Wednesday, February 01, 2006


The advent of digitization has brought about a revolution in terms of removing geographical barriers which place restrictions on the grouping and contextualization of information. A project which capitalizes well on this notion is the PictureAustralia collection coordinated by the National Library of Australia. This started life as a 1998 pilot program to identify and share resources between the National Library, the Australian War Memorial and the Australian State Libraries with a focus on images of the people, places and events important to Australian culture and identity. This included photographs, paintings, cartoons and even scultpure. As it gathered accolades and awards, its mission to provide access has extended across the continent and beyond, to cross-sector collections of Australiana whose content has been evaluated, digitized and is being managed with the aim of long term availability. Interestingly, sources of images include both public and private institutions, ranging from art galleries, scientific research organizations, universities, charities and museums to libraries. This clearly emphasizes the collaborative potential of digital technology.

In terms of the practicalities of the site, The National Library holds only low resolution thumbnails for display on PictureAustralia, and by clicking on the links, users will visit the website of the source institution which displays a higher resolution version of the artifact. As a user, the ability to perform keyword searching, or select by title, creator, subject, date or place, is well supplemented with a series of themed ‘picture trails’ which offer a hierarchy of topics and subtopics for browsing. This function is allowed because of a strict code of shared standards, harvesting metadata using Dublin Core format and the application of indexing codes using lists of terms from the Australian Pictorial Thesaurus.This ensures descriptive consistency and metadata interoperability across disparate source agencies. Clicking on the ‘more information’ link appended to the thumbnail will reveal the management information for the surrogate.

As much of the more modern content is protected by copyright (but not the PictureAustralia logo for those of you worrying about its inclusion here!), the material included is weighted more towards historical content. It is therefore interesting that PictureAustralia’s most recent innovation is to consolidate contemporary content by using It will be interesting to follow how this ‘wiki’ approach to managing digital content progresses, especially in terms of description and authentication.

Vicky Fakan

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