When I first started writing Taken At Night, the National Library’s wonderful digital collection Trove was not available. The only way to research the history of bubonic plague in 1900 was to trawl through microfilm copies of newspapers at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, looking for headlines that seemed relevant.
Now I can type in “plague” and come up with articles, images and unknown surprises, without leaving my desk, at any time that inspiration strikes.
Sadly, Trove and other operations of the National Library of Australia are being cut by the Commonwealth Government. Budget cuts and “efficiency” dividends are resulting in:
- Loss of more than 20 jobs by June 30 with additional redundancies to follow in 2017-18
- Fewer international print and online subscriptions
- The quarterly National Library of Australia magazine will cease
- A stop to aggregating content in Trove from museums and universities unless it is fully funded to do so
The Library’s Director General has said these cuts will have a “grave impact”.
Australia’s libraries and cultural institutions are essential to researchers and writers who are attempting to bring Australian history to a wider audience. A nation’s cultural inheritance is part of its identity, and its neglect and loss is irreversible. We can see this in the tragic destruction of cultural artefacts in Syria. According to one Guardian commentator, the Government’s cultural focus is increasingly military in nature – at the same time as these institutions are being forced to sack staff, $330 million was spent on the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing, $32 million was spent on the Australian War Memorial and $100 million is to be spent on an ANZAC interpretive centre in France.
On becoming Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia had to be “agile” and “creative”. Trove is the epitome of this. Its existence derives from lateral thinking and its digital collections are resources waiting to be turned into new creative business endeavours, whether these are books, apps, movies, design, tourism or education. We are very short sighted indeed if we let so-called efficiency stand in the way of creativity.