I’d just arrived home on Monday evening when a tweet from the local ABC radio station appeared in my stream: ‘NOW: @nlagovau informs its staff of budget cuts’. An all-staff email describing the impact of continuing government funding cuts on the Library had become public – it was not good news.
Everyone knows there are harsh times ahead for our national cultural institutions – the effect of the latest cuts (let’s not call them ‘efficiency dividends’) was vigorously discussed at Senate Estimates. Although the Australian War Memorial was, rather significantly, spared the bayonet. These ‘dividends’ have been forcibly extracted by governments of both persuasions, but the latest round has pushed the already struggling organisations beyond their capacity to adjust. Staff and services are going to be lost.
Soon after the ABC segment, more details about the Library’s plans appeared on the Canberra Times website. As the recently departed manager of Trove I was worried for my former team mates and for the service we had worked so hard to develop. The ABC referred to major cutbacks in the Library’s digitisation program. The Canberra Times report went on to note:
The library will also cease aggregating content in Trove from museums and universities unless it is fully funded to do so.
Trove, used by more than 70,000 people a day, has previously avoided cutbacks. But no longer. Fewer collections will be added, less digitised content will appear – not quite a content freeze, but certainly a slowdown.
I started tweeting about the reports. I also invited others to share their thoughts on the value of Trove with the Minister for the Arts, Mitch Fifield, using the hashtag #fundTrove. As I write this post the total number of #fundTrove tweets and retweets is approaching 3,000. Many have shared their discoveries or the details of their research – all made possible by Trove. Others have just expressed their outrage. But what is most powerful is the overwhelming sense of gratitude and affection (even love) for what Trove provides. Trove matters.
Trove & the NLA were an absolutely indispensable resource & support for our Eureka Prize-winning climate history research project #fundTrove
— Pew pew! (@pewpewlaserfire) February 23, 2016
— Phillipa McGuinness (@pipmcg) February 23, 2016
The #fundTrove tweets are bringing me close to tears. Is this what we've come to? How shameful.
— Molly (@madradish) February 23, 2016
Trove is unique and globally important. It is the most significant public sector DH project in the world – Australia needs to #fundTrove
— Tim Hitchcock (@TimHitchcock) February 23, 2016
— TheVelvetNap (@TheVelvetNap) February 22, 2016
Let’s be clear, Trove is not going to be suddenly turned off. Nor is it a particular target of government cuts. But these new limits on Trove are a clear sign of how deeply these ‘efficiency dividends’ are striking at one of our most important cultural institutions. And if the government thinks that’s ok, what does it mean for the future of Trove?
I’ve written previously about the way that Trove’s digitised newspapers are changing the practice of history, even changing our relationship with the past. But Trove is not just newspapers. Trove also brings together the collections of hundreds of other organisations – large and small. Together with the National Library’s own digital collections these two halves of Trove create a resource profound in depth and meaning, and brimming with the capacity to surprise.
It seems the National Library has simply been too efficient for its own good. Instead of sitting back and waiting for a big pot of money, it took the decision some years ago to push ahead with the development of Trove. Many libraries, organisations and individuals have helped fund the digitisation of newspapers, but the Library built Trove from within its existing budgets – a triumph of innovation and efficiency. And now it’s suffering for it.
The current round of cuts have made it clear – it’s time for Trove to be appropriately funded. Not as an add-on, or a ‘nice to have’, but as key component in our cultural landscape.
Although #fundTrove has focused its attention on the Minister for the Arts, I don’t think he’s the only one in the firing line. Trove is a fundamental piece of research infrastructure, as important as a telescope or a particle accelerator. But, like most cultural institutions, the Library has limited access to infrastructure funding. That’s just stupid, reflecting an outdated understanding of the nature of research. Let’s fix that as well and find support for Trove in education and research budgets.
And then there’s the ‘ideas boom’. As I’ve frequently argued, Trove is not just a website or a portal, it’s a platform. Portals are for visiting, platforms are for building on. All those hundreds of aggregated collections, all those millions of digitised newspaper articles are available in a form computers can understand via an API (Application Programming Interface). That means clever developers, innovative industries, hackers and tinkerers can take Trove’s data and BUILD NEW THINGS. BOOM! Ideas have to start somewhere, and Trove offers plenty to play with.
I don’t know if Senator Fifield will ever see any of the #fundTrove tweets. But it’s important to talk about what we value and why. I’m a historian and a hacker and I love Trove because it helps me to see things differently. Our history is not in the past – it lives as a source of inspiration and unease, understanding and critique. Trove helps me to connect to that. I want it to be safe, and I want it to grow.
Things you can do right now
- Tweet or post about the value of Trove using the hashtag #fundTrove.
- Like the #fundTrove FaceBook page
- Write to Senator Fifield (or other government members) – the folks at the eScholarship Research Centre at Melbourne University have already drafted a sample letter.
- Sign one or all of these petitions:
- Fund Trove! created by Edwina Byrne on Megaphone.org.au
- Stop Cuts to National Library of Australia & Save Trove created by Paddy O’Toole at Change.org
- Stop the Australian government from wrecking Trove created by Ian Gardener at Change.org
#fundTrove news & posts
Latest updates will be posted on the #fundTrove Facebook page!
In the media:
- Treasure Trove: why defunding Trove leaves Australia poorer by @mikejonesmelb & @bestqualitycrab in The Conversation
- Turnbull, cuts and the culture of forgetting by @AndrewThackrah on The Drum
- My radio interview with Perth’s community radio station RTRFM
- My radio interview with Phillip Adams and Peter FitzSimons on ABCRN Late Night Live
- Video except of Peter FitzSimons on ABCRN Late Night Live
- Budget cuts threaten National Library’s online Trove, by Patrick Avenell in Campus Review
- The researchers’ treasure, Trove, is under threat by Gideon Haigh in The Australian
- Australian and international arts institutions, researchers throw support behind Trove by Alexandra Back in The Canberra Times
- Trove online database’s future in doubt due to National Library funding cuts on @ABCNewsCanberra
- Cuts to National Library funding will hurt researchers from all walks of life by Erica Cervini (@thirddegreeblog) in the Sydney Morning Herald
- National Library’s Trove: a great digital democracy under threat by Paul Daley (@ppdaley) in The Guardian (Australia)
- Trove and the case for radical openness by Hugh Rundle (@hughrundle) in Overland
Statements of support:
- Statement by The Greens, 23 February 2016
- Statement in parliament by Gai Brodtmann MP (ALP), 24 February 2016
- Statement in parliament by Tim Watts MP (ALP), 29 February 2016 — see also the video on Facebook
- Statement in parliament by Gai Brodtmann MP (ALP), 3 March 2016
- Statement by peak GLAM organisations in support of Trove
- Statement by the Australian Academy of the Humanities in support of Trove
- Open letter from the Professional Historians Association (Victoria) to Senator Mitch Fifield
- Open letter from the History Council of NSW to Senator Mitch Fifield
- Open letter from the Australian Historical Association to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (and others)
- Statement by ALIA, NSLA & MA, Peak bodies call on infrastructure minister to support Trove
- Statement by the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
- #FundTROVE by @annelie_de
- On the importance of Trove by @cassmob
- #FundTrove by @jessb3
- #fundTrove by @jayechats
- An open letter to Senator Fifield by @morethangrass
- A Treasure Trove of Newspapers by @diamond_marion
- #fundTrove by @ladyredjess
- Funding smart infrastructure by @peterneish
- Trove beyond borders by @KarinESpeedy
- TROVE: the library community’s greatest contribution at risk by @57GPS
- What is it about Trove? by Chris Loudon, WAGS
- Threats to funding of the National Library of Australia’s ‘Trove’ by Katrina Grant, Melbourne Art Network
- Airships against the Mad Mullah; or, #fundTrove by @airminded
- Another reason to #FundTrove: Communist Party of Australia material now digitised by @hatfulofhistory
- Four reasons why the National Library of Australia is so valuable to Australia and Australians by David Stephens at Honest History
- Guarding the treasure trove by Bob Wilson at Friday on My Mind
- Teaching and Troving by @CowPaddock
- