Dr Marie-Louise Ayres
Publication date

  slide image of the National Library of Australia

Yesterday Karen Visser - who before she was a data librarian, was the excellent Miss Visser at my girls' high school - said proudly of Australian research data management that 'we are there already' when compared to research data management around the world.

Today I want to ask of Trove - 5 years old this November - Are we there yet?

 Slide Are we there yet?

Who is we?

And where is there?

In this audience - of Australian librarians - we is 'you', we is 'us'.

It is you that for decades have shared a river of bibliographic metadata to Libraries Australia and its predecessors, a river that flows effortlessly through to Trove so that our national collection can be discovered by all - including those who don't yet know that they need something in one of our libraries.

It is NSLA libraries, cooperating for more than 20 years on the Australian Newspapers Plan, seizing the opportunity to unlock the value in carefully held, preserved and microfilmed newspapers, unleashing them on a hungry Australian public.  NSLA libraries have funded half of the 13 million + pages of newspaper content currently available through Trove - a massive investment in a funding environment not known for its rivers of gold.

It is your libraries, digitising your unique treasures - pictures, maps, archives, sound recordings, rare books, 19th century serials - and making sure that they can be discovered in Trove.  It is your local studies collections, your historical societies - you in touch with your local communities - that have lobbied and fundraised to get local newspaper titles digitised and available through Trove.

It is librarians at Australian universities who have made sure that Australia's research data sets and research outputs are contributed to Trove, so that the general public can easily find publicly funded research on just about any topic.

And of course 'we' is also our community of Trove users.

Today I want to tell you something about what we learned about our audience last year, when we conducted the first full and independent evaluation of Trove customer satisfaction, what that has told us about where we are now, and the questions it raises for our next 5 years.

Slide of Australia map

We were delighted to learn that use of Trove is absolutely in proportion to Australian population distribution - giving us, probably for the first time - truly national reach. This is hugely important to the National Library of Australia - home of Trove. We may be a stone's throw from the heart of Government, but we are not sandwiched between Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations, and we are a long, long way from most Australians.   

Whether they live in sleek, chic and black-wearing Melbourne,

Picture, Eureka Tower Southbank Melbourne by Damian McDonald

Damian McDonald, Eureka Tower, Southbank, Melbourne

or in the suburbs,

Picture, London Road Clayfield by Greg Power 2005

Greg Power, 2005, London Road, Clayfield

or in regional cities,

Pciture, Cleveland Street Townsville by Louis Seselja 2005

Louis Seselja, 2005, Cleveland Street Townsville

or in country towns,

Picture Macquarie Street Dubbo by Louis Seselja 2005

Louis Seselja, 2005, Macquarie Street Dubbo

or in very remote communities

Picture Aerial view of Coonable by Louis Seselja 2005

Louis Seselja, 2005, Aerial view of Coonamble[?]

- Australians are using Trove to connect themselves with culture and knowledge.

 Picture Ariel view of Longreach by Louis Seselja 2005

Louis Seselja, 2005, Aerial view of Longreach


Slide 98% happy face

Wherever they are, our users are very happy with the service. With 42% rating the service Excellent, 42% Very Good, 14% Good, 2% Fair and 0% Poor, we are hitting the mark.

For those with a commercial bent, Trove also achieved an 81% net promoter rate, something I'm told major banks would kill for.

trovictionary description

But of course, the heart of the Trove story is not that its users are satisfied.  It is that it is part of their lives, something that is changing their lives and their lexicon. I still remember the thrill - a couple of years ago - when we first heard people using Trove as a verb, and I love the sense of play around our service name.

Our users are generous enough to share some of their stories with us. These are often intensely personal stories, connecting deeply with memory and identity. I'd like to let these folk speak for themselves:

Dreamt I got into a physical fight over free access to digitised old newspapers.


Trove, the love of my life, where were you yesterday? I arrived at your house and found a small note on the door saying 'temporary technical problem. Please Trove, do not go out, wait for me faithfully, be my best friend forever.


