Monika Szunejko
Publication date: 
Wednesday, 17 September, 2014


Good afternoon. 

 As I begin my presentation, I lead in with a disclaimer:


slide with image of a pipe

This is NOT a presentation about cloud computing. 

slide image of collaboration

This is a story about an astonishing collaborative project that has lasted over three decades.

This is a story about a globally unique collaboration

This is the story of a national asset that has cumulated over the years through the efforts of libraries and librarians. That is, through your efforts.

This is a celebration of vision, - about how a group of Australian libraries had a vision to build a national infrastructure that would benefit many.  And how that vision built a foundation of services upon which we are now reaping the benefits.

The is a story about the cloud we already have.

The conference days are organised around content, collaboration, and capability.  Our Australian cloud builds on each of those themes.

Today’s conference theme of Collaboration, and in today’s session on Special Libraries is the perfect forum in which to talk about collaboration and the value that a common infrastructure brings to our clients, our staff, and our services.

In thinking about the collections managed by special libraries I would like to recognise the unique character that special libraries  bring to our cloud – and consider how you can continue to benefit from it as the service evolves.

At the end of my talk today, my aim is to re-frame the ANBD for you to consider how your library fits into the national information ecosystem, and how you can maximise its power.and ways to use it beyond the everyday and make it work harder for you.

 Through out this talk I hope you will have some insights into practical ways you can employ your Australian cloud in the service of your advocacy story,

slide newspaper page

On 2 November 1981, six libraries from three states across Australia took the first steps towards building the Australian Bibliographic Network (ABN). 

  1. The National Library of Australia,
  2. Canberra Public Library Services,
  3. University of Adelaide,
  4. University of New South Wales,
  5. State Library of South Australia
  6. and the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department – NOTE – a special library

These libraries took the bold move to collaborate by sharing their bibliographic content and began contributing catalogue records to the ABN.

 informational slide

"By early 1975 the National Library was anxious to emulate or exceed the success of the OCLC network in the United States by establishing an online system . . . that would not be challenged as Australia's only shared cataloguing network" 

The primary driver for initiating the ABN was the need to develop an Australian shared cataloguing network. 

Underpinning the services of the national bibliographic network and at its heart was the Australian National Bibliographic Database (ANBD), a unique combination of records drawn from a range of trusted/authoritative sources, and containing the National Union Cataloguing of Australia.  Records came in from multiple sources, and the national infrastructure was based on cooperative participation.  A collaborative practice that has endured over time.

The vision for the NBD was to create the richest aggregation of high quality bibliographic, holdings, and authority records that would support and streamline the operations of Australian libraries. 

And as I continue, I would like to emphasize this core of data – the ANBD – that I have come to think of as the mitochondrial DNA of Libraries Australia and Trove.  And it is this core of data that creates a platform of value to library services.

The ANBD contained the foundation data that enabled us to declare our collection holdings in a common infrastructure.

ABN Forward Plan 1983 slide

"ABN has the potential to be far more than this and it could ultimately provide the framework with which a large range of co-operative and resource sharing activities can flourish" But Wait...THERE'S MORE! - ABN Forward Plan 1983.


While ABN was set up as a cost-effective and efficient shared cataloguing operation..  it was clear that ABN has the potential to be far more than this and it could ultimately provide the framework with which a large range of co-operative and resource-sharing activities could flourish”. 

In hindsight, this comment foretold the evolving suite of description, collection management, and analytical services available to libraries via Libraries Australia and the range of discovery and engagement services available via Trove.

 Slide-We came to catalgue...we stayed to do more

By the late 1990s it was no longer just about shared cataloguing.  The redevelopment of ABN into Kinetica and then Libraries Australia was driven by the participants who were seeking more flexibility in data contribution options and further efficiencies in workflows, addition of resource sharing functions, developments in technological capabilities, search functionality, and the development of networked services. 

In the development of the Libraries Australia free search service we saw a move to further extend the power and reach of the national infrastructure into the discovery arena.  This move sowed the seed for Trove which continues to gather new audiences and new services around itself – but still contains within it the ANBD.

When we talk with colleagues around the globe – they are envious of our achievements, On a national scale, there is nothing else like Libraries Australia in the world where libraries from all sectors across an entire nation contribute their content and create a national resource of this kind.

