Lucy Nuttall, manager of the Phillip Island Library, spoke at the society's General Meeting on Wednesday 4 June, 2014, and told us about “treasures found in library collections”. She did not bring in old books or similar objects, but using a Power Point and the internet was able to show us many excellent research sites for historians on the major library sites, such as the National Library of Australia (NLA) and its Trove site, and the State Library of Victoria (SLV).
Phillip Island Library is fortunate to have such a significant and comprehensive local history book collection, but there are many other resources online these days that are difficult to have available in printed book form.
As a member of the Phillip Island Library, borrowers have access to all libraries in the Baw Baw, Bass Coast and South Gippsland shires – 14 libraries. There is also the Swift Consortia, which is a network of public libraries across Victoria from which PI borrowers can borrow. Some of the smaller, out of the way libraries hang on to their books for a long time, so they may have something you are looking for from some years ago. PI Borrowers can borrow online from any of these libraries by selecting All Libraries from the drop-down menu on the search page. Phillip Island librarians are happy to help you.
Online there are also subscription databases such as ancestry.com, findmypast and the British Newspaper Archive.
The State Library of Victoria is a huge resource with a comprehensive catalogue. Access to material is much easier if you have a SLV borrower’s card, which you can apply for online or by phone. Obscure items can be borrowed through inter-library loan and sent to Phillip Island library to be read there for $5 or $16.50 for rare items.
The SLV is digitising items all the time with high resolution, including items such as Johnson’s Year Books, 1920-2000, Victorian Historical Magazine, etc.
A library card will allow you deeper access to the catalogue, such as for historical research on specific topics. A whole database of books and articles exists on the topic of “London Low Life” for example, which gives you a very good idea of what conditions were like in Victorian England.
TROVE is a search service from the National Library of Australia to bring together all holdings from libraries, galleries, museums linking through the online resources. Categories to search include Pictures, objects and photos; diaries, letters and archives; music, sound, video, etc, etc.
Getting a NLA card and signing up for free enables better functionality of your searches, and lets you tag items into whatever lists you would like to create – e.g. shipping in Western Port. You can make your lists private, or share them with others who can add appropriate resources from their research to your lists too.
A major project of the NLA is the ‘mass digitisation’ of all Australian newspapers, so they can be read online. This is easiest if they are already on microfilm when they can be put into a digital form then Optical Character Recognition is used to read the original newspaper text.
The newspaper digitisation plan is run by the State libraries, who decide what gets digitised next. They are currently doing lots of newspapers from 1914-18 to coincide with the centenary of the WWI. Papers can be in the program up to 1954, when copyright prevents this. Various organisations have bankrolled the NLA to do specific newspapers, but funding differs from state to state. For example, a group sponsored the digitisation of the Suffragette’s Newsletter which cost $6,000.
The Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) keeps government documents which can go back a long way, such as early passenger lists, wills and probate, education and teachers – and have many digitised records. They got the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to digitise their wills collection for PROV users.
The National Archives holds all of the military records.
Lucy was asked if school students could be expected to use the complex catalogues and understand the resources available. She replied that NLA, SLV and PROV all have education programs to assist students and they also create student-friendly databases with digitised original documents so that students can work with primary sources online. This sort of work is required of senior secondary students by the National Curriculum. An example would be the Burke and Wills database at the SLV.