Some days I think I love you more than life itself.


[I will interject here and say that we have received a marriage proposal and a promise to name a firstborn after Trove].


Dear Trove, yes I know you are a big computer at NLA but just wanted to say … thanks, thanks, thanks, …love it, love it, love it. 


More seriously, and at some length:

Through perseverance, patience and possibly some encouragement from forces unseen, I chanced across an article about the four boys, and (seemingly) hidden away on a different page of the same edition of the Queenslander Newspaper of 23 June 1917, some months after finding the original article, there looking up at me from my ipad was my grand-father, but not only him, there too were his three brothers staring up at me from the same Trove digital page.  This moment will stay with me forever, and to the team that made Trove a reality, I will be forever indebted to you, it is a wonderful gift you have given our country.  I only wish my mother and more especially my father had still been alive to lay eyes on these ghosts from almost a century ago.  


As a devoted Trove member, I have now corrected 158,000+ lines of text in Trove and sit at #128 in the Hall of fame ranking.  But nothing I have seen or read so far, comes close to the blood thumping thrill I got when I met my grandfather and his three brothers right here at Trove.   


Blood thumping thrill – I am pretty happy with that!


And with this similarly visceral response:


To say that the advent of Trove was like a parched man in the desert suddenly coming across a lush oasis is a gross understatement.


And I will admit that when the team sent this one through to me on the morning of 24 June, in the wake of the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants commission and program, I just teared up.  


My dad was raised in a children's home in Victoria, just said he wished he could get in touch with the newspaper that came out and took his photo, when he was 10 years old. Jumped on Trove, typed in the name of the home, the newspaper and year! Bingo, within a few seconds, my dad now has the only photo taken of him during his childhood.


But Trove's impact is about much more than deeply held emotions and play - although I think we underestimate the importance of both at our peril.  It's also about community, altruism and work. 

slide with statistics

137,485,663 lines   354 work years  $23.1 million


Most of you will know that Trove's newspaper text correction has been a runaway success, but even so, these statistics never cease to astound me. Many of those participating in the 2013 evaluation were passionate about their ability to 'give back' by correcting text, and this was especially so for retired people some of whom described correcting as their work. They have formed teams and taskforces to resurrect their community identity by ensuring that local newspapers are fully corrected. They also told us they love the simplicity of the task, that they find it relaxing. And - as any struck down with Troveitis will know - addictive.

Just when we thought we'd heard it all about text correction - our evaluation told us about occupational therapists using Trove as a rehabilitation aid for people who have suffered strokes, rewiring connections between words, fingers, memory and meaning.  I'm sure many in the audience have - like me - used photos and newspaper articles sourced from Trove to connect with beloved older relatives whose memories and identities are slipping from them.

All of Trove's user engagement features are heavily used. More than 2 million tags have been added by users. Nearly 60,000 public resource lists have been created - on everything from Australian lawnmowers to live animal export, to stained glass created as memorials to Australia's war dead.

There are so many kinds of work going on around Trove. What can I say about the husband and wife team who have systematically sought out serialised novels and short stories in Australian newspapers, corrected their texts, exported them, tidied them up - and have published more than 250 of them on Project Gutenberg? My long ago Ph.D. is in Australian literature, and I love the sense that - for no other reason than interest and altruism, and supported by a good tool - this couple have been able to gather together tiny little fragments of our literary heritage and put it back together again, freely available to all.  My hat off to them.

And then of course there's all the work and play clustered around the Trove API, which means that Trove content can pop up almost effortlessly in a myriad of other services - including Europeana's 1914-1918 portal, which Roly mentioned yesterday. That is another whole story that I encourage you to explore via the Building with Trove section of the Trove Help Centre - or by joining us in Canberra at the end of November for Trove workshops and a THATcamp hosted by the Library.  

slide, family history associated words 

Family history is, of course, a major pursuit of Trove users. But the story is much more complex than that. While two-thirds of evaluation respondents used Trove for family history purposes, less than half of our users nominated family history as their main purpose for using the site.  

They were conducting other personal research, they were undertaking professional research, they were conducting postgraduate research.

16% of respondents said they used Trove specifically to correct text.

Professional librarians used Trove primarily to help their patrons find books, journals, articles and datasets. In fact, we library folk are such a helpful bunch, and so many of us participated in the Trove evaluation surveys, that we had to set the group slightly aside to get a clearer picture of who our non-librarian users are, what they were doing and why.  

We have streams of individual stories that tell us about Trove's impact. Historians and social scientists asking questions that simply couldn't be asked in the past. Writers and playwrights telling us about their use of Trove's resources - not just newspapers - to add colour, complexity and authenticity to their works.  

Just last week, the University of Melbourne's South Eastern Australian Research in Climate History team won a Eureka prize for their work in gathering together and mapping 1000 years of climate records - including those in newspapers, identified and analysed by their team of volunteers.  

New knowledge is certainly being created.  New questions are being asked. And stories matter when we are trying to assess Trove's impact value - we can never have enough of them, and I'd like you to think about how you can help us with that.

We also learned more - and in much more detail - about what our users want.

Slide '...its all about...

'...its all about more content. Eventually maybe, although I will probably not live to see it, Australian patents and the various state and commonwealth gazetts will be available within Trove. Perhaps in decades to come the mamor Australian museums and art galleries will mount their collection databases and images into Trove. ABC archives too one day? ... digitised Australian books ... a phone app...'

They want more full content. They want more newspapers - always more newspapers, and we - the NSLA libraries, are still working really hard on that. They want more library content, they especially want more museum content, they want archival content.

And we are determined to see this happening in our lifetimes! We are working on Government Gazettes now, IP Australia intends to make all their historic patents available through Trove in the near future, every ABC Radio National Program turns up in Trove within an hour of its broadcast - links to the sound file, and searchable transcripts. We work with museums to the extent that our small resource base and capacity constraints in the sector allow - and are talking actively about how to increase exposure of these rich collections through the national service. We add new collections every month, most recently the amazingly varied cultural collections of the University of Melbourne.

Our users also gave us many steers on what they liked and didn't like about the web portal. They wanted better search and retrieval performance and we achieved that in May, with a move to an upgraded platform. They needed a better and clearer help centre and we delivered that too.  

They wanted a more granular Advanced Search. They got it, and have been hitting it so hard - with searches that any boolean loving librarian would be proud of - that it's causing us some performance anxieties. They want a new newspapers interface - and development of a more modern, mobile first delivery system is on its way. I've seen that future and I know our users will love it.  

Some wanted Trove to be brighter, some to be more muted. Some liked its complexity, some wanted simplicity. Most understood that they won't get everything they want in the near future. And almost all expressed a sense of profound gratitude that they are able to do in their homes and offices what was never possible before.

A theme from many of the 1046 people who gave generously of their time and thoughts to participate in the evaluation was encapsulated by one respondent:

Trove makes research easier and cheaper by orders of magnitude.  

We also learned a lot about who are users are.

Slide image of ladies listening

Louis Seselja, 2003, Community Heritage Grant Awards

70% of Trove users are female.


Slide image of many 'aged' people in lecture centre  

Jennifer Green, 2010, Audience for Peter Cundall lecture

65% are aged over 50.


slide with statistics

The average Troveite, 50+, City dweller, Female, Well off, Well educated, Professional, Employed or Retired


Our total audience is diverse - but if were to look at the average, or perhaps the median Troveite, she would look something like this. In fact, very much like this.  

slide image of Dr Marie-Louise Ayres

 Staff photographer, 2011, Marie-Louise Ayres staff portrait

So, while so far I've told you what is undoubtedly a very, very good news story about Trove's reach and impact, let me tell you the other part of the story, the one I worry about. Reflecting Susan Benton’s keynote at this conference, I am not satisfied.

slide image of a stop button


It is about who we are not reaching, who is not having their lives, their understandings of Australia and its place in the world, changed by Trove. We are not reaching the young - primary school students, high school or undergraduates.

Picture of children, School holiday program by Louis Seselja 2008Louis Seselja, 2008, School holiday program

Picture school children, Olympic Parade by Greg Power 2010

Greg Power, 2010, Olympic Parade

Picture Crowds watch Young Murph by Damian McDonald, 2008

Damian McDonald, 2008, Crowds watch Young Murph

We are not reaching Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Picture Torch Relay for Beijing Olympic Games by Craig Mackenzie 2008

Craig Mackenzie, 2008, Torch Relay for Beijing Olympic Games

Picture Canberra Multicultural Festival by Damien McDonald 2008

Damien McDonald, 2008, Canberra Multicultural Festival

Picture students using broadcast equipment

Damien McDonal, 2008, Canberra Multicultural Festival

And we are not reaching Indigenous Australians, those whose culture is partly documented in our collections, elders and youngsters connecting to identity.

Picture of the Aboriginal EmbassyLouis Seselja, 1999, Aboriginal Tent Embassy

Picture of Barkindji Elders

Louis Seselja, 2010, Barkindji Elders

Picture of Djakapurra Munyarryun

Louise Seselja, 2005, Djakapurra Munyarryun

 Picture of Chooky Dancers

Greg Power, 2008, Chooky Dancers

Which leads me to ask - Are we really there yet?

Slide question Are we there yet?


What would we need to do to open up the Trove opportunity for everyone in our community?

What new content will we need to collect or digitise or expose through Trove?

How can we engage those communities who would find their lives - or those of their forebears - mirrored in Trove, but don't yet know that?

How can we help more Australians to shape both their personal and the national story?

There is one way that I know works.

Slide Trove raspberry pi

This snapshot of the Trove raspberry pi was taken yesterday at lunchtime. As the hours tick through the day, the locus of Trove use shifts from east to west. At any time, day or night, 365 days a year, between 700 and 800 people are searching Trove, arriving from multiple destinations - Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, AustLit, and many other services - and taking different paths through Trove content.

We keep our users front and centre, making them central to everything we do. If you visit the small Trove support team at the National Library - around 13 people in total, not an army - you'll see what we see every day when we walk in the door.  We try very hard to maintain a firm focus on those who are using Trove, engaging with them, learning and delighting with them - because we know that word of mouth or its digital equivalent is probably the best way that other parts of our community will explore what's on offer.

But there's another way that I know works.

Slide Trovaborate

Troveaborate  Work jointly on an activity or project, Cooperation, alliance, partnership, participation, combination, association, teamwork, joint effort, WORKING TOGETHER.


It's what we - the library tribe - have been doing for years.

We may have the big Trove machine at the NLA but it is you who know what content is of most value to your local communities.

It is you who know what services might appeal to those communities we are not reaching.

It is you who have - as Susan calls it - the market intelligence .

It is you - I hope - who will be honest enough with us to tell us what doesn't satisfy you and your community, or why Trove simply isn't attractive to those parts of our community not yet benefiting.

It is you who know more of these stories - in the hard to reach communities - that might themselves lead more of their fellow community members to explore more. It is you who know whether the teenagers at your local secondary school or their teachers know about this resource.

So I would like to finish by asking you to continue to work with us on this adventure. If you are digitising anything, find out how you can get it into Trove. If you are creating a digital resource - a LibGuide, or an online exhibition - think about cataloguing it so it can be discovered via Trove.

If you hear a good Trove story - tell us!

Even better, be a Trove story-teller for those audiences who have so much to gain from exploring our national heritage, but have not yet found that lush oasis in the desert.

Slide Trove at 10 

Trove at 10, Where will there be? And who will Trove serve?


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