Why we collect what we collect:

Why we collect what we collect:
both a national and personal issue
20 November 2017

A collection of Australian marriage law postal survey ephemera.

While the National Library of Australia is very good at collecting things (we have been collecting for quite a while now) we often need public support to help collect material on the ground, especially during federal elections, major public events, or times of social change.

Lately the Library has been asking for public assistance to gather printed campaign material from the same-sex marriage survey (flyers, badges, posters, banners, etc) for our ephemera collection. You might have seen our requests on social media, or heard us talking about it on the radio. Perhaps you have even posted something in to us. We have been digitally archiving websites related to the debate and carefully gathering physical campaign material without bias, to document both sides of the debate and the full spectrum and diversity of the public messages disseminated.

We often put out public calls for collecting assistance to gather important current material, and while this latest project has been one of the most challenging events to collect, it has also been our most successful.

This time it was different, as this time it was personal: despite changing the official definition of marriage being a significant national issue, it was also a very intimate matter. During this unprecedented postal survey Australians were asked their opinion on something affecting their family, friends, work colleagues, congregations and broader communities. For some of us, it’s even more fundamental.

And although the shared collecting effort hasn’t resulted in as large a collection as we were expecting, this personal aspect and the growth of social media has resulted in this being one of our most successful collecting projects in terms of public support and engagement. For example, one of our Twitter posts requesting original copies of campaign material reached over half a million people.

Our role, as defined by the National Library of Australia Act 1960, is to ensure that documentary resources of national significance relating to Australia and the Australian people are preserved and made accessible.

Most ephemeral-yet-significant printed material disappears rapidly after an event or campaign, and we need to collect quickly and proactively. We concentrate on employing many strategies to gather a representative sample of informative material, collecting both digital and physical campaign materials to capture all points of view, and record all active groups and local perspectives.

The success of our public messaging and requests for the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey material clearly demonstrates that this is an important body of Library collection material, which will be increasingly valuable in the years to come. The campaign material produced during the marriage survey records an important moment in our shared social history, a moment we feel a duty to preserve and make publicly accessible for the future. It will allow us to look back on this period of social change, to better understand how it unfolded, and learn from it.

It has also demonstrated how vital the work of the Library and our other national collecting institutions is, as they collect and carefully preserve such material, to ensure a documentary record of our national history exists which provides rich and unique insights into the events, people, places and social phenomena that shape us.

And although the survey results are finalised, it is not too late to donate original copies of campaign material to us:

Original printed items can be brought in person to the reception desk at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

Donations can also be made by post to:

Ephemera Officer, Printed Australiana
National Library of Australia
Canberra ACT 2600

Have you got a large item to donate, or not sure how to get your item to us?

Call us on 02 6262 1180.

Comment: 
Hello, I ran a project in Castlemaine called Letters of Love. We asked people to write a love letter to a lgbt friend/family member saying why they were special to them and why they were voting yes. These were then sent to a central address then displayed in shop windows. I would like to donate all the letters I received to your collection. There are about 8 A2 sheets of cardboard with the letters mounted on them. Would you like them?
Comment: 
What a wonderful project - we would love to have the letters for our collection. A member of our Manuscripts Branch will be in touch with you shortly. Thank you so much for the generous offer.