By contributing to the body of data that we call the ANBD Australian libraries have built a national resource sharing infrastructure unparalleled in the world.  The smallest of libraries can participate in the description, resource sharing, and discovery infrastructure built within the service in the same way as the largest of Australian libraries can.  The service offers equal opportunities for all members, and when the data is gathered, creates a national infrastructure and service larger than the sum of its parts – especially as it moves and flows into other discovery platforms.

  Libraries Australia info-graphic slide

Records in the ANBD are transmitted to WorldCat every day.  Every minute of every day, records contained within the ANBD are transmitted Trove.  In this way Australian libraries collaborate and participate in creating a national asset that extends beyond their local library catalogue to the World Wide Web. 

The ANBD is the core of data (or mitochondrial DNA if you will)  that is broadcast to the world as Australia’s global data footprint.  It makes its mark through synchronisation to WorldCat and  Trove and subsequent discovery in both via Google. 

Over 33 years, Australian libraries have built a national database.  In that time, the size and use of the data has evolved into a broad network of services that not only supports the daily operations of over 1,200 Australian libraries, but also reflects the ongoing professional practices, standards, and pragmatic decisions made by the thousands of dedicated library and information employees who have been responsible for keying, loading, and inscribing the database. 

On a number of levels we can see that our national infrastructure tells a story of how we collectively built information capital.

How do we value this as a national asset?

And what does it continue to say about our libraries?  And our collections?  And how can it continue to evolve and work for us?

The database inscribes and expresses the character of our national collection: declaring what libraries hold, their collecting practices and policies, descriptive practices and human devised notes, individual shelf-marks of unique items, large-scale movements of materials, library openings, mergers, and now, sadly, library closures.  Data goes in, data goes out.  The database is an ever expanding and changing body of data that describes the distributed national collection (DNC) of Australia. 

  slide picturing sources of information into Libraries Australia

In mapping the movement and use/re-use of data from its origins in local libraries in each state and territory through to the National Bibliographic Database, to Trove and beyond, we can see how hard our national database works on our behalf. 

We know how hard each record in the database works.  A search of the ANBD is embedded as the starting point of most library transactions in Australia – from cataloguing, collection development, acquisitions, new title services, document delivery, and broader research activities.  The most basic activity of connecting to this data has enabled libraries to move beyond the limitations of their local resources and take advantage of a national resource sharing utility.

National collaborative assets such as the ANBD not only ARE information capital, they ‘pay it forward’ and create information capital. 

Australian authority data from the ANBD makes its way into international frameworks and services such as VIAF, ISNI, and then Wikipedia.  The Australian authority links in Wikipedia come from the authority work of the Libraries Australia member community.

Active contribution to the Australian National Bibliography enables libraries to demonstrate their value in a competitive information environment, measure their impact, and expose their collections to a global audience through the analytical use of their data in the national database. 

Through the services built around the ANBD (such as Libraries Australia and Trove) Australian libraries have been able to participate in collaborative ventures, build context and interactions around their collections, and use their collections to connect with other global discovery and delivery services.  The ANBD and its associated services provided via ABN, Kinetica, and now Libraries Australia have freed individual Australian libraries from the burden of having to find individual ways to collaborate, contribute and share data with the hundreds of other Australian libraries.  It has provided a common database and infrastructure through which to connect, contribute, download, and participate in national collaborations.   And over time has continued to grow and respond to the evolving information environment.

slide about the impact of the cloud

At this point, in contemplating the evolving information environment, following a conversation over drinks yesterday evening, I am taking a short detour in my talk to give an example of the way that the national resource sharing services continue to work on your behalf to build an Australian body of data.  Libraries Australia has been working directly with system vendors to improve the way libraries can contribute to the ANBD.  The impact of cloud-based library system is foremost in our actions at the National Library.  We have enabled a new contribution pathway for OCLC WMS libraries to contribute to the ANBD, and are in the process of working with Ex Libris to ensure the vendor develops this functionality for Alma libraries. We see it as our role to advocate for our members and the Australian library community to ensure Australian libraries can participate in their resource sharing heritage.

 info-graphic slide

An often overlooked yet obvious value for Australian libraries, irrespective of size or status lies in the fact that their collections are in fact described and collected into a single national bibliographic database, and it is big.  The ANBD is big data: 25 million bibliographic records and over 50 million holdings records.

The ANBD is the biggest library database in the southern hemisphere.

In the course of each day, the ANBD receives approximately 50,000 search hits from libraries and approximately 700 document delivery requests.  The database transports vast amounts of bibliographic traffic in and out of the database, and within its boundaries. 

