State Library of NSW fast-tracks digitisation strategy

The library takes a closer look at $2.1 billion in assets under moves to digitise content that spans a 200-year history

The State Library of NSW is digitising its treasure trove of information assets created over the past 200 years so they can be accessed and shared online and on mobile devices.

The library’s award-winning Digital Excellence Program is supported by a $48.6 million ICT investment over 6 years, the library's acting CIO and head of digital library services, Robin Phua told CIO.

The library is now three years into its modernisation effort. The broader roadmap incorporates upgrading the network infrastructure, building on digitised content and sharing knowledge across cities, towns and regional areas.

“We want to share our rich history and body of knowledge in an anywhere, anytime mobile environment,” said Phua. “We were one of the first to pilot and embrace digital projects -- one example was our guided tour mobile app Curio developed two years ago.”

Staged digitisation

The library’s content is being digitised in stages, encompassing collections and records. With an inventory of over 5 million items, the challenge is to digitise valuable collections, manuscripts, maps, archival photographs and images.

Among the initiatives, 4.5 million pages of historical newspapers can be searched online. Free online access is available for over 250 newspaper titles in NSW. Additional issues are being digitised and made available each week.

Delivering value

“The library’ repository is vast,” added Phua. “Over the past two years, we have worked on 20 different digital projects. The challenge is to deliver value from information.

“When we digitised 100,000 pages of diaries from our collection of World War 1 diaries, we found it difficult to mass digitise due to the complexity and fragility of the materials. Special attention was also needed to create the right metadata to make the digital assets useful."

“Apart from digitising content, we need the ability to harvest and monitor trends from social media,” Phua said. “We now offer digitisation-as-a-service for end-users, with the ability to tailor content to needs.”

The library’s web site service tabulated more than 4.3 million visits in 2012-2013, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year. “The web is our main site, but this is starting to be integrated with mobile apps," said Phua.

ICT infrastructure upgrades

The ICT investment has involved spending $10.2 million on digital infrastructure upgrades over the first three years of the program. This project includes integrating enterprise-wide email, as well as rolling out voice-over-IP, expanding digital storage capacity, improving wireless broadband, and offering cloud services.

The broader agenda is to continue to digitise collections under the $36.8 million funding approved. “This is part of a broader 10-year collection digitisation plan. We will also continue to upgrade the library's business systems. In 2015, we plan to complete the upgrade of our integrated library management system and web content and services platform," said Phua.

The focus is to fully integrate web-based apps and mobile services, enabling users to consume or share content online, as well as on smart devices.

Stories to share

Web 2.0 tools enable communities to be “part of the story-telling,” added Phua. “Family histories can be shared. End users will shortly have access to web-based transcribing tools, making it easier to share stories, currently being piloted with our volunteers.”

Preserving digital content is a challenge for libraries, said Phua. “Physical records can be stored, but how do you capture, store and preserve born-digital or other social media?” he asked.

The library’s digitisation effort has involved being disciplined with project management, said Phua. “We explored pilots, staged rollouts, and new change management approaches. We have reviewed and rolled out a new tiered project management framework that is flexible for both small and large projects."

He added that there is a three-layer governance system that makes it easier to track and communicate strategic and complex projects.

The library continues to collaborate and exchange digital expertise with other leading institutions, such as the National Library of Australia, the CSIRO, the National Library Board of Singapore, the Bavarian Library and the British Library on the project. Many of these digital initiatives benefit the library's public library network of over 360 local and regional libraries in the state.

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