by Shahida Sweeney

National Library of Australia invests in digital future

Sep 26, 20144 mins
Cloud ComputingGovernment

Under an innovative digital library program, the National Library of Australia (NLA) is redeveloping infrastructure to manage its huge digital collections and provide access to collections from hundreds of libraries across its network.

The library is expanding its online and mobile services for Australian and international users. More than 70,000 people use its Trove service each day and 22 million users were clocked up last year.

Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, the NLA’s assistant director-general for resource sharing, told CIO Australia the library’s digital assets now exceed 3 petabytes. “Libraries are some of the earliest adopters of digital technology,” she said. “Preserving Australia’s national digital heritage is a core priority.”

The NLA’s assets include more than 13 million digitised newspapers and hundreds of thousands of digitised Australiana items. The library leverages selective and domain harvesting to build its collection. Selective archiving enables staff to select high-value websites. Domain harvesting collects material, without human intervention, from Internet domains.

Delivering content through multiple channels

“We are delivering digital content through multiple channels,” Dr Ayres said. “There are joys and challenges to being digital pioneers.”

Access to the Library’s digital content is through Trove, a free discovery and engagement service that also integrates content from more than 1000 libraries, museums, archives and research organisations.

Trove offers an online discovery interface to a vast catalogue of online books, newspapers, maps, music and journal articles. The Trove API (application programming interface) allows other online services or apps to retrieve individual records and digital content for re-use.

Leveraging Twitter follows

Trove has more than 7000 Twitter followers and tweets feature items of interest in the national collection. The NLA’s main twitter account has more than 23,000 followers. The NLA is the fourth most followed Australian government organisation and the most followed cultural institution.

But using Twitter and other social media is not about competing for market share, or having more followers or more retweets than anyone else. “It’s about getting our collection material into our users’ online spaces,” Dr Ayres said.

Apart from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr, this engagement will include new social media sharing networks as these emerge.

Increasingly, library users are online or using mobile and smart devices to download or share content. The NLA uses Twitter Bootstrap to achieve fast, efficient, consistent and mobile friendly interfaces for all its services. “We want to speed up our mobile-friendly strategy,” Dr Ayres said.

Reaching peoples’ personal space

The library’s focus is to free up content by leveraging digital technology that makes its collections more readily available for people in their personal space. This digital journey is preceded by decades of work to painstakingly describe, share, manage and digitise its collections.

“For someone to find a piece of music on Twitter, we needed to have acquired it, catalogued it, digitised it,” Dr Ayres said. “And then we needed to free the content from its institutional backyard.”

In terms of ICT investments, Dr Ayres said there are no “rivers of gold” to fast-track digitisation or modernise the technology infrastructure, but the NLA prioritises activities that help it to reach Australians across the continent. Ten per cent of the NLA’s budget and staff work in ICT on digital projects.

These include shared national infrastructure services for Australian libraries, including Libraries Australia, a 30 year collaboration which sees almost all Australian libraries contribute cataloguing data for re-use in the sector. “This ensures that Australians know what is held in Australian libraries and how to get a hold of what they want,” Dr Ayres said.

While the NLA currently manages this data in its own data centre, it is considering options for using external cloud services in the future. However, as the custodians of a shared national digital heritage, the NLA remains mindful about privacy and security in the public cloud.

“The cloud is a metaphor that may mean different things to different people or organisations,” Dr Ayres said. “The cloud may offer cost-savings, but there are concerns about privacy or cross-border data sovereignty.”