The National Library of Australia, in collaboration with each Australian state and territory library, has embarked on a plan to digitise out of copyright newspapers.

The aim is to build a service that will provide free online access from the first Australian newspaper published in 1803 through to 1954 newspapers.

The newspaper digitisation project will vastly improve access for all Australians to one of the most valuable research resources on Australian history and culture. The total cost, funded by the National Library, is expected to be more than $8 million.

It is part of a collaborative plan of Australia’s state and territory libraries to locate, collect and preserve every newspaper ever published in Australia, with the intention of guaranteeing public access to these important historical records.

National Library Director-General Jan Fullerton AO emphasised the collaborative nature of the project that will make our important old newspapers easily searchable.

“Newspapers are a significant record of the social, political, economic and cultural issues of the day and this is reflected not only in written articles but in the images, advertisements and even the headlines and layout of the newspaper itself.

“We will be working with our partners over a period of four years to digitise one major newspaper from each Australian state and territory, amounting to 3.5 million pages of content. The state and territory libraries will ensure the availability of quality microfilm versions of relevant newspapers as the source material for the digitisation process.

“The National Library has already digitised more than 125,000 of its most important collection items, and this project provides us with an exciting opportunity to digitise on a much larger scale,” said Ms Fullerton.

Cathy Pilgrim, Director Digital Collections Management described the process being undertaken.

“A key part of the project is to convert digital page images, created from the microfilm, into text searchable files through the use of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology.

“The Library will develop the online search and delivery solution in-house, based on already available software known as Lucene. This approach will allow the Library to integrate the newspapers service with its other search and delivery services,” said Ms Pilgrim.

A project officer has been engaged and an initial pilot phase will result in 50,000 pages being digitised by August 2007. The next phase will see an additional 500,000 pages digitised by mid-2008 comprising the following titles:

  • The Sydney Gazette (1803–1842)
  • The Maitland Mercury (1843–1893)
  • The Argus (1846–1899)
  • The Courier Mail (1846–1899)
  • The Hobart Town Gazette, Courier (1816–1859)
  • The Adelaide Advertiser (1858–1889)
  • The West Australian (1833–1879)
  • The Northern Territory Times (1873–1899)

Media contacts: Yvonne Kennedy 02 6262 1353; 0411 753 891; ykennedy@nla.gov.au

Susan Grigson, Communications and Marketing Coordinator 02 6262 1571; 0410 627 684; sgrigson@nla.gov.au