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The Australian newspaper plan: preserving for permanent access in the digital age.

On 25 June, a meeting was held at the National Library to explore what impacts new digital technologies would have on the provision of permanent access to Australian newspapers. At the meeting were representatives from each of the state and territory libraries and from the national libraries of Australia and New Zealand--all members of the Australian Newspaper Plan (ANPlan; Originating in the early 1990s, this plan aims to collect, preserve and provide access to all newspapers published in Australia.

In recent years, many libraries have registered a growing interest from their clients for access to digital, fully searchable versions of Australian newspapers. Also to the forefront of libraries' consciousness is the major Newspapers Digitisation Program to provide free online access to digitised historic Australian newspapers ( Undertaken by the National Library of Australia in cooperation with the state and territory libraries, this program supports the goals of ANPlan.

But what do these developments mean for libraries which have the dual responsibility not only for providing access now, but for providing this access permanently--for preserving the newspapers?

It has long been recognised that newspapers are inherently tricky to preserve. Delivered via a medium never intended to last--read one day and recycled the next--newspapers have always presented a challenge to the institutions trying to preserve them. The advent of digital newspapers has not substantially changed the situation. As libraries have been all too aware, if digital information is not properly maintained, the rapid obsolescence of digital technologies can render material created even recently almost impossible to decipher.

While microfilming has traditionally been the technique of choice for preserving newspapers, digital technologies nevertheless have potential not only for providing enhanced, unmediated access to newspapers, but also as a preservation medium.

At the June meeting, ANPlan libraries identified the need for agreed standards or guidelines for the digital capture, management, storage and preservation of digital newspaper files to ensure the durability of this information. Consideration will need to be given to collecting and archiving 'born digital' newspapers, such as online newspapers.

ANPlan libraries have recognised that microfilming, alongside digitisation, will continue to play an important role in newspaper preservation in Australian libraries well into the future. While libraries are considering how to make best use of the alternative formats available for keeping newspapers, the development of models comparing newspaper microfilming and digitisation costs will assist libraries to determine the role each will play in both the short and long term.

Undoubtedly, much of the impetus for digitising newspapers has come from the local libraries and organisations which, responsive to the requests of their clients, have been keen to deliver digital versions of their most requested items. ANPlan libraries recognise the need to coordinate national efforts with local initiatives. As the National Library builds an infrastructure to support its mass newspaper digitisation program, ways of facilitating contributions to this service from other sources in the future will be explored.

Since the first printing of Australia's earliest newspaper in 1803, newspapers have documented Australia's unfolding history. Also evolving have been our methods for preserving access to these chronicles of Australia's social, cultural and political past. Through the Australian Newspaper Plan, Australian libraries are taking seriously the challenge of taking best advantage of the new digital technologies which are on offer to ensure permanent access to Australian newspapers.

Hilary Berthon

Preservation Outreach Officer, Preservation Services
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Author:Berthon, Hilary
Publication:National Library of Australia Gateways
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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