22 March 2016

Why Australians need Trove to be funded - open letter

I was already working on this letter before I saw this tweet...

If you need incentive to write a letter maybe this is it.  In any case, here is my open letter...


Senator the Hon. Mitch Fifield, Minister for Communications

The Hon. Chris Pyne, Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science

The Hon. Karen Andrews, Assistant Minister for Science & Member for McPherson;

The Hon. Wyatt Roy, Assistant Minister for Innovation;

The Hon. Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition

Dear Minister, Assistant Ministers, Mr Shorten,

This is an open letter on the matter of recent reports of “efficiency dividends” affecting cultural institutions, in particular the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. I call on you to ensure appropriate funding for arts and culture and specifically for the Trove service. It is operated by the National Library of Australia (NLA) but contributed to by almost the entire Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector in Australia as well as a huge community of volunteer citizens who spend countless hours correcting digitised newspapers optical character recognition errors.

Libraries are not just cultural institutions they are also science and educational facilities and this needs to be recognised in the wider context of research, innovation and the economy.

What is Trove?

“Trove is many things: a community, a set of services, an aggregation of metadata, and a growing repository of fulltext digital resources.” -- http://trove.nla.gov.au/general/about It is also a winner of the 2011 Excellence in eGovernment Award and an exemplar for the national digital economy. If you haven’t yet used Trove why not give it a go when you finish reading this letter. There is no fee and you don’t even have to register an account.

Why Trove needs to be funded directly

1) Innovation & Research

“The Turnbull government has unveiled a $1.1 billion "ideas boom" designed to take over where the mining boom left off and help Australia's business and research community thrive without fear of failure.” -- http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/ideas-boom-malcolm-turnbull-admits-some-policies-in-11b-innovation-plan-could-fail-20151207-glhf0h.html#ixzz43V5GWRUg In response to this I quote Tim Sherratt, digital humanities researcher and former manager of Trove. “Trove is a fundamental piece of research infrastructure, as important as a telescope or a particle accelerator. But, like most cultural institutions, the Library has limited access to infrastructure funding. That’s just stupid, reflecting an outdated understanding of the nature of research.” – Tim Sherratt http://discontents.com.au/fundtrove/

Trove is freely accessible to everyone in Australia including businesses. How the Australian community finds opportunities to learn, grow and generate ideas based on what they find in Trove is incalculable and limited only by the ingenuity of the citizenry.

Trove makes research efficient – no need to drive to multiple libraries, archives or museums to find out whether they have the information resource you need. Just search Trove any time of the day or night from the comfort of your home, or via mobile phone network, or from a public library computer or Internet café and you can either get full text or images immediately or find out which specific institutions have copies you can hold in your hands. Saves travel and time.

“At a broader level, the ACS (Australian Computing Society) is excited by Prime Minister Turnbull’s focus on setting a national agenda which seeks to make Australia more agile and better equipped to capture the opportunities being created in a globally connected, digital world.” -- http://anthillonline.com/australias-tech-community-has-welcomed-prime-minister-turnbull-and-his-cabinet-appointments/ Trove is a world leader in innovation in a globally connected digital world. “In a keynote address to the 14th National Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) Conference in Melbourne, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library described Trove as exemplary” -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trove It has provided inspiration to other significant international digitisation projects. If the NLA was a tech startup trying to get this service on the go, the government would be providing all kinds of business incubation support. Instead, the National Library of Australia has been too successful in finding operational savings over many years to make Trove what is it today, and now has been advised that it could seek private funding. “The spokeswoman (Dept. of Communications) also said the library could access government grants, or look for donors or support from the private sector.” -- http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/australian-and-international-arts-institutions-researchers-throw-support-behind-trove-20160307-gncn97

Trove provides Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to developers to create new and innovative services and applications. It needs to be able to support those developers and improve existing or create new APIs for future innovations.

Librarians love Trove because it is a go-to resource:

(a) when helping students and academics (and the general public) get answers they need for the learning and research

(b) locating which Libraries they can borrow copies from for Interlibrary Loan

2) Social equity and education helps created smart citizens.

Trove is one of the few government services that is accessible in every remote and regional area of Australia that has Internet access. Apart from the data charges to access it, there is no fee charged by the National Library making it one of the most accessible and socially equitable services that supports the education, training and intellectual pursuits of every Australian regardless of their social status.

3) Cultural Heritage is important for mature, multi-cultural societies to flourish.

Not only is Trove critical infrastructure for digital humanities research, it is freely accessible globally. It supports education and research internationally and provides an invaluable, and high quality source of primary and secondary resources by Australians and about Australia. Students from K-12 around the world can learn about Australia using Trove. The flow on effects to the Australian economy are incalculable.

With all the fancy tech in the world any app or web service will be boring without brilliant, interesting and accessible content. Nothing beats Trove for Australian cultural heritage content.

Australians’ love of Trove has clearly been shown in the recent #fundTrove movement. Genealogists love Trove providing free access to digitized newspapers. One can easily see the impact of genealogy to the economy at present with all the ads on TV for ancestry.com and the popularity of TV shows such as “Who do you think you are?” Crafters love Trove for providing free access to old handicraft patterns. Not only are old crafts and techniques being remembered they are being relearned and contributing to the crafting economy and resurgence of artisanal industry. Musicians love Trove because – Music Australia is part of Trove. Photographers love Trove because – Picture Australia is part of Trove. Authors love Trove because it is fundamental to their research – Peter Fitzsimon explains http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/treasure-trove-under-threat/7218302

4) Trove is for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) too -- http://trove.nla.gov.au/system/counts

Trove contains records from all of the Australian University Libraries and CSIRO Library, scientific institutions, museums (not just art museums), hospital libraries and records of research data sets via the Australian National Data Service. If you want a clear example of how Trove has directly impacted lives through scientific research read this story about designing prosthetic hands – How Digital Records Save Lives (https://www.nla.gov.au/media-releases/2015/12/15/how-digital-records-change-lives)

Costs of not funding Trove

  •  Loss of cultural heritage during periods of low contributions and collections. Small institutions run by volunteers and with little or no budget, but unique and significant collections will have no chance of contributing to Trove.
  • Reduced efficiencies in GLAM sector getting support for use of and contributing to Trove
  • Overall reduction in quality of the service may lead to diminished collaboration by institutions and researchers in Australia but also globally as the National Library will have less staff for liaising and collaborating on international projects.
  • Reduced efficiency of research.
  • Insecurity of future development if relying on private sector sponsorship for project based programs.

Please #fundTrove appropriately for Australia’s own good.

You can find a wellspring of public support for Trove via the hashtag #fundTrove on Twitter and Facebook.

Kind regards,

Peta Hopkins (Librarian)
Currumbin Waters, Gold Coast. (Seat of McPherson)