How the National Library's beloved Trove is doing now after budget lifeline

Karen Barlow
November 6 2023 - 5:30am
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After being pulled from the financial brink, the National Library of Australia's beloved free online research portal Trove is progressing towards a "full vision" while the heritage-listed lakeside Canberra building is now on a "sure footing".

The national collecting institution's annual report has revealed the update to the huge database as well as a bounce back from the hit of the "challenging time" during the earlier days of COVID-19 and while vital building works were being undertaken.

The Trove lifeline came just ahead of the May budget when the Albanese government announced a $33 million package over the next four years to keep the free digital platform going. The national library later received an additional $113.1 million over four years when the group of nine national collecting institutions got the full budget allotment of $535 million over four years, with indexed ongoing annual funding beyond that.

Director-general Marie-Louise Ayers acknowledged the library had "weathered some significant storms" and praised the years of public advocacy that led to the budget backing.

The National Library of Australia. Picture by James Croucher
The National Library of Australia. Picture by James Croucher

"We greatly appreciated the support of the Australian community, as they communicated the Library's importance to their elected representatives - democracy at work!" Dr Ayres said in the report.

With the assured funding to continue essential capital works, she stated "we are now on a sure footing to maintain our Commonwealth heritage-listed building that houses our $1.2 billion collection".

Three-and-a-half years after the 2020 Canberra hailstorm, the $14 million reparation and replacement work for the heritage copper roof, including large-scale asbestos removal, is now complete. So is the replacement of the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and fire systems. The window replacement is ongoing.

But the campaign to fund Trove, loved by researchers, historians, students and those people digging into family trees around the world, is what garnered the most public support.

It was, with its database containing more than 17 billion digitised archives, images, newspapers, official documents, manuscripts and archived websites, slated to disappear in June as its funding was running out.

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The annual report said the library has had an "ambitious strategy" for Trove since October 2022 which was dependent on future investment. This included Trove being a "single and secure access point to Australia's cultural and intellectual heritage", "culture at fingertips", and a "secure digital environment, controlled by out diverse collecting institutions".

Director-general of the National Library Dr Marie-Louise Ayres. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong
Director-general of the National Library Dr Marie-Louise Ayres. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong

The commitment came in April from federal Arts Minister Tony Burke, but the annual report finds it will "not fully achieve the Trove strategy".

"However, it does allow the library to continue to stabilise and secure this essential service, enrich it with new content and incrementally progress towards the full vision," the report states.

The library said it was working on stabilising and future-proofing Trove's infrastructure while working to improve efficiency and user experience.

With the support of Trove partners, more than 366,430 pages of new content were added this year, mostly newspaper pages.

The library also removed fees for content contributors in July, which assisted community, volunteer-led organisations.

The annual report said the library's website and Trove attracted a combined 21.7 million sessions, 12.9 million just for Trove.

There are now 17 billion online library resources available. 27.1 newspaper pages available online and 466.6 million lines of text corrected.

Onsite visitation to the National Library also appears to have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

There were 399,045 onsite visitors. That is a 98 per cent increase in onsite visits compared to 2021-22 results.

Reading room visitation reached 184,097, a 105 per cent increase on the previous year. There was also a 38 per cent rise in new reader registrations.

The annual report shows the library recorded a surplus of $11.5 million for the 2022-23 financial year, a figure down on the 2021-22 $14.1 million surplus. The surplus was mostly an upward re-evaluation of the collection assets.

Chair Brett Mason said there was now confidence at the library, "about our ability to deliver our long-term vision", while philanthropy was now expected to "take our core work to new levels".

Essential capital works at the National Library are expected to continue until 2025.

Karen Barlow

Karen Barlow

Chief Political Correspondent

Karen Barlow is ACM's Chief Political Correspondent. Working in the federal press gallery, she investigates and writes about federal politics and government. She has an interest in integrity, leadership and social equity. She has covered two Olympics and been to Antarctica twice. Contact her on karen.barlow@canberratimes.com.au

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