world-class space in which to display its treasures. Over 95,000 visitors have enjoyed the gallery since its opening. Treasure Explorer, the website developed for primary school children (http://treasure-explorer.nla.gov.au), and new education programs centred on the gallery are extending the appreciation of the Library’s collection and the stories it reveals about Australian history and culture. The Treasures Gallery Family Day attracted 2,500 people to a wide variety of activities, including lectures, behind-the-scenes tours and craft programs.

The opening of the Treasures Gallery marked the successful conclusion of the major capital fundraising campaign led by the Development Council. To build on this success, the National Library of Australia Foundation Board was established to consolidate and further the work of the Development Council in seeking support for the Library’s priorities.

In association with the completion of the Treasures Gallery, other major works were completed on the Ground Floor. A new entrance was created for the Main Reading Room, with a new service desk, an improved display of new collection items and an informal area for group work. The Library’s Bookshop, which specialises in Australian publications, was also refurbished. Visitors have welcomed the improved Bookshop and sales of exhibition-related merchandise have been particularly strong.

In November 2011, Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt launched Handwritten: Ten Centuries of Manuscript Treasures from Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the inaugural exhibition in the Library’s new Exhibition Gallery. Handwritten was a highly successful international collaboration, with government and corporate support valued at over $800,000. The public response was enthusiastic—73,000 visitors viewed the works of some of the most significant contributors to the development of Western thought and creativity, including Copernicus, Galileo, Dante, Einstein, Mozart and Beethoven.

The reporting year has seen excellent progress in the Library’s fundamental work on developing the national collection, promoting access and engaging audiences, collaboration and leadership, and achieving organisational excellence. The Library’s success in collection building is reported in Appendix J, which features acquisition highlights.

Digitisation activities remain an important priority for the Library. Collaborative projects undertaken this year have included:

  • digitising regional Victorian newspapers, funded by the State Library of Victoria
  • digitising The Mirror (Perth) and The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), funded by the State Library of Western Australia
  • digitising The Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Hobart), funded by the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office
  • digitising The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (NSW), funded by the Western Plains Cultural Centre.

On 2 November 2011, the Library marked the 30th anniversary of the Australian National Bibliographic Database, which lies at the heart of Trove. Twelve hundred libraries across Australia currently contribute catalogue records, describing books, journals, websites, pictures, maps, manuscripts, audiovisual materials and local history collections. The database enables efficiency in local cataloguing operations and makes collections discoverable by all Australians.

Trove continues to be central to accessing the collections of the Library and of Australian collecting institutions of all kinds. More than 50,000 people use the service daily, many of them on mobile devices. Scholars particularly value Trove’s digitised content, which has revolutionised their research and opened new possibilities for enquiry. Thousands of users engage enthusiastically with Trove—annotating, tagging and correcting computer-generated newspaper text or adding their own digital content to the service. Since April 2012, individuals and agencies have been able to use new functionality to engage further with Trove records—tags and comments can now be retrieved using an application programming interface, opening new possibilities for displaying Trove content in other services. In October 2011, Trove again attracted international recognition, when it was nominated in the European Digital Heritage Awards as one of the top-five global crowd-sourcing projects.

Highlights of the Library’s events program included the Ray Mathew Lecture ‘Prodigal Daughter’, delivered by writer Susan Johnson, and the Seymour Biography Lecture ‘Pushing against the Dark: Writing about the Hidden Self’, presented by author Robert Dessaix. The Library was also the venue for two significant national events: the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2011 and the launch of the National Year of Reading 2012, an initiative of the library profession to improve Australian literacy rates by encouraging Australians to become a nation of readers.

The Friends of the Library hosted a strong program of events for its 2,000 members. The two major events—the celebration of Australian author Alex Miller and the Kenneth Myer Lecture
‘Why Did I Do That? A Fresh Look at the Psychology of Human Motivation’, delivered by Hugh Mackay—attracted good audiences.

Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the Library’s communication, promotion, development and delivery of services and the collection. The Library’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have 9,000 followers collectively. Social media helps the Library to reach new audiences. For example, on 2 March 2012, a tweet relating to a Dr Seuss sketch in the Library’s collection was retweeted over 650 times, reaching an additional 50,000 Twitter users, and the link to the item was viewed 3,233 times. The Trove Twitter account provides followers with topical links to related historical newspaper and other content, and is an ideal channel to communicate new service developments and for Trove users to communicate with the Library and with each other. In September 2011, there was an equally strong response to the release on Flickr Commons of images from the Library’s collection; within a few hours the images had been viewed over 10,000 times. The Library will continue to explore and exploit the potential of new social media channels.

The Library has continued its efforts to achieve Reimagining Libraries, the vision of National and State Libraries Australasia (NSLA). Library staff have led and contributed actively to NSLA groups, working on a range of strategic priorities to improve and harmonise public access to collections and services.

As a result of Reimagining Libraries activities, Australians can experience consistent approaches to services across all NSLA libraries. Registered patrons of the National Library and of Australian state and territory libraries can access a core set of e-resources, with most products available
for offsite use in homes, schools and offices. Articles from some licensed resources can be
accessed via Trove. To enable their patrons to access resources which are not available in digital form, NSLA libraries are collaborating to streamline and align document delivery services.

NSLA groups will also continue to work on important physical and digital infrastructure issues which will benefit library users for generations to come. Groups working on collaborative collecting, storage for physical collections and the challenges of collecting, preserving and providing access to digital heritage are all focused on efficient long-term access to Australia’s documentary heritage.

As it enters its eighteenth year, the Community Heritage Grants program continues to be an important source of support for community groups. The program is managed by the Library on behalf of funding partners, including the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport Office for the Arts, the National Archives of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive. Grants of up to $15,000 are awarded to libraries, archives, museums, genealogical and historical societies and multicultural and Indigenous groups. In 2011, $409,000 was distributed to 82 organisations, half of the recipients being in regional and remote Australia. Following a concerted awareness campaign, it is pleasing to note that almost ten per cent of recipients are Indigenous organisations. The 2012 grant round closed on 4 May and received 181 applications.

Staff voted in favor of a new Enterprise Agreement, which became operational on 30 November 2011. The negotiations resulted in greater engagement between staff and management.

The Library has continued to prioritise improving workplace health and safety. As well as implementing stronger governance regimes linked to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, there has been a focus on training and awareness of issues, including work–life balance, stress management and resilience, risk management, dealing with hazardous substances, working with contractors and first aid.

On 30 June 2012, the Hon. James J. Spigelman AC relinquished the Chair of the National Library of Australia Council. Over the last two years he has been a formidable advocate for the Library, advancing its work in several vital areas. The Library shall be the poorer for his departure.

This report provides me with a welcome opportunity to thank the Library’s volunteers, Friends, members of the Development Council (now the Foundation Board), donors and partners. The generosity with which they deploy their time, energy, goodwill and expertise on behalf of the Library is inspiring. 

It is with gratitude I note that the counsel received from colleagues in the Office for the Arts was, as always, immensely useful. 

Staff of the National Library take pride in advancing the institution’s role in supporting learning, scholarship, curiosity and cultural life. They respond to change and pursue vital long-term goals with industry, innovation and intelligence, conscious of the extraordinary legacy of which they are stewards. The pages ahead tell the story.

In the coming year, the Library will advance its strategic directions, appreciative that it will benefit from the measure announced in the 2012–13 Commonwealth Budget that provides supplementation for national collecting institutions and grateful to be among the cultural institutions exempted from the application of an additional efficiency dividend of 2.5 per cent.
To ensure that Australians can access, enjoy and learn from a national collection that documents Australian life and society, the Library seeks to accelerate digitising the collection, to focus on digital collecting and preservation, to improve reading-room facilities for special collections and to commemorate the Centenary of Canberra.

Anne-Marie Schwirtlich