A BIG SCAN: SLQ’S COMMUNITY HERITAGE DIGITISATION OFFER

Some months back local Lota author Cherrie Nicholson realised she had a problem.

Cherrie is the author of three books Lota – through local eyes : stories of a little-known Brisbane suburb and the people who call Lota home, White wings on Waterloo Bay : a history of local sailing clubs in the 20th century and Colmslie animal quarantine station : the often forgotten part of animal quarantine history in Queensland. Cherrie is among the many Queensland authors whose works were received by the John Oxley Library under Legal Deposit or, if published outside the state, were acquired as a purchase or donation.

Local histories and studies constitute a significant part of the John Oxley Library’s collection and they are important for obvious reasons: in many instances they are unique publications based on original research and they are often the only work – or one of a very few works – written about a community or about a particular aspect of its culture, history or natural environment.

Lota – through local eyes: stories of a little-known Brisbane suburb and the people who call Lota home / Cherrie Nicholson

Lota – through local eyes: stories of a little-known Brisbane suburb and the people who call Lota home / Cherrie Nicholson

Lota – through local eyes, first published in 2002, is an example of one such publication. The author has documented the history of Lota’s development from 1859 and has included accounts of local residents since the early settlement of the suburb. Cherrie Nicholson’s publication is the only substantial history of Lota in existence and for that reason is of particular value in a Queensland focused research collection. It is an excellent example of a research effort which is not, and not likely to be, replicated in other histories and is thus an important source for anyone investigating the history of Lota or its neighbouring suburbs.

Within the John Oxley Library collections works like this one are preserved for posterity as an integral component of Queensland’s documentary heritage. They also form part of a dynamic collection in that they contribute to the writing of new histories on related aspects of Queensland’s story. (Cherrie Nicholson has for example, used evidence from earlier accounts such as An early settler: the Duckett White Family in Australia in writing her history.) Many of these publications are eagerly sought after by researchers, community members wanting to investigate the documentation associated with a given locality and the generally interested public who visit the John Oxley Library on level 4 of State Library.

This tradition of an expanding collection continually building on itself and contributing its resources to the research community is something we at the JOL are particularly interested in. We are also aware that there is a question in relation to those works which only exist in a physical format – a typical characteristic of titles published before the recent accelerated take-up of digital publishing – and which are now out of print and unavailable elsewhere. It is fair to assume that people with an interest in community history may be among those whose ready access to the John Oxley Library collections is compromised by distance or other factors.

White Wings on Waterloo Bay: a history of local sailing clubs in the 20th century / Cherrie Nicholson

White Wings on Waterloo Bay: a history of local sailing clubs in the 20th century / Cherrie Nicholson

It is at this point that there is a fortunate coincidence between Cherrie’s problem – which was that interested community members were asking her for copies of her publications – and SLQ’s ambition to extend the reach and focus of Queensland’s community history.  Cherrie’s difficulty was one experienced by many local authors in her situation: initial print runs were limited, she had no more copies, the sought after titles were out of print and the cost of reprinting physical copies was prohibitively expensive.

The coincidence – and the solution – came about because a State Library staff member heard about Cherrie’s problem and approached her colleagues with a suggestion involving State Library’s newly acquired automated scanning technology.
To cut something of a longer (but interesting) story short, Cherrie’s situation proved to be ideal for a proof-of-concept plan to digitise her three publications – and to make them available subsequently – to the online community via State Library’s website.

Importantly Cherrie is the copyright holder (a necessary condition), these three books are substantially about an aspect of Queensland’s heritage, they have not been digitised elsewhere, the revenue stream of all three titles has been exhausted (so that free open access via the SLQ catalogue and Trove is not a concern) and Cherrie was happy to sign a non exclusive copyright agreement giving State Library permission to make a digital copy and to provide online access to her works.  An important practical condition was also met in that the three publications proved to be compatible with our automated scanning technology requirements.

Automated scanner at State Library of Queensland. Staff photograph. Photograph by Grant Collins

Automated scanner at State Library of Queensland. Staff photograph. Photograph by Grant Collins

Following this experiment, State Library is now looking to build on its initial success and is inviting authors of print publications which relate to Queensland’s community heritage to submit their publication(s) for inclusion in our Community Heritage Digitisation Offer. Interested authors and publishers will no doubt have a number of questions about this initiative and the majority of these will be answered by the FAQs found on the relevant page of SLQ’s website. Before you follow this link though, a few details about the offer.

Because the initiative is essentially about building Queensland’s documentary heritage, suitable publications need to be substantially about the history, culture or some other aspect of this state’s development. Examples include – but are certainly not limited to – histories or studies of communities and suburbs, significant buildings and landscapes, the contribution and experience of ethnic groups, community and state based events and celebrations, cultural and environmental landmarks, ecological studies of specific localities, local industries and business activities. As these examples suggest, the offer is not only about history – which is to say that an environmental study of a river catchment is just as valid as a history of a suburb or outback town.

If your publication appears on this basis to be a suitable candidate – and you are the copyright holder – your next question is likely to be about the benefits of participating in such an offer. From a State Library perspective the advantages are obvious: digitised material is able to be shared with a vast online audience and digitisation initiatives such as this one enable us to increase access to our community heritage collections. It goes without saying that authors participating in the Community Heritage Digitisation Offer will benefit as well – in the form of significantly increased exposure for their publications and the opportunity to share their work with a much wider readership. Digitisation may also offer a new lease of life for out of print titles, particularly those which were published some years ago or whose original distribution was limited.

With this prospect in mind, how do you as an author and copyright holder, submit  your publication (or publications, given that  the offer is not limited) for consideration for the Community Heritage Digitisation Offer? Your first step should be to check out the FAQs which will give you more information about the initiative. If you are still of a mind to release your publication to the internet click here to find the Expression of interest form. We look forward to hearing from you!

Libby Fielding – John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland