Bringing it all together

Bringing it all together
Instructive moments from a National Library intern
9 June 2017

During my years of library study, I wrote (with varying degrees of comprehension) about information management. Recently, I was lucky to be accepted into a three week internship with the National Library which really put everything I had learned together for me. The experience turned the arcane and theoretical into so many ‘ah ha’ moments.

Collecting for the future

I knew that the National Library concentrates on collecting Australian works, but prior to spending time here, I had no appreciation of the scope of the collection; how broad it is and the variety of formats collected. Take, for example, the collaborative web archive PANDORA, this service collects the URLs, PDFs, Web pages and .au domains of Australian websites. Digital content provides as clear a snapshot of a moment in time in Australia as printed material and is arranged by subject just like physical items.

Screen shot Sydney Olympic games 2000 website

Websites like the Official Sydney Olympics Games site are stored by Pandora 

Working collaboratively

I was struck by how much the Library works with the community, including other state and territory libraries as well as overseas partners, to develop and make its collection accessible. This is particularly the case where digitisation is involved due to the huge volume of material yet to be digitised and the costs involved.

Any Australian organisation or association can request and pay for the NLA to digitise their material and have it preserved for the future. The value of this activity to the Australian community as a whole was brought home to me when I was shown the Bushfire Council of NSW’s recently digitised Bushfire Bulletin, as it has a wealth of information on fire fighting history in NSW from 1952 to 2016.

Man from the National Library photographin a magazine

Newspapers and magazines like the Bushfire Bulletin are photographed on a special cradle. Photograph by Craig MacKenzie, National Library of Australia 2016

Making use of it all

Trove is the National Library's largest online service, housing the collection information of hundreds of libraries, museums and local organisations in Australia, as well as the National Library's own Digital Library. I was fortunate to spend a whole day with the Trove team who explained the service's variety of functions. Trove has a growing fan base and community of committed users which the team engages through social media. Armchair editors (like me) can sign up to Trove and join a community of text correctors to improve the Library’s digitised newspaper collection, but be warned, text correcting can be pretty addictive

I had recent cause to be grateful to Trove when our university catalogue went off line. I was able to check our holdings and locate items for students as normal, all thanks to Trove saving our catalogue records on their website.

Screen shot of the Trove TV disaply showing usage and Social Media

The Trove team monitor website traffic and communications using Trove TV 

 Call in the experts

I spent time with the front of house librarians in Reader Services and soon appreciated the wide range of topics on which the Australian community seeks assistance. Reference queries may be very general in nature (‘What is the history of agriculture in Australia?’) to the very specific (‘Is there any historical information on my house?’). Each telephone and Ask a Librarian question is answered personally, comprehensively and within a set time by a librarian. People with very complex queries may also request a meeting with a specialist librarian.

I also saw how reference librarians used their expertise to help readers navigate the Library’s eResources to get started on their family history research or, dig a little deeper into a specific aspect of their research. 

NationaL Library staff assisting patrons

National Library staff are always happy to help visitors find the right information

Underground activity

The immediacy and convenience of digitised and born digital resources does not mean that physical items like books, manuscripts, photographs and maps are no longer in demand. Far from it. Readers can request an item and in most cases it is delivered to one of the Library’s reading rooms within 45 minutes. Delivering your items means navigating through some 256 kilometres of shelving (growing by about 2.5-3kms a year), including the off-site repository (which delivers 2-3 times a day).

The whole process involves some pretty impressive machinery including two specialised delivery robots called ISAAC. If you want to visit the stacks and meet an ISAAC the Library runs a Behind the scenes tour every Thursday. 

National Library retrieval robot ISAAC

 One of the National Library's new automised book delivery robots: ISAAC


It was fascinating seeing my library study come to life and it was great to be able to ask loads of questions of the many very patient experts about how things work and why they are done.