Archives Outside

For people who love, use and manage archives

Archives Outside - For people who love, use and manage archives

A Day in the Life of a State Archive (part 1)

from request to delivery

[or: The Amazing Adventures of Dame Nellie Melba’s Probate Packet]

Someone just found me on the internet! I’m listed in a database called Archives Investigator – the online archival catalogue at State Records NSW. Not all of the 7+ million items stored here have been listed in the system so I feel quite important.

What am I?

I should introduce myself before we move on. I’m a record, or more importantly, an archive. A probate packet to be precise. I am [ahem] almost 80 years old;  ‘born’ when the subject of my contents died.

Life before arriving at State Records NSW is a bit hazy…I believe I spent most of the time bundled together with other probate packets deep in the bowels of the Supreme Court of NSW. And here at SRNSW? Well…I spend most of my time in a box bundled together with other probate packets. I don’t mind, we all know each other. Not much happens to us. Until now…

How was I found?

As I said, I’m on Facebook Archives Investigator and someone searched for me. There are many types of searches that be done in Archives Investigator – I was found through an Advanced -> Record Item Search.

Archives Investigator - Advanced Item Search for Nellie Melba

and the result was this:

Search results for Nellie Melba using "All Words"

What happens now that I have been found?

Our savvy web surferI’m an ‘item’ in the system and the savvy web surfer who found me wants to know more about me. In fact, he decided he needs to see me. The quick and easy option would be to purchase a copy through the online shopping system but in the end he decided for the ‘try before you buy’ option.

This means I’m being pre-ordered.

What the heck is a preorder?

SRNSW helps you get the most research out of your day by offering a service in which you can pre-order records in advance of your visit. While this service has been in place for a few years, it is a new facility in Archives Investigator. SRNSW is continually working on ‘streamlining’ the pre-order process; the main problem being that not all records are listed in the one system. Other ways to preorder are by using the generic pre-order web form, by telephone (02)  9673 1788 and by email

The new option in Archives Investigator is a simple four step process:

  1. if the record can be ‘booked’ the pre-order option will be available
  2. follow the prompts to the ‘checkout’
  3. fill in your details
  4. select a date for your visit (at least two working days ahead) and submit.

preorder and purchase optionsThe pre-order request has been submitted and received. Let’s see what happens tomorow…

Questions (includes links with your answers, please)

  1. What is the most useful online archival catalogue you have found?
  2. Have you used a pre-order system before?

[If you’re interested, more information about (Dame) Nellie Melba is on the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online.]

Prioritising digitisation for preservation and access

Digitising for preservation and accessAt State Records we have a small Digitisation Program. Budget constraints, staff resources and an archival collection significant in both historical value and size means we can’t digitise everything. Sound familiar? Small as it may be, the program has an important function within our organisation for it assists in the preservation of records and increases access to the collection.

What To-do?

Our Digitisation Program began in 2002. During the initial planning phase one of the first steps was to assess and prioritise tasks. We established a To-do List, a list of scanning jobs to include various subjects and formats and an approximate time-frame for the completion of each one.

Great White FleetContemporary issues

Prioritising jobs can be difficult but contemporary issues may help to sort the list. For instance, the images of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge became a priority job in the lead up to the 75th anniversary of its official opening in March 2007.

In 2008, our priority was to digitise images and records relating to the arrival of the Great White Fleet in August 1908 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet’s peace mission. The job became part of our Digital Gallery and includes photographs and records of the official events.

Using historical dates and anniversaries to prioritise jobs also provides a certain amount of publicity for the organisation. For a small, selective digitisation program such as ours, this promotional value adds another dimension to the task of prioritising.

Retrieval of items

Another important factor to consider when prioritising jobs is the actual use of the item by the public. Is it used often? And is this use causing wear and tear? Digitisation may be beneficial in this case.

Digitising is preservation

Conservation can also help prioritise the To-do List. Records requiring extensive conservation treatment may be pushed down the list, or even off the list –  it is often easier to conserve such fragile records on a case-by-case basis as requests to access them arise.

Where necessary, conservation is carried out on items before digitisation. During scanning both a master copy and low resolution version is made. The items are then stored away and, theoretically, shouldn’t need to be handled again.

Digitising means access

The end product of the Digitisation Program is Photo Investigator and our Digital Gallery. Designed in-house, Photo Investigator is a user-friendly application which provides access to each image and its descriptive metadata. Our Digital Gallery showcases both photographs and records from our archival collection. Together, these ‘images’ tell a interesting, historical stories.

So, while we may not be able to scan our records on a grand scale, every little bit helps.

Do you digitise your collection and how have you prioritsed your jobs?