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National Archives of Australia Gets New Digitisation Hub

The National Archives’ efforts to increase online access to its vast collection have been given a major boost with the signing of a contract with a Melbourne-based scanning bureau and commercial digitisation provider to operate from the Archives’ new industrial-scale digitisation hub. The partnership will see the company, based at the new digitisation hub in the National Archives’ repository on Sandford Street in the Canberra suburb of Mitchell, undertake large-scale digitisation of at-risk items from the national archival collection.

In July this year, the Australian Government announced an extra $67.7 million over four years to fund the National Archives’ Defend the Past, Protect the Future Program. This program will see the digital preservation of critical at-risk collection material, including audio-visual content, before the deadline of 2025. The digitisation hub will also enable the National Archives to significantly upscale its proactive digitisation capacity, ensuring more of the collection is digitally preserved and available online, for use by the government and the community.

The Director-General at the National Archives of Australia stated that the use of commercial providers, in conjunction with their in-house digitisation team, is a cost-effective and time-efficient way of digitising large amounts of the national archival collection. This will result in more records being preserved, digitised and made available online to all Australians, regardless of where they live.

This innovation follows the recommendation of the Functional and Efficiency Review of the National Archives of Australia (Tune Review) to establish centralised storage and preservation of the national archival collection. The mass digitisation hub forms part of this model, which will result in cost savings and more of the collection being digitised, preserved and accessible.

Digitisation on-site reduces the risk of damage to, or loss of, irreplaceable collection material during transportation to an off-site provider. Complete with specialised digitisation equipment, the digitisation hub also facilitates the appropriate handling of fragile historic material that may need preparation and conservation prior to digitisation. The company will commence operating from the National Archives’ secure onsite hub in early 2022.

Another approach to market (ATM) is underway to establish a service panel for the digitisation of photographic formats (including photographic negatives, prints, microforms and aerial film). Arrangements are underway with providers to digitise magnetic tapes prior to Deadline 2025.

The National Archives is also currently partnering with several providers on other large-scale paper digitisation projects, including Bonegilla Migrant Registration Cards and the $10 million four-year WWII Military Service records project.

A report noted that Australia’s intelligence community has conceded it is breaching laws governing how some of the nation’s most important historical documents are stored, revealing more than 10 kilometres of classified documents are gathering dust and may never be made public. The foreign affairs department revealed it has one million hard-copy files, the majority of which are classified, stored on more than 10 kilometres of shelves in Canberra, state capitals and in overseas embassies. The storage costs in Canberra alone are $A230,000 a year.

The department believes it will “never be resourced sufficiently” to review these archives so that they can be publicly released. There are another 24 kilometres of Foreign Affairs records held by the National Archives, many of questionable value. The Office of the Attorney General has more than 85,000 archive boxes containing paper records held across Australia, as revealed in a recent tender issued by the OAG which is seeking to replace its current provider of document archiving and retrieval services.

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