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Collection management

National Archives of Australia and National Archives of Australia Advisory Council Annual Report 2015-16

Preserving, accessioning and documenting the archival resources of the Commonwealth are key responsibilities of the Archives. Preservation ensures access to the collection, while accessioning makes the collection discoverable, allowing audiences to engage with it. The Archives:

  • transfers archival value records from Australian Government entities and ensures their safe storage in environmentally controlled repositories in each capital city
  • collects records of the leaders of the nation
  • preserves and accessions the collection to facilitate its discoverability
  • reviews records in custody to ensure they merit permanent retention
  • maintains the master administrative record of the Commonwealth machinery of government
  • digitises records and makes them available online
  • supports requests for access to the collection.

Transfer

Throughout 2015–16 the Archives received regular transfers of records from Australian Government entities. These records were identified as records of national significance and were transferred in a range of formats including paper, audiovisual and digital. Information about transfers is added to RecordSearch, the Archives’ collection database, to assist in managing and providing access to records. In 2015–16 the Archives received one shelf kilometre of paper and other analogue records, and 14.9 terabytes of digital records.

Storage

At 30 June 2016 the Archives stored 353.6 shelf kilometres of paper and other analogue records. A total of 721.1 terabytes of digital records were also held in repositories located in Canberra and Sydney. Infrastructure enhancements to the Archives’ digital repositories allowed for increased capacity to store digital records.

In September 2015 the Archives commenced construction of the (NAPF) in the Canberra suburb of Mitchell. The facility will provide contemporary archival storage and will be ready for occupation in February 2017. During 2015–16 preparations continued for the move to the NAPF, including confirmation of the physical location and intellectual control of records held in Canberra and Sydney repositories. From November 2016 through to June 2017 the Archives will be relocating approximately 15 million items to the new building.

An upgrade to the Archives’ Sydney repository, which provides temperature and humidity-controlled storage for 25 shelf kilometres of paper records and eight shelf kilometres of audiovisual records, was completed in October 2015. The specialised low-temperature storage will ensure that at-risk records, such as photographic and audiovisual items, will survive for a further 375 years, and will allow the Archives to continue to accept paper transfers from government entities while construction projects are completed. A total of 70,035 boxes of paper records, 71,123 cans of motion picture film, and 1730 boxes and albums of photographic records were relocated to the Sydney repository in 2015–16.

The Archives currently stores a large number of temporary and unevaluated records. During 2015–16 government entities were encouraged to withdraw these records to determine whether they should be preserved as archivally significant. In 2015–16 a total of 7.5 shelf kilometres of records were withdrawn from the Archives.

Preservation

The Archives prioritises the preservation of records most at risk of damage or loss owing to technological obsolescence, instability of the record material or high use. In 2015–16 the Archives treated 196,338 at-risk items as part of its preservation program and its preparation of records for relocation to the NAPF.

The Archives holds nearly 800,000 audiovisual records. They represent a diverse range of film, video and audio content dating back to the early 1900s. These records are in both physical and digital formats, and many are subject to rapid deterioration and format obsolescence. A total of 8437 audiovisual records underwent preservation treatment in 2015–16. During the reporting period the Archives worked with other collecting institutions to develop systematic and cost-effective ways to preserve Australia’s audiovisual heritage.

The Archives also maintains an audiovisual digital archive. During 2015–16 the Archives received 13.1 terabytes of audiovisual digital transfers from entities, totalling 2031 files. A project is currently being undertaken to migrate legacy audiovisual digital files into the digital archive. As at 30 June 2016, 103.1 terabytes of data, totalling nearly 68,000 files, had been migrated.

Audiovisual records require specific equipment for playback and digitisation. During the reporting period new equipment was purchased to assist in digitising motion picture film and audio records.

The Archives undertakes intensive conservation treatment, repackages records and creates digital copies as part of its paper and photographic preservation program. During 2015–16 more than 14,277,000 paper records were digitised. Digitisation makes an image of a record accessible, while allowing for the preservation of the original in storage. In addition, paper records undergoing digitisation also receive minor preservation treatment to avoid future deterioration.

During 2015–16 the Archives assisted other national archives to preserve their collections by providing advice and sharing staff expertise.

Control and description

The Archives documents, describes and indexes records to help people find them in the vast collection. During the reporting period the Archives continued to develop access to the collection through crowdsourcing the transcription of pages from digital images including consignment lists. More than 81,200 item descriptions completed by the public were added to RecordSearch during 2015–16.

In August 2015 the Archives launched three new systems – Mediaflex, Mediaflex Archive (Paragon) and i-mediaflex – to improve the management of analogue and digital audiovisual items, including preservation, digital archiving, digitisation, description, storage and lending. This resulted in a five-fold increase in access requests for these records during 2015–16 (234 people requested 607 items).

During the reporting period the Archives completed a major undertaking – Project Albany – to preserve, describe and digitise selected repatriation records of returned service personnel who departed for World War I from Albany, Western Australia, in November 1914. These records show the profound impact of war on individuals, their families and the community. With the collaboration of volunteers and university students, 5000 files were digitised and approximately 257,000 were described and added to RecordSearch.