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The next time you go to your letter box to collect election campaign material, think twice before throwing it in the bin. Instead, you can give the material a new lease of life by sending it on a journey to the National Library of Australia.

With the 2022 Federal Election Campaign in full swing, staff at the Library are hard at work as they start the task of preserving election campaign ephemera – items produced to be thrown out – for this year’s election campaign. Brochures, flyers, posters, banners, stickers, badges and t-shirts, are starting a ‘second life’ as collection items in the Library’s federal election ephemera collection

The Library has been collecting comprehensively in this space since 1983 and holds the largest collection of political ephemera in Australia. The material provides a unique perspective into the political landscape of a time – the policies, parties and personalities – and provides a ‘national snapshot’ of the issues and concerns that are important to us a nation. With items dating back to Federation in 1901, the Library is keen to continue to build on this valuable resource by documenting the 2022 federal election campaign.  

Staff member stands at a desk looking at campaign election material
A staff member looks at 2022 federal election campaign material 

A call out to our citizen collectors   

An important component of this project which comes around every three years is to call out to the Australian public to help us build our national collection.  The role of the Library is to collect the nation's story, and there is no better way to do this than to ask our citizen collectors to help us build the next chapter of Australia's political history. 

This call out happens in a number of ways – through our Library collections website, social media messaging and media, as well as relying on Library patrons and supporters. In addition, we send direct letters of approach to candidates and political parties. Library staff have been busy searching for relevant contact information to contact individuals and parties directly. With some details proving difficult to find, we may not be able to reach as many candidates and parties as desirable. This makes the work of people and communities on the ground vital – by sending us ephemera from their candidates, they can help to ensure the Library has a complete documentary record of this campaign. 

Collection box in Reading Room with election campaign material
One of the Library's collection boxes in the Main Reading Room

The journey to the National Library of Australia begins  

Election material has already started to arrive to its new home, either via our reply paid mailbox, or by visitors to the Library who place material in the collection boxes in our Reading Rooms.  

Library staff assess collection material that has been sent to us, to ensure that the material is in scope with our collection development policy, that there are not duplicates, and that the material we received is in good condition. 

Once a decision has been made to accept items, material is sorted into headings (eg surname of candidates) and staff will make arrangements to start listing and housing the collection in preservation quality folders and boxes. Items can then be housed in the Library’s ephemera stack, all ready to be discovered and made accessible to the Australian public.

Staff member sorting election campaign material
A staff member sorts 2022 federal election campaign material after arrival

The journey doesn’t just apply to printed material 

To complement our print holdings, our web archiving team are simultaneously scouring for online material relating to the election so that this material can find a home in the Australian Web Archive. The Library has been archiving websites since 1996, when it collected 5 election-related sites. In 1998, this number rose to 22, and at the last 2019 election, there were close to 1000 sites documented in the Archive.

Already, a number of websites, blogs and social media accounts relating to the 2022 federal election have been archived by the Library and its web archiving partners. The team collects House of Representative election candidate websites; political party websites;  interest, support and lobby groups websites; polling, research and education websites; and news, comment and social media sites. See what has already been captured on Trove.

Staff member looking at an archive website on a computer
A staff member looks at archived websites from past federal elections in Trove

Your trash is likely to be the Library’s treasure 

So, as you continue to encounter election material during this campaign, please give these valuable records a second chance by sending them to the National Library of Australia. Ephemera is material that is designed to be thrown out, but it also conveys important contextual information about social and political history. The work of citizen collectors has enabled the National Library to collect such significant items as voting cards from the 1901 election, the badge from Gough Whitlam's 'Its Time' campaign, and Antony Green's political blogs. These items, along with others in the collection, help us to understand past political events, people and policies. Scott Morrison's campaign brochures and Anthony Albanese's Twitter account may one day be the subject of future research.

Get in touch with the National Library of Australia today to help collect the 2022 federal election.

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