Digitisation of Traditional Format Library Materials

Digitisation Project Brief - Wolfgang Sievers archive

General description of the project

The Wolfgang Sievers archive is to date the largest single collection of photographic images by any one photographer held in the National Library's Pictures Section. The entire archive contains c63,000 images, plus 82 albums of proof sheets, spanning the period from late 1930s to early 1990s. The archive was acquired in batches in the calendar years 2002 and 2003.

Wolfgang Sievers is regarded as Australia's greatest industrial photographer. He was born in Germany in 1913 and, of Jewish descent on his mother's side, immigrated to Australia in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution. He made Melbourne his home and still lives there.

Over the years Sievers has been commissioned by Australia's largest business names such as Alcoa, Australia Pulp and Paper Manufacturers, Comalco, Hamersley Iron, John Holland, John Lysaght, Shell and Vickers Ruwolt. Renowned architectural firms such as Bates, Smart and McCutcheon, Hassall & McConnell, Leith & Bartlett, Winston Hall, and Yuncken & Freeman also commissioned him to document their architectural creations. He also received a major commission in the 1950s from the then Department of Overseas Trade with a brief to change Australia's image from a land of sheep and wool to an image of a sophisticated industrial and manufacturing nation.

Sievers' commissions took him from Cape York to Tasmania, through the vineyards of Barossa Valley, down the Broken Hill mines, and up to the alpine regions to document the Snowy Mountains Scheme. The archive includes photographs of mines, factories, manufacturing processes, laboratories, hotels, universities, streetscapes, office buildings and housing. It includes migrant women at work in sweatshop factories, fashion parades, grape-pickers, Country Women's Association meetings, men working in underground mines, men operating machines, and company directors in elegant offices. In short, the archive as a whole is a remarkable depiction of Australia and the Australian workforce in the late 20th century.

Collection material of relevance to the project

The Sievers archive holds c51,500 negatives and transparencies and c11,500 prints - a mixture of black & white and colour images. About 20,000 of the 51,500 negatives and transparencies are duplicates or 'spares', and an estimated 30-40% of the c11,5000 prints are also duplicates. Duplicate prints will be useful for exhibition and display. In the selection of images for digitisation, preference will be given to the prints, since these represent Sievers' finished interpretation of the image. Transparencies and negatives will be selected for digitisation where they contain subject matter not present in the prints.

For selection purposes the collection has been organised into several hundred subject categories and listed on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The subjects are based on Sievers' captions (ie not on Library of Congress Subject Headings or any other subject thesaurus), but may be of some assistance to the Digitisation Project team when assigning subject headings to the Kinetica records.

All digitisation is to be done from the original prints and negatives.

Levels of use and user groups - current and anticipated

Current interest in the Sievers collection is moderate to high, but interest is expected to increase significantly as more images appear in the Pictures Catalogue and PictureAustralia. Use of the collection is also expected to increase when copyright is transferred to the National Library upon Sievers' death. The collection would be of special interest to academics, researchers, publishers, and exhibition curators, but the archive's broad-based subject matter is likely to attract a wide range of users with an interest in Australia's industrial history, the history of working conditions, and Australian architecture.

Bibliographic coverage of the collection

An existing Kinetica collection level record (AN24410125) will be upgraded to reflect the entire Sievers archive. Kinetica subunit records for all digitised items are also in the process of being created, with links to the collection level record. The Microsoft Excel subject categories document may eventually be linked to the Kinetica collection level record, acting as a finding aid to individual items in the Sievers archive.

All negatives, transparencies and colour prints are held in the National Library's Cold Store. The black & white prints together with the proof sheets are located on the album shelves in the Hurley stack. The prints and proof sheets are accessible to in-house users and will serve as an index to the entire Sievers Archive. Other access to the collection is via the National Library's online catalogue, Kinetica, the Pictures Catalogue and PictureAustralia.

Preservation, care and handling

The printed part of the collection is in good condition and can be easily handled. Many items are already enclosed in Mylar sleeves.

The condition of the negatives and transparencies varies. The earlier part of the collection comprises nitrate and acetate material, which has deteriorated badly and is stored in the Preservation Services freezer. This material needs to be acclimatized for at least 48 hours before being used in ambient conditions. Part of the deterioration process involves giving off strong vinegar-like odours that can be an occupational health and safety problem. The later material is also acetate and has not deteriorated so badly but it still has a strong vinegar odour. This material should be scanned under a fumehood or in a fume cupboard.

All of the negatives are enclosed in plastic sleeves and should present no initial handling problems. When they are removed for scanning disposable latex gloves should be worn. This material should be scanned under a fumehood or in a fume cupboard.

The later material is also acetate and has not deteriorated so badly but it still has a strong vinegar odour. Care should be taken when digitizing and a fume cupboard should be used if necessary. All of the negatives are enclosed in plastic sleeves and should present no initial handling problems. When they are removed for scanning disposable latex gloves should be worn.

No preservation treatments will be required. If negatives, transparencies or printed works are dusty, use a blower brush or hake brush to remove surface dirt. Flat-bed scanners will be used to digitise this collection (ie AGFA, MicroTek or UMAX). Digital cameras and a vacuum board will be used for over-sized prints.

General Rules for printed and film based material

Film-based items

All items in the fridge will need to be acclimatised for two hours before use. Please take the negatives or transparencies out of the box but leave in the plastic bags for two hours. This should prevent any condensation occurring. Notify Preservation Services if any condensation is noticed.


Part of this collection is made up of acetate film that has deteriorated badly. The deterioration process involves giving off strong vinegar-like odours that can cause occupational health and safety problems. For example; headaches, dry, peeling skin. This material should be scanned under a fumehood. Facemasks and gloves will be provided. If any of these symptoms occur stop immediately.

The later material is also acetate and has not deteriorated so badly but it still has a strong vinegar odour. Care should taken when digitising and fume cupboard should be used.


Minimal border, 1mm from edge of negative or print. Ensure no original material is cropped out of the digital image.

Intellectual property or other rights

The intellectual property rights in the material will be transferred to the National Library upon Sievers death. In the meantime, the Library may permit users to consult the material for personal references and research purposes, make working copies, exhibit material on the Library's premises, lend to other parties for exhibition, reproduce the material in the Library's publications and publicity material, make digital copies on the databases, including Internet databases, and permit use of digital copies available thought the Internet and other databases for purposes of personal reference research or study.

Prior to Sievers' death, the Library will make and sell copies to third parties only with the express permission of the seller.

IT requirements

The images will be digitised with existing equipment. The digital images will be available as part of the Library's digital collections and managed within the Digital Collections Manager (DCM).

Resource requirements

It is proposed to digitise at least 6,000 Sievers images, which would give the Sievers archive a presence in the Pictures Catalogue comparable with that of the Frank Hurley negative archive (of over 10,000 images). Digitisation will commence with at least 3,000 images in the 2003-2004 financial year. It is envisaged that Sievers digitisation will continue beyond June 2004; proposals for future financial years will be formulated closer to the time.

Digitisation will be done by Imaging Services and Digitisation Project staff.


See 'Marketing and promotion' below.

Marketing and promotion

The collection would be highly suitable for exhibition - possibly extending into a travelling exhibition - and for publication though no schedule has been set for either an NLA exhibition or publication at the time of writing.

A publicity program timed to co-incide with the appearance of the first 3,000 digitised images on the Pictures Catalogue will be discussed with Public Programs Division. Brief articles in newsletters of companies represented in the collection would be one suitable form of publicity.


See under 'Resource requirements' above.

Selection has commenced and will be on-going; digitisation is expected to commence in late July-early August 2003.

Contact officer: Kirsten Bird, Pictures Acquisitions Librarian


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