1. Purpose

This policy outlines the principles and general approach to the digitisation of National Library collections.

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. The collection includes both physical format analogue and 'born digital' material - books, journals, newspapers, maps, music scores, ephemera, web publications and websites, pictures, oral history recordings and manuscripts (unpublished private archives). The Act also requires the Library to make its collections available for use.

Digitisation supports the Library’s aim to make its analogue collections accessible, and to ensure their long-term preservation.  Digitising the Library’s collections makes them available for anyone to use at any time and from anywhere - without visiting the Library in person.  It supports research and life-long learning and enables people to engage with the collection in innovative ways and to re-purpose material to create new content.  

Digitisation reduces the need for physical handling of valuable or fragile materials and is an effective strategy for preserving content at risk of loss.  For example, audio and video material is digitised to guarantee long-term access to older recordings on unstable carriers which require obsolete replay equipment that is increasingly difficult to acquire and repair.

3. What we digitise

The Library digitises still images, objects, text, and sound and audio-visual materials.

Still images include pictures, photographs, maps, posters, manuscripts and sheet music which are digitally captured directly from the physical items. Objects include a wide range of artefacts; these are captured as still images.

Text includes newspapers, books, journals and ephemera.  In some cases – notably newspapers – material is digitised from microfilm, while others are digitised directly from the items.

Analogue sound and audio-visual recordings are converted to digital forms, and digital recordings are transferred from physical carriers to mass digital storage.

4 How we select what to digitise

The Library has two major digitisation streams: selective digitisation; and digitisation on demand.

Selective digitisation

The Library’s  digitisation programs will always be selective due to the size of the collection, rights conditions and resource constraints. Selection of material for digitisation is based on a number of primary factors including:

  • alignment with the Library’s collection development priorities and strengths;
  • cultural or historical significance;
  • utility to a wide variety of audiences;
  • uniqueness or rarity of the works;
  • perceived public demand, including from user suggestions;
  • physical fragility of the material;
  • carrier obsolescence risking content loss.

Additional factors taken into consideration are:

  • rights conditions for works digitised for public access;
  • planned digitisation by other collecting institutions, to avoid unnecessary duplication;
  • related Library activities including exhibitions, publishing and collection acquisition;
  • complexity of the materials and extent of required pre-digitisation activities, such rights clearance, preservation treatment, and the status of bibliographic or intellectual control;
  • whether or not selective or comprehensive and systematic digitisation of an entire collection is most efficient and effective; and
  • any technical implications for digitisation, discovery, delivery, or user engagement.

Digitisation on demand

Individuals or organisations wishing to order digitised copies of works or parts of works can do so on a fee for service basis via the Library’s Copies Direct service, subject to copyright provisions.  The Library also offers digitisation on demand for small scale projects, subject to copyright provisions.  Fees and turnaround times for such projects are negotiated on a case by case basis.  Material digitised on demand may be added to the Library’s permanent digital collection and made freely accessible for subsequent users, subject to copyright and access conditions, and the resources required to make the material more freely available.

5. How we digitise

Works undergoing still image or text digitisation are assessed for their physical condition and, if required, preservation treated before digital capture commences.

In general the Library will digitise the best collection copy available, and digitise once only, to national and international best practices and standards. On occasion the Library may choose to digitise selected fragile, significant or iconic items to a higher standard, applying higher technical specifications and more stringent quality assurance processes.

The full text of digitised printed works will generally be made searchable through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) processes. Optical Character Recognition refers to the conversion of scanned images of printed text into machine-readable text.

For analogue sound and audio-visual recordings the maximum amount of signal is extracted and encoded to preservation standard formats. For digital sound and audio-visual recordings on format-specific (e.g. compact disc or digital audio tape) carriers, content is extracted and transcoded to preservation compliant formats.

Digitisation work may be performed in-house or outsourced to the Library’s specifications, especially for large-scale digitisation programs.

In all cases, the Library is committed to managing all digital master files for long term access. The digital master files created are a faithful representation of the original work to meet preservation standards balanced with legibility and authenticity requirements.  Digital objects are stored and managed using systems architecture and processes as outlined in the Library’s Digital Preservation Policy.

6. How we work with partners

The Library works with external parties who wish to fund digitisation of selected materials from the Library’s collection.  Organisations or individuals are welcome to discuss funding or partnership proposals for digitisation projects with the Library.  Digitisation support is recognised by the Library in a number of ways, including through the Library's digital delivery systems.

All proposals are considered on the basis of the Library’s digitisation selection criteria. The types of partnerships the Library will enter into include the following:

a. Contributor programs

Libraries, organisations or individuals can contribute funding to digitisation projects nominated by the Library or by themselves through the one of Library’s contributor programs. Content funded in this way is added to the Library’s digital collections and made available through the Library’s discovery and delivery services, but can also be provided to funders who wish to deliver the content through their own services.

Contributors may support digitisation programs for high priority collection materials nominated by the Library. 

Alternatively contributors may wish to nominate collection materials of interest which they would like to see added to the Library’s planned digitisation program.  In these cases the Library takes into account how well the proposed project meets its own selection criteria, the project’s scale and complexity, any required timeframes, overall costs and benefits, and the Library’s capacity to program required work.

Organisations or individuals wishing to financially support digitisation of specific collection items are encouraged to contact the Library’s Development Office for more information.

b. Commercial partnerships

The Library’s capacity to undertake large-scale digitisation of its collections is limited by budget constraints and other Library priorities.  The Library is therefore open to partnerships with commercial organisations.  Working with commercial partners gives the Library opportunities to substantially increase the amount of digitised content that can be made available.

The terms of any such partnership are carefully considered and include the retention by the Library of a number of rights, such as:

  • the ability to provide free access to the resulting digitised content to its registered users onsite and from offsite;
  • permanent Library ownership of the digitised content, together with any associated metadata in formats compatible with the Library’s preservation, discovery, delivery and engagement requirements, to support future free access via the Library’s own services; and
  • agreement on how the materials are to be used by the partner.

 c. Partners offering  in-kind contributions

It is also possible to support the Library’s digitisation activities with non-financial contributions such as assistance with materials selection, copyright clearance, documentation and description. For these proposals the Library takes into account:

  • the nature of the partner and their relationship with the Library;
  • the nature of the proposed in-kind contributions and how they may impact on the costs, benefits and risks for the project, an example being when a partner offers images they scan themselves; and
  • any potential impact on other planned digitisation programs

7. How we provide access to digitised content

Digitised works from the Library’s collection are discoverable via the Library’s online catalogue, its discovery service Trove and search engines. Records in the catalogue and Trove carry a direct link to the relevant digital files and/or a finding aid or index. Trove also indexes and provides search access to the full text of digitised items subject to OCR processes. Copies of digitised works are available for free download; higher resolution copies may be ordered via the Library’s Copies Direct service.

Trove aggregates digitised content from the Library’s collections and those of other contributors. The Library actively encourages online user engagement with its digitised content either directly through Trove or by services utilising the Trove Application Programming Interface (API). Users can correct text, tag, comment on and collate digitised content into personal or public lists via Trove. The Library hopes to increase its suite of user engagement tools as resources permit. 

Discovery and access to digitised content 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. All digital collection objects are assigned a unique and persistent identifier which the Library maintains to ensure that works may be consistently and reliably cited.

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

8. How we manage the digitisation program

The overall direction of the Library’s digitisation program is overseen by an internal committee, which is responsible for overseeing the digitisation policy and standards, and approving major digitisation projects including partnerships with external parties. Detailed guidelines describe end to end workflows and processes to guide staff in assessing project proposals.

This policy is related to: