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Monday musings on Australian literature: Save Trove

March 14, 2016

I don’t make a practice of discussing politics in my blog, though regular readers are sure to have picked up my pro-social-justice values (which is why I love writers like, say, Thea Astley). My reason for being politics-lite here is that politics is a divisive game, and my aim here is to be inclusive. However, I do want to write briefly today about a very specific political issue likely to affect Australian, and in fact international, researchers. I’m talking about the significant cuts being made to Australia’s major national cultural institutions like the National Library of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive.

Trove Search PageThose of you who read my Monday Musings series will know that one of the resources I use regularly – particularly for the more historical posts – is the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. Trove provides access to a wide variety of collections from libraries, museums, archives and other research institutions around Australia. It combines traditional book catalogue information with digital content, including digitised Australian newspapers dating back to the early 1800s.

Search on a name or topic – like say, Miles Franklin – and if you don’t filter the search in advance, it will return resources in any form for which material is held, including books, photos, newspapers, diaries, music, maps, websites, government gazette announcements. And it’s free – well, the search is, and around a third of the content is freely available. According to Mike Jones and Deb Verhoeven in The Conversation, Trove contained, at the end of February,

information on over 374,419,217* books, articles, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives, datasets and more, expressing the extraordinarily rich history of Australian culture.

Trove can be used by anyone, anywhere – academics, authors, local and family historians, and so on. A recent Sydney Morning Herald article looked at the Twitter hashtag #fundtrove, and quoted some of the tweets, such as this from author Kaz Cooke

Without Trove I couldn’t be writing this novel about the imagined lives of real 19th Century Australian vaudevillians#fundtrove.

Academics similarly tweeted the importance of Trove to their research projects. One, Evan Smith, wrote he couldn’t have done his research project on “public order policing in the ACT” without it, and historian Alicia Cerreto posted that “@TroveAustralia changed the ways that we historians can tell the stories of Australia. It is a critical resource”. At a time when interest in history appears to be booming – just look at all the history-focused TV shows and non-fiction books proliferating at present – reducing this service seems like madness.

In 2011, Trove was awarded the Excellence in eGovernment and the Service Delivery Category awards at the Australian Government’s ICT Awards. It has also been recognised internationally as a leader “in facilitating public access to documentary heritage”.  The Canberra Times recently reported that

Australian Research Council laureate fellow and professor of history at Griffith University, Mark Finnane, said Trove brought Australia “great credit” internationally and no other service compared.

“It’s really a world-leading innovation, in the way it ties collections together,” he said. “[We] can’t afford to be without this tool.”

As a free-discovery-cum-content-aggregation service, Trove, says The Conversation (cited above), simplifies the work of researchers by reducing the time they need to spend tracking down relevant information. It improves their efficiency in other words. It’s all the more ironic, then, that it’s the current Federal government’s decision to apply their so-called “efficiency dividend” to cultural institutions which threatens Trove’s continuation. How silly is that!

PS: For more on the #fundtrove campaign, check out discontents.com.au. Blogger Tim Sherratt lists what we can do, and is updating his post as more information appears.

* Trove itself claimed on 14 March to have over 474,674,488 resources. On this link, you can also see a list of all the organisations whose resources are included in the service.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim KABLE permalink
    March 14, 2016 11:29 pm

    Brava, WG! Brava! And of the same “social justice” tradition I suspect – one cannot be silent when governments show such disrespect for access to one’s national story! And interesting to note how the conservatives belie their fundamental character – to conserve – by destroying and limiting the chance for all citizens to be treated equally – those with and those without!

    • March 14, 2016 11:36 pm

      That’s an excellent point Jim re conservatives. You would think that conservatives, with their supposed focus on preserving the status quo, would support preservation of our past. Hmm … but putting the past in the hands of researchers and thinkers can be a dangerous thing perhaps?

  2. March 14, 2016 11:37 pm

    Yes, well said WG. Fund Trove!

  3. Kate Paine permalink
    March 15, 2016 1:49 am

    As an Australian living in Switzerland and doing a creative writing Phd involving the writing of an historical novel set in Australia, I couldn’t do without Trove. It is a truly wonderful resource, one that connects me with Australia in a way that just wouldn’t be possible without it. I would feel much further away from home without it.

    • March 15, 2016 7:55 am

      Thanks Kate. It’s lovely to hear from an Aussie overseas. I can imagine how valuable Trove is to you. It’s not going to stop of course but if resources are significantly decreased it will have major impacts on its usability, ongoing development.

  4. ian darling permalink
    March 15, 2016 2:35 am

    Seems like old fashioned short sighted stupidity to me!

    • March 15, 2016 8:03 am

      To many of us too, Ian. Cultural institutions can be easy pickings for governments but sometimes support rallies and can have an impact.

      • ian darling permalink
        March 15, 2016 8:50 pm

        It is a bit different but cutting cultural institutions like museums and libraries must have a real impact on tourism. The success of places like London and Edinburgh in attracting visitors owes so much to the cultural sector.

        • March 15, 2016 9:29 pm

          That’s a fair point too Ian. I know the National Library’s hours have been cut and cut over the last decade or so. It can’t help.

  5. March 15, 2016 5:52 am

    This is really sad news. I read the article you linked about all the cuts but what is the efficiency dividend? Is it just a fancy name for government budget cuts to somehow make everyone think they are getting better services when they really aren’t? Clearly they don’t understand how libraries and archives work and the high value for the money that their services provide.

    • March 15, 2016 8:21 am

      Good question Stefanie. It’s a practice that was introduced by a Federal Government nearly 30 years ago, whereby a percentage is taken from a government boy’s budget, often 2-3%. It’s called this because the idea is that the organisation does the same job with less money by improving their efficiency! It is therefore not a cut because they are more efficient! If I remember correctly, it was applied to cultural institutions along with other government bodies, but for a few years now they have been quarantined from this dividend because of the recognition the nature of their work. But a month or so ago the government announced that this budget measure would again be applied to cultural institutions meaning real money lost from the top of already very lean budgets.

      Take the National Film and Sound Archive. Its work has increased immeasurably over the last decade with the increase in digitally produced content alongside more organisations wanting to place their old analog material, that they had been hanging onto, at the NFSA because they are moving into digital production. So, not only has the quantity of work increased but so has the complexity … More material in more and increasing formats to manage, store, preserve, provide access to, etc.

      • March 16, 2016 2:08 am

        But with all that digital things should be cheaper! Ha, kidding! That’s probably what the government is thinking though. Thanks for the background. The government’s idea of efficiency and how to make agencies and services more efficient is very strange. Did some of our US politics defect and move to Australia? 😉

        • March 16, 2016 7:41 am

          Haha, probably … Anything you do we try to do better! Except guns of course. Oh dear, that’s all very cynical isn’t it.

  6. ablay1 permalink
    March 15, 2016 7:19 am

    The barbarians are getting closer …

  7. March 15, 2016 9:28 am

    Well, yes, and yes, but if the money comes not from Trove, where does it come from? From the weak and vulnerable who cannot muster an army of supporters to raise hell about it.
    What we really need to do is to sort out our taxation system so that this cost-cutting nonsense can stop because otherwise it becomes a matter of one need being excused from cuts at the expense of another. We need to raise more money, in an equitable way that suits our egalitarian Australian ethos.

    • March 15, 2016 10:26 am

      That’s true Lisa, which is why I very rarely discuss politics. There is no one right answer to any of this … We used to put all our donations to humane causes but now we allocate some to the arts. Right or wrong? I don’t know.

      BTW One #fundtrove person commented that s/he was a full time carer. Can’t travel, can rarely get out, particularly for her or his self. Trove is her/his sanity saver. There are just no simple equations.

      But fairer taxation would surely be a good start … A focus on people and not big corporate lobbyists would be good.

  8. March 15, 2016 10:35 am

    Bureaucratic management of artistic, historic and academic content can lead to mismanagement of resources. An unsavory thought!

  9. March 15, 2016 6:52 pm

    It is shameful to cut education in any form. Trove being important to all, and available to all; it, just doesn’t make sense. I have given up on politicians and politics.

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