Trove – a treasure trove under threat
The definition of Trove in the Oxford Dictionaries reads “a store of valuable or delightful things”. Trove is therefore the very apt name of an invaluable resource offered by the National Library of Australia about all things Australian. It is both valuable and delightful.
You might remember my three posts about the Church of St John the Baptist in Buckland, Tasmania. Without the resources offered by Trove, these posts – and especially the last one – would not have been possible. I was able to read digitised newspapers from the 1840s, offering me a contemporary glimpse at the events surrounding the construction of the church and its early days.
However, Trove not only includes newspapers, but also books, music, photos, maps and more. In total, it holds at present 474,674,488 items of various categories. And the best is that this treasure trove is available to everyone for free. No subscription or academic affiliation is necessary, all you need is an internet connection. An article on The Conversation recently called Trove “that map for anyone wanting to navigate the high seas of information abundance”. The system, introduced in 2009, has been an inspiration to libraries all over the world.
The main interest of this blog is history, not modern politics, but here we have an instance where the two collide. When it comes to the government trying to save money, nothing seems to be sacred. Last month, the Federal Government revealed that it intends to cut $ 20 million in funding from six national cultural institutions, in what they refer to as an “efficiency dividend”. Institutions facing cuts, besides the National Library, are the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Australia, the Museum of Australian Democracy and the National Film and Sound Archive.
All these cultural institutions are highly valued by the public, i.e. the voters, that the government is supposed to represent. According to the article in The Conversation Trove is used by more than 70,000 unique visitors per day. And before I worked out how to book tickets for the National Gallery online, I remember queuing for more than three hours for the ‘Masterpieces from Paris’ exhibition at the National Gallery some years ago, along with thousands (so it seemed) other people. A clear sign that culture is not elitist but is frequented and enjoyed by everyone. This is the wrong area for funding cuts. I could think of quite a few other areas, where savings can be made.
The Sydney Morning Herald quotes the director-general of the National Library, Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, explaining that “Sadly, as half of the library’s budget is expended on staff salaries, to make the savings the library will inevitably have to reduce staffing and the activities carried out by staff”. While the funding cuts won’t mean an end to Trove itself, they will result in less new material being digitised and made available. As with any resource, for Trove to succeed it is vital that it is constantly updated and extended.
If you want to show your support of Trove, Tim Sherratt provides a list of possibilities on his blog Discontents. Anyone can like the Facebook page Fund Trove, and #fundTrove trends on Twitter. Isn’t it time that we get behind our treasure trove?