Anne-Marie Schwirtlich

The Library’s new Corporate Plan 2015–2019 articulates three strategic priorities. These are to build the nation’s memory; to make access happen; and to lead, partner, connect and excel. The year has seen the Library make significant strides in each area despite straitened financial circumstances.

The thirty-first of March 2016 was a notable anniversary, being 50 years since Sir Robert Menzies laid the Library’s foundation stone. The Library marked the anniversary by publishing an essay setting out Sir Robert’s pivotal role in the approval, siting, design and building of a National Library that would endure as a national symbol for the transformational power of knowledge, thinking and the processes of the human mind.

Build the nation’s memory

As individuals, we prize memory; we consider its loss or absence to be a disease. So it is with a nation. This is why the Library aspires to enable Australians to understand their histories and cultural, intellectual and social lives by collecting and preserving Australian publications—in print and digital forms—together with unpublished archival records, oral histories and documentary pictures, so that they can be enjoyed now and in the future.

In 2015–16, the Library’s priorities were:

  • to continue building the Library’s innovative digital library platform to ensure that Australia’s documentary heritage, in all forms, can be acquired, managed for long-term access, and delivered to and used by the public;
  • when enacted, to ensure the successful implementation of legal deposit legislation for digital publications through establishment of appropriate policies, systems and workflows; 
  • to issue and implement a revised Collection Development Policy reflecting the Library’s aims for its collections in the digital environment.

The DLIR program, a pioneering and complex five-year enterprise to redevelop the digital library platform, reached a milestone in June with the successful completion of the fourth, and penultimate, stage. Over the year, all planned tasks were completed, with the most significant being migration of the digital oral history, manuscript, map and sheet music collections; the creation and launch of a system to support the collection of published ebooks and ejournals on 17 February 2016; development and testing of software to automate the flow of published born-digital material into the preservation system; updating of major components of the Newspaper Collection Manager; and decommissioning of legacy systems. With the completion, in December, of the system replacement and data migration projects, all collections moved to using the new Digital Library Content Management System and the new public delivery systems for digital content. Several critical pieces of work automated and streamlined digital collecting activities, enabling innovative approaches to web archiving. The program’s achievements over the year enabled more efficient workflows across collecting areas, enhanced user access and improved the sustainability of digital library operations. For example, the project has supported dramatically improved discovery and unmediated download of high-resolution copies of 40,000 out-of-copyright or public domain maps—a very welcome innovation, believed to be the largest such release anywhere to date.

Last year, the Library reported that, with the passage of the Civil Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 on 25 June 2015, it was empowered to collect electronic materials published in Australia. The Act received royal assent on 17 August 2015 and specified that the electronic legal deposit provisions would come into force in six months. In the intervening period, the Library worked intensively to liaise with publishers, issue guidelines and develop systems and workflows to manage incoming econtent. The new online edeposit service was launched on 17 February, providing a simple and easy-to-use web portal for publishers to deposit online. Since the launch, publishers have deposited 812 ebooks, 35 sheet music publications and 121 ejournal titles.

With the introduction of digital legal deposit in February, the Library commenced a full harvest of the Australian web domain in partnership with the Internet Archive. While the Library has completed such crawls before, this was the first conducted under the aegis of the new legislation. The Library’s domain harvests over the last 20 years represent an already sizeable slice of Australian culture, daily life and intellectual engagement, and will be an invaluable resource for researchers.  

The Library’s selective web-archiving activities (which began in 1996 and have resulted in the world’s longest established web archive) have also expanded. The innovative thinking and maturity behind system improvements to these activities, and the integration of tools and processes, were quickly recognised by the international community.

In June, the Library issued a new and significantly revised Collection Development Policy. It sets out the Library’s collecting intentions and priorities and defines the scope and nature of collecting of both Australian and overseas materials. It articulates the principles from which decisions to acquire materials flow: why, what, when and how to collect. A living document, the policy has been revised regularly since first issued in 1960 to reflect changes in external and internal environments and to ensure the Library’s collections meet the needs and expectations of Australians. Since the Collection Development Policy was last published in complete form in 2008, there have been significant changes in the publishing environment; in the ways in which collection material is created; in accessibility; and in the costs of acquisition. 

At the centre of the policy is a continuum—from comprehensive collections, where relevant materials are acquired to the greatest extent possible, through representative collections, to selective collections, where items of high importance are identified and collected. For the first time, common priorities are applied across the continuum and across collection formats. This supports the creation of collections deemed a priority across formats: for example, complementing a significant personal archive with website material and social media feeds. 

The Library’s collection is enriched each day and this means that it grows each day—physically and digitally. The Library’s physical collection totals 256 shelf kilometres and grows by 2.5 shelf kilometres each year. The Library’s digital collection exceeds 4.8 petabytes and grew by 16 per cent (680 terabytes) in 2015–16. Appendix H highlights a selection of the additions to the national collection. 

The growing collection requires that existing physical storage is used in the most efficient way possible and that careful planning is done to accommodate future growth. Significant analytical work culminated in the issue of a revised Storage Master Plan for onsite physical collections, 2015–2025. Over the year, major improvements were made to the storage of maps. In December 2014, the first of a four-stage project to upgrade maps storage began with the aim of improving use of space, replacing aged and inefficient shelving, and providing for a decade’s growth. The remaining three stages—housing sheet maps, rare maps and aerial photographs—were completed this year. 

Make access happen

A collection that cannot be discovered, used and shared is one that cannot inspire, delight, illuminate and animate. The Library places a strong emphasis on its online and onsite services and programs that seek to make the collection accessible in a variety of ways.

In 2015–16, the Library’s priorities were:

  • to complete the Reading Room Integration Project to transform Library services to onsite users and better meet the needs of twenty-first century Library users; 
  • to collaborate with partners and the public to increase the volume and variety of digital content accessible via Trove;
  • to work with partners to expand and enrich the Library’s world-leading newspaper digitisation program; 
  • to complete the evaluation of engagement with Trove by Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and by students and teachers, and prioritise recommendations to improve digital service to these communities.

The Reading Room Integration Project, which commenced in mid-2012, concluded this year. Following careful planning, construction began in mid-2014, resulting in the integration of reading rooms on Level 1 (creating the Special Collections Reading Room, which opened in January 2015); and, in May 2015, the incorporation of newspapers, microforms and family history resources into the enlarged Main Reading Room on the Ground Floor. This year, the project has created a much larger and more appealing informal study and meeting space on Lower Ground 1; further expanded the Main Reading Room to provide more areas for quiet work; upgraded amenities; and improved the energy efficiency of lighting. The last piece of work on the Main Reading Room has resulted in the entire Ground Floor being devoted to public space. In terms of the presentation and use of the Library, the project has been transformative, cementing the Library’s place as a site of cultural significance that recognises the centrality of its researchers and visitors—as Sir Robert Menzies envisaged. This work has been well received as you will read in Section 3.3. 

In Trove, researchers have a powerful national platform from which to access information about Australian collections. Trove content partners span the research, government, galleries, libraries, archives and museums sectors; this year, 39 new organisations contributed their collections. They included photographs from the Museum of Chinese Australian History, depicting more than 150 years of Chinese people, and people of Chinese heritage in Australia; the collection of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association, which includes objects from nineteenth- and twentieth-century Queensland with a focus on the lives and roles of women; and photographs, documents, artworks and objects from the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, including internationally significant material about the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station and Dame Nellie Melba. 

As in previous years, many existing partners contributed new content to Trove. A significant example was the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. By December, over 2,500 audio collection records documenting languages, songs and oral histories, 400 metadata-rich pictorial collection records and 55,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Biographical Index records were added to Trove, better reflecting Indigenous Australian culture and making possible the building of new audiences in Indigenous communities.

Trove 7 was released in February, the largest upgrade since Trove was launched in 2009. Trove 7 includes an improved and updated newspapers zone, a new zone for government gazettes and behind-the-scenes improvements to the search platform. On the day of the launch and for the following week, Trove experienced short outages and slow response times due to demand and, in part, to issues with new hardware. This unreliability was stabilised within a fortnight and, although some usability issues and bugs persisted, most were resolved by the end of April. All outstanding performance issues were resolved with hardware upgrades in May and improvements to functionality were progressively rolled out between March and June. Trove has received positive feedback regarding these improvements and use remains consistently higher than it was prior to the Trove 7 launch.

Trove is the Commonwealth’s fourth most heavily used website, behind the Bureau of Meteorology, Centrelink and the Department of Human Services. It is clear that Australians relish the opportunity to engage with their heritage online, and that Trove enriches their lives, research and businesses in many ways. Providing the service requires a level of investment that is modest in terms of other public online infrastructure, but very significant in the context of the Library’s budget. The Library has been the sole funder of Trove’s infrastructure since it began in 2009 and, as Trove’s content and user bases grow, sustaining the service and keeping it vibrant and responsive to community expectations pose increasing challenges.

An impressive 3.5 million pages of historical newspapers and 726,000 pages of the New South Wales Government Gazette were digitised and made accessible through Trove. In February, the newspaper digitisation program achieved an international record by making the 20 millionth newspaper page freely available online. The innovative development of Trove’s infrastructure has enabled the release of additional, and much sought-after, digital content in the form of government gazettes, which are a prized resource for researchers. Once again, the success of this national digitisation project is a shared one; contributors such as libraries have funded 40 per cent of Trove’s total digitised newspaper content. This year’s achievement in making available newspaper and gazette content was made possible with the generous support of the State Library of New South Wales, through its Digital Excellence Program (29.4 per cent of 2015–16 content) and other external contributors (6.8 per cent of 2015–16 content).

Strong community contribution and engagement with Trove continued, in the form of newspaper text correction, the creation of Trove lists to manage and share research, and participation in the Trove forum. At year end, a total of 199 million lines of text—at an estimated value of $34 million—have been corrected on Trove since its inception. Thirty-four million lines were corrected this year (3.4 per cent more than in 2014–15). Trove expects to reach the milestone of the 200 millionth line of corrected text in July.

An independent evaluation of engagement with Trove by students and teachers, and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, found Trove is viewed as highly trustworthy with very relevant content and services. The main inhibitors to use are low awareness of its content and services and some usability issues. The evaluation made recommendations for the Trove website and for marketing Trove. In response, the Library has identified a range of actions and implemented short-term priority actions, such as establishing a Facebook page for Trove. 

Over the year, there was no shortage of reasons to visit the Library given the strength of the exhibition and events programs. The year began and ended with exhibitions of significant colonial art, with a major international exhibition, Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644–1911, presented in between, from January to May. 

Heroes & Villains: Strutt’s Australia was launched by Jack Thompson AM in August. Curated by the Library, the exhibition presented the work of William Strutt, the first exponent of history painting to work in Australia, and reflected on his influence. The exhibition is one of two collaborations with State Library Victoria, which is hosting the show from mid-July. In June, John Doyle AM launched Australian Sketchbook: Colonial Life and the Art of S.T. Gill, also drawn from the collections of the two libraries and curated by State Library Victoria.

As the Chair has reported, Celestial Empire was the result of landmark collaboration with the National Library of China and other lenders; the Australian and ACT governments; the exhibition’s Principal Partner, Shell in Australia; its Principal Media Partner, Seven Network; its Major Partners, Wanda Group, Visit Canberra and Optus; its Associate Partners, Huawei, Asia Society Australia and the Australian National University’s Australian Centre on China in the World; its Airline Partner, Cathay Pacific; and its Hotel Partner, TFE Hotels. The exhibition and associated public programs made an important curatorial contribution to Australian cultural life and were successful not just in drawing visitors to the Library but because of the glowing tributes received. Visitor evaluation revealed that 91 per cent of visitors rated the exhibition as above average or excellent; 13 per cent of our visitors came from non-English-speaking backgrounds (mostly Chinese); and the exhibition is estimated to have contributed $26 million to the ACT economy.

Following a comprehensive renovation in August, the Treasures Gallery presented a stunning selection of items from the Library’s collection. The Collections-in-Focus space in the Treasures Gallery was home, until mid-August, to the Rothschild Prayer Book, on loan from The Kerry Stokes Collection, together with a score of the Library’s medieval and renaissance items. The space then featured Portraits of the Famous and Infamous drawn from the Rex Nan Kivell Collection, followed by a selection of Hardy Wilson drawings of Peking, which were succeeded by And the Band Played on featuring the music and entertainment of the First World War. 

Highlights of the events program included the 2015 Kenneth Myer Lecture, delivered (in Canberra and Melbourne) by Professor Mick Dodson AM; the Seymour Biography Lecture delivered (in Canberra and Perth) by Robert Drewe; and the Eric Rolls Memorial Lecture by Professor Nicholas Jose. The second half of the year saw a major focus on programs complementing and heightening enjoyment of Celestial Empire. These included extremely popular Family Days, lectures, films, special dinners and Experience China weekends.    

In October, the Library’s new online education platform, the Digital Classroom, went live. This free, cross-disciplinary resource, featuring video, downloadable images and comprehensive lesson plans for teachers and students, was funded by donations to the 2014 Tax Time Appeal. Among the highlights added over the year were modules on Celestial Empire and on sustainability and resource management practices in the Torres Strait. The Library was delighted to receive a grant from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to support the development of the resource, Dirk Hartog 1616–2016: 400 Years of Dutch–Australian Connection, to mark the quadricentenary of Hartog’s landing on the western coast of Australia. 

NLA Publishing, which produces just under 20 titles each year, has become a well-respected small publisher in Australia. All of the Library’s titles make aspects of the collection accessible and its children’s titles are particularly prized. Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Three titles were selected on the notables list for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards, and one title is currently on the shortlist, with the winners to be announced in August. A notable success has been interest from the National Library of China in publishing six children’s books from the NLA Publishing imprint. Following approaches from other foreign rights agencies interested in the Chinese-language rights to its children’s picture books, the Library signed a contract with a Chinese rights agency to obtain foreign-language sales of a selection of its books through Chinese publishers.

October saw the first anniversary of the introduction of pay parking in the Parliamentary Zone. The Library has recorded fewer visits to the building since the introduction of pay parking with a decline in visitation to the Main Reading Room and Bookplate cafe. Analysis of onsite use of the collections since the introduction of pay parking shows that, while use of rare and unique special collections has remained steady, there has been a significant decline in use of the general collections in the Main Reading Room.

Lead, partner, connect and excel

The Library aspires to be a leader in the collecting and research sector; to connect with Australians and a growing range of partners; and to build the capability, imagination and passion of its staff—all with a view to providing and demonstrating its value across the range of its work.

In 2015–16, the Library’s priorities were:

  • to develop national infrastructure by exploring and transforming provisioning and business models for Libraries Australia in a cloud-dominated library systems environment;
  • to participate in international collaborations that focus on standards and practices that make it easy for people everywhere to find, use and build on its collections;
  • to sustain, with the assistance of the Library’s Council and the Foundation Board, the Library’s giving community and develop new approaches to attract personal, philanthropic and commercial giving;
  • to build on sound governance arrangements and effective resource management so that the Australian Government, partners and the community are assured that their investment is well managed; 
  • to continue reducing the NLA’s energy and waste footprint, carefully assessing the return on investment for each improvement project.

Libraries Australia is a membership-based collaboration that supports the collection management needs of more than 1,200 member libraries. With the majority of Australia’s largest research libraries moving to new cloud-based systems, significant work was required to update their holdings to ensure accuracy and findability in the national discovery service. Support for members’ interlibrary lending and document delivery work was transitioned from a locally installed system to a hosted environment in October. In the coming year, the Library will consider outsourcing Help Desk functions associated with this service.

Close collaboration with the National Library of China on Celestial Empire resulted in the Library welcoming many senior and specialist colleagues, including Executive Deputy Director Dr Li Chen and Deputy Director Mr Jun Wang, as well as preservation, rare book and publishing specialists.

Kevin Bradley, Senior Curator, Special Collections, was honoured at the 2015 General Assembly of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives for his significant services to advancing preservation of audio and video heritage, particularly through the development and codification of guidelines and standards. Amelia McKenzie, Assistant Director-General, Collections Management, serves on the international board that sets the strategic directions for the development of Resource Description and Access (RDA) standards, which enable the discovery of content. Monika Szunejko, Director, Libraries Australia, serves on library system vendor OCLC’s Global Metadata Advisory Group, which focuses on approaches to managing metadata and making it shareable to enable discovery and research.

The Library’s development work was focused on supporting and stewarding relationships with sponsors of Celestial Empire. The generous and willing support of partners and sponsors made Celestial Empire a reality. Without such assistance it would not be possible to present such a curatorially ambitious and sophisticated exhibition complemented by a large and varied events program. 

Each year, the Library makes two appeals for financial support to its community of donors and supporters. The 2015 Tax Time Appeal sought funding for work on the Library’s significant collection of early banknotes and currency. The appeal was most successful and has enabled the Library to enhance the description of more than 400 paper currency items located in 27 manuscript collections, and to preserve and digitise them. The 2015 End of Year Appeal sought funding to support preservation of, and enhanced access to, the Library’s collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Chinese pith paper paintings, believed to be the second largest collection in the world, a selection of which were on display in Celestial Empire. The appeal ran until the end of May, to align with the exhibition’s season. The generosity of donors will enable this work to be done next financial year.

The Library benefits from the dedicated support of 70 onsite volunteers who provide guided tours daily, visitor information services on weekends and contribute to collection management activities that would not otherwise be possible. This year, there were 996 free guided tours. Volunteers also contributed to a range of projects, from collating provenance details for the Rex Nan Kivell Collection to indexing ephemera relating to Australia’s theatre history and assisting with the transcription of the travel diary of Australia’s second prime minister, Alfred Deakin. By the end of the year, onsite volunteers had contributed 9,460 hours to the Library, at an estimated value of $443,000. Digital volunteers—correcting Trove newspaper and gazette text—contributed an additional 142,000 hours, at an estimated value of $5.8 million. 

One of the Library’s longest and most productive collaborations is with the Friends of the National Library of Australia Inc. The Friends—2,000 members strong—supports the Library in many ways. Last year, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Friends funded the purchase of two dramatic pieces of Indigenous art and, with the conclusion of building works, they were installed for the enjoyment of all in the Main Reading Room this year. Highlights of the Friends’ events program included the launch in July of NLA Publishing’s My Salute to Five Bells by John Olsen AO, OBE; Celebrating 150 Years of W.B. Yeats in August; the inaugural Harold White Lecture delivered in November by Hannie Rayson; and special viewings of Celestial Empire and of the Library’s collection of theatrical ephemera.

As a member of National and State Libraries Australasia, the Library works closely with state and territory libraries and the National Library of New Zealand. The Library has led and contributed to a range of working groups focusing on developing digital skills; the preservation of digital collections; Indigenous library services and collections; and the management and accessibility of heritage collections of manuscripts, maps and pictures. It has also been closely involved in exploring whether a national approach to digital legal deposit (rather than in separate jurisdictions) would be more efficient for publishers and provide improved access for Australians. 

As it enters its twenty-third year, the Community Heritage Grants program continues to be an important source of support for community groups with nationally significant collections. The program is managed by the Library on behalf of funding partners, the Department of Communications and the Arts; the National Archives of Australia; the National Film and Sound Archive; and the National Museum of Australia. Grants of up to $15,000 are awarded to libraries, archives, museums, genealogical and historical societies, and multicultural and Indigenous groups. In 2015, 153 applications were received for Community Heritage Grants. Of these, 75 organisations received grants averaging $5,850. Awardees received their grants from Sally Basser, Executive Director, Ministry for the Arts, at a ceremony on 27 October. The 2016 grant round closed on 9 May and received 166 applications.

In November, the Library initiated the Digital Business Project to examine the Library’s existing and proposed national digital businesses to test their viability and sustainability, and to explore the business and governance models that would best support them. With assistance from Deloitte, the Library conducted detailed analysis and research and stakeholder engagement. The project confirmed that the Library’s digital services are well managed and deliver very high value on a lean resource base. The project also confirmed that there is a high level of alignment in the Library’s and major stakeholders’ strategic aims: all parties want Trove and the Library’s associated digital services to succeed, and all parties want certainty about the levels of investment that will be required on an annual basis. The Library will pursue a ‘bundled service’ membership-based model.

The Library’s Enterprise Agreement notionally expired on 30 June 2014 and bargaining meetings were a feature of the year. The ballot on a new enterprise agreement was conducted late in March and was defeated. 

The twin objectives of reducing energy usage and waste generation were tackled with zest with the Library’s successes documented in Section 3.4.

As the Chair has outlined, the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook Statement required savings of the Library of $1.5 million in 2015–16 and in out years. These are in addition to the efficiency dividend and savings arising from the 2014 Budget measure, ‘Smaller Government—collection agencies—consolidation of back office functions’. In order to operate within its budget, the Library must reshape the way it does some of its work and must cease some activities. To this end, the Library has reviewed the way it will catalogue and process collections; its exhibitions work; administrative and corporate support; and the way it manages marketing and communications. The Library has severely curtailed its internal digitisation program and will focus on externally funded digitisation; it has reduced support for Korean-language collecting and management of Asian collections; it is cancelling additional subscriptions to periodicals; it will not be in a position to make discoverable Australian collections that are not already in Trove; and the June issue of the National Library of Australia Magazine was the last print issue. As part of the 2016–17 Commonwealth Budget, further savings need to be identified within the Library from the 2017–18 financial year and these are expected to have a similar financial impact by 2019–20 as the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook savings mentioned above. In 2016–17, the Library will need to identify and plan for the measures to realise these savings.

Also in the year ahead, the Library will complete the fifth and last stage of the DLIR program; consolidate implementation of legal deposit for electronic material by further work on policies, systems and workflows; implement the new Collection Development Policy reflecting the Library’s aims for its collections in the digital environment; augment its digital resources supporting the Australian Curriculum; progress transformation of public spaces by 2018, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Library building; with state and territory libraries, continue to investigate the feasibility of a national approach to digital legal deposit and the archiving of government websites; develop stronger capability to identify and model business and revenue generation opportunities; continue to review and reshape its work—for example, by considering how best to manage reading room service points and prioritise the allocation of its information technology resources; and build workforce capability in the priority areas of advanced digital expertise, leadership, communication and business acumen. 

It is with gratitude that I note the counsel received from colleagues in the Department of Communications and the Arts, which was, as always, immensely useful.

This report provides me with a welcome opportunity to thank the Library Council, volunteers, Friends, members of the Foundation Board, donors and partners. The generosity with which they contribute their time, energy, goodwill and expertise to the Library is inspiring. 

Library staff are acutely conscious of the extraordinary legacy of which they are stewards and of the multitude of ways the Library’s collections and services can, and do, educate, delight and inspire Australians. It has been a sobering year for the Library as it must manage within increasingly pressed financial circumstances. It is testament to the resilience and resolve of Library staff that they focus on ensuring that long-term goals are pursued with enterprise, energy and dedication. 

Anne Marie Schwirtlich Signature

Anne-Marie Schwirtlich AM