Trove doesn’t deserve to be butchered

Angus Kidman 23 May 2016


The National Library of Australia's digital archive is being crippled by funding cuts.

My great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Henry Parker was a butcher from a very long line of butchers, dating all the way back to 1666. "I used to do the bulk of my business with Mr. C. B. Fisher, and often got fine fat beasts at £3 a head," he once recalled, claiming that being a butcher was "the healthiest occupation a man could have".

I know all this and rather more about an ancestor who died 60 years before I was born thanks to Trove, the superlative digital resource maintained by the National Library of Australia. Trove digitises newspapers and other documents from the collections of museums and libraries around Australia, and makes them freely searchable by anyone. It's a fantastic resource for genealogists, and a crucial tool for preserving Australia's history.

Yet while digitisation is the future of libraries and archiving, Trove is having its funding slaughtered. The National Library is copping a $20 million "efficiency cut" in the 2016 Budget, as a result of which 28 people will lose their jobs. And that means Trove won't have any resources to digitise collections held in smaller museums, galleries and libraries.

If those organisations want their collections added, they'll have to fund the money themselves. Given that most already run on minimal resources and rely on volunteers, that seems unlikely. Preserving our history should not be left to the vagaries of privatisation. And if Malcolm Turnbull is serious about Australia pursuing innovation, it seems very odd to cut one of the most innovative projects in a major national institution.

Thomas Henry Parker knew that spending money for social infrastructure bought benefits. He recalled the early Parliament of South Australia:

At one of the first Parliaments the matter of the expenditure of some £30,000 on improvements to the harbour was brought up for discussion. It came to the casting vote of a fine old naval man—a Government representative—and his decision was averse to the expenditure. The blood of the inhabitants was fired at this, so, securing material, a fine effigy of the honourable gentleman was fashioned. This was placed in a barrow and carted from hotel to hotel. At each drinking house the coattails of the dummy were lifted and a dozen stripes inflicted. The proceedings were interspersed with free drinking, and the demonstration waxed uproarious.

Sadly, I doubt we'll see anyone making such a demonstration about Trove during this election, and that's a pity.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on

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