AU$1.5 billion of Australian culture goes online

The State Library of NSW has launched the first stage of a project to put an AU$1.5 billion collection of Australian culture online.

The State Library of NSW has launched the first stage of a project to put an AU$1.5 billion collection of Australian culture online.

The library today unveiled plans to make available the entire contents of its 'DNA of Australian Culture' collection in digitised format on its Web site under a project expected to take several years to complete. The library launched the first stage of the project today. However, only a small proportion of the planned 100 Terabytes of content is available now.

Content such as Joseph Banks' 1768-1771 Endeavour journal, architect Jorn Utzon's original sketches of the Sydney Opera House and early black and white photographs from around the nation are now available through the site.

The site also features four out of a planned 37 'interactive journeys' designed to guide users through some of the content, although researchers can also search for specific items.

When digital conversion of the collection is completed, the repository is set to be "one of the largest hosted sites of stored data in Australia", a statement from the library claimed.

The library plans to store the data on its premises and deliver it on demand to the public through a storage facility within Telstra's Sydney CBD telephone exchange. The public is to gain access the data through the library's Web site as well as via Telstra's i-mode mobile data platform.

TCG Group senior partner Brian Craighead--one of the principal organisers of the project--said this morning the organisers wanted to avoid the problems that have plagued projects of this scope in the past.

"We're trying our best not to make this a dusty old collection of archives," he said. "We want to bring history to life. We started with the user in mind and worked our way backward from there."

For example, those interested in viewing Josephs Bank's Endeavour journal can actually turn and move through the pages by moving their mouse. Similarly, those examining an interactive map of Abel Tasman's journeys can use a virtual magnifying glass.

Craighead said these features had gained the library the acclaim of a critical potential audience --children--who loved the site when it was tested in classrooms.

Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie said delivery of the collection over Telstra's i-mode service could allow Australian children to do their homework on the bus to school by accessing the collection via their i-mode mobile phones.

However Craighead said only "a subset of this [100 Terabytes of] content" would be made available via i-mode, adding that the library's conversion of content for the mobile platform was in an "embryonic" state. Live demonstrations of the i-mode handset featured a menu system with simple text and graphic content.

State Librarian and chief executive Dagmar Schmidmaier said the Web site represented world's best practice in the area, adding the library would be "setting a benchmark internationally". In a statement, the library said that it had received overAU$5 million in contributions and technical support from the project's corporate partners, with a further AU$2.5 million from private benefactors. However, Schmidmaier said, a further AU$10 million would be needed for the project to reach completion.

The project was the result of a new strategy embraced by the library three years ago, according to Schmidmaier. The public's inability to gain access to material kept in the library meant the institution decided to re-position itself digitally and commit to making a move online, she said.