That is big data that can help tell your library’s story.

Leveraging this ‘big data’ that is the ANBD, Libraries Australia has built a range of services around aggregated data that enable libraries to

  • manage and interpret their collections,
  • promote their services,
  • advocate their position,
  • articulate their uniqueness,
  • differences and similarities with other libraries,
  • and collaborate on projects to better understand and manage our national information context.

The body of Australian library data has been used to support national projects such as the National and State Libraries of Australasia (NSLA) project on Collaborative Collections, Connecting and Discovering Content, Description and Cataloguing, and Open Borders.  There is no reason that this big body of data could not serve special libraries in a similar way.

So we have millions of records – what is the story you would like to tell about how your library collection and services fit into the national information ecosystem?

slide depicting library considerations

Is your library considering:

  • Downsizing the collection (due to physical re-organisation or storage constraints)
  • Managing down print collections as you acquire more e-content
  • Performing a collections audit and valuation
  • Merging collections with another branch or library service
  • Repatriating parts of your collection – e.g., newspapers, oral histories…
  • Revising your collection development policy and practices using an evidence-based approach?
  • Enhancing your catalogue records with OCLC numbers
  • Establishing a disaster management and recovery plan/

Or are you looking to

  • find new ways to tell your library’s story and promote the value of your library service
  • Benchmarking your collection against other similar libraries
  • Conducting a collection analysis exercise to identify the age, strengths, weaknesses, coverage and currency of your collection
  • Identifying unique items held in your collection
  • Analysing you collection to find if your library holds any ‘last copies’ in Australia

Our national infrastructure that you build collaboratively can do all of these things.  It is not just about copy cataloguing anymore.

Embedded in operational and daily work the significance and value of the ANBD to your services may go unnoticed. 

 info-graphic slide

Because of the ANBD, Australian libraries can connect to the service remotely, contribute, manipulate and store their data in the ANBD.  Broadcasting the ANBD to Trove and WorldCat (and by extension search engines such as Google) allows you to expose your collections to the world –

Participating in the national database enables libraries to build content, collaboration, enrich their capabilities, and extend the reach of Australian libraries.  Contributing local data to the ANBD enables Australian libraries to maximise their global data footprint and place their collections alongside global collections and holdings.

One maxim of ‘the cloud’ is that it releases organisations to focus on their local business and expedite local actions rather than on the development of infrastructure at every local instance. This is of course true of the development of the national services that started with ABN.  Connectivity from the local database to the national database and re-use of data has been a hallmark of building our Australian cloud.

I started this talk by saying this wasn’t a presentation on cloud computing, and yet it is a story about the cloud we already have.

Well, I am going to say a few words about cloud.

Considering ubiquitous cloud-based services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Flickr, Dropbox, and GoogleDocs we can see the characteristics of big collaboration, scalable infrastructure and context-building are features of cloud-based technologies. 

At the core of the notion of cloud computing, is the concept of shared services and infrastructure.  Users are distributed, and access to systems is location and device independent, via a web browser. 

Cloud systems are typically multitenant, meaning software and resources are contributed and shared by a large pool of users.  Embedded within ‘the cloud’ is the notion of accessible resources and infrastructure that can be connected to anywhere in the world via the internet. 

image of a duck

… As I read the meanings and definitions of cloud, it seemed clear to me that if I applied the ‘duck test’ we already had one…,

 The ANBD displays all of these features ergo it is our Australian cloud.

info-graphic slide

To tie up this infomercial on the ANBD…

My purpose in applying the cloud paradigm and metaphor to describe the body of data and national services underpinned by the ANBD, was to highlight the position of the database in the Australian information ecosystem and reframe its value to Australian libraries.

info-graphic slide

If ABN and the ANBD had not been conceived of years ago, would Australian libraries have the opportunities to leverage large-scale description, collection management, and discovery services such as Libraries Australia and Trove?

The ‘cloudiness’ of our Australian cloud refers to the common infrastructure and shared services accessible remotely by libraries across Australia; it refers to the ANBD - the large body of data contributed by hundreds of Australian libraries since 1981; it refers to the scale of the aggregated data gathered over 33 years; and it refers to the emerging services made possible because of the scale of the service.

information slide past and present logos

The ANBD lies at the heart of our national resource sharing and discovery services – Libraries Australia and Trove.  I believe that if our metadata could speak we would hear it shout the desire of Australian libraries to collaborate.