1. Purpose of this policy

This policy provides a public statement of the National Library’s current approach in relation to the digitisation activities carried out by the Library.

2. Why we digitise

The National Library of Australia Act 1960 provides the Library with a mandate to build a national collection of library material, including a comprehensive collection of material relating to Australia and the Australian people in printed, unpublished original material and digital forms. This collection includes books, journals, newspapers, maps, music scores, pictures, manuscripts, oral history recordings and web sites. The Act also requires the Library to make its collections available for use.

The Library’s Strategic Directions for 2012-2014demonstrates a high level of commitment to expanding our digitisation program “so that Australians can engage online with their past, as well as with their present.” 


Digitisation enables people to access the Library’s collection any time and from anywhere without having to visit the Library.  It supports online research and life-long learning based on the collection and also enables people to engage with the collection in innovative ways and to re-purpose material to create new content. 


For materials that are valuable or fragile, digitisation also reduces the need for further physical handling. Audio and video material is digitised for preservation and to guarantee access because, as well as carrier instability associated with older recordings, replay equipment is obsolete and rapidly becoming unavailable.


The Library also undertakes digitisation in partnership with other Australian libraries and institutions. The digitised material is aggregated with related content and made accessible to the nation through Trove, the Library’s national discovery service.


3. What we digitise

The Library has an annual digitisation workplan that covers a wide variety of collection material. Collection managers in consultation with staff from Preservation Services nominate materials for the annual program. In addition, through the Australian Newspaper Digitisation Program, the Library works closely with state and territory libraries to systematically digitise newspapers held in these libraries, in support of the Australian Newspaper Plan.

The main criteria guiding the selection of material for these planned programs are:

  • Cultural and/or historical significance
  • Uniqueness and/or rarity of the material
  • Copyright status or permission to digitise obtained
  • Material in high demand
  • Material at risk because of its physical condition
  • Material at risk because of impending format obsolescence, such as sound and audiovisual recordings

In addition to the material included in the planned digitisation program, library material identified for use in the Library’s exhibitions or publications is generally digitised. The Library also operates a Document Supply Service which provides digital reproductions of Library material in response to external client orders.  For these uses, collection managers are involved to decide whether a collection item will be digitised in its entirety or only the part requested. Full digitisation is preferred where practicable and when copyright and available resources permit.

The Library also works with external parties who wish to fund digitisation of selected materials from the Library’s collection.  For instance, the Australian Newspaper Digitisation Program operates a contributor model whereby the Library undertakes the digitisation of many regional and community newspaper titles on behalf of other libraries and institutions. In all cases the Library will consider carefully the costs and benefits of any external partnership projects prior to committing to them.

4 How we digitise

The Library’s goal is to digitise the best copy available, and digitise once only to a high standard following best practice nationally and internationally. Master images previously digitised to lower quality standards are being re-digitised to current standards as resources permit. Content on original sound and audiovisual recordings on obsolete digital formats is extracted and transcoded to preservation compliant formats; while digital masters of analogue originals made below the preservation standard have been re-digitised. Digitisation guidelines and standards are reviewed annually and published on the Library’s website.

The Library’s collection items identified for digitisation have their physical conditions assessed prior to capture and are treated if necessary. Under the current digitisation workflow system, materials which have not been catalogued are catalogued before digitisation. An exception is the oral history and folklore audio recordings collection, which can be digitised with relevant system assigned metadata and PI structure. In addition the Library also adopts a mass digitisation approach for some text based materials and for video materials, using external service providers. This approach is taken by the Australian Newspaper Digitisation Program to digitise microfilmed newspapers and the approach might be taken for other text based materials in future.

Digitisation of unique and fragile materials is carried out by Library staff in the building.

Most of the metadata associated with the resulting digital objects are recorded in the Library's digital collection management system, which includes technical, descriptive and preservation metadata. The schemas in use are available on request.

The Library endeavours to process digitised text based materials using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to make the full text searchable. Digitised newspapers and some recently digitised journals are processed in this way and the Library is building the technical capabilities to expand this process to all text based materials. Time coded text is created for some of the sound and audiovisual documents, and these are used to enable searching inside the documents.

5. Access to digitised content

Discovery and access is facilitated through the use of open standards which allow the harvesting and indexing of the Library’s metadata by search engines and other services. Trove collates digitised content from the Library as well as a variety of other contributors.

The Library supports and actively encourages online engagement by users with its digitised content. One initiative in place is the text correcting facility for digitised newspapers on Trove which has attracted a high number of users correcting OCR’ed text.

The Library also delivers digitised versions of its collection material through the catalogue, either through a link in the catalogue record and/or through a finding aid or index linked to the catalogue record. Copies of digitised items are available for order via the Library’s Copies Direct service. The Library also regularly contributes selected images to social media such as the Flickr Commons.

All digital collection objects are assigned a unique persistent identifier (PI) which the Library maintains. The use of PIs ensures that every digitised item may be consistently cited.

The Library respects access conditions when delivering digitised materials, both in relation to copyright restrictions and rights agreements with rights holders, including for access to sensitive material.  In the case of collection items with no identifiable or traceable copyright owners, the Library takes a risk management approach when digitising. Any person who believes they are the copyright owner of material made available online by the Library is encouraged to contact us.

When using and reproducing a digitised collection item the Library asks that the user attributes the work, acknowledges the Library as the source, and complies with any copyright or other access restrictions.

The Library is committed to managing all digital master files for long term access. The Library’s digitisation standards satisfy requirements for long-term preservation and digital objects are stored and managed using appropriate system architecture and processes in line with the Library’s Digital Preservation Policy

6. Related policies

Other Library’s policy documents related to this policy are:

7. Policy review

This policy is monitored and reviewed by the Digitisation & Photography Branch and the Library’s Collection Development and Management Committee on an annual basis to ensure it reflects changes in Library policy and strategic planning and takes account of industry developments in digitisation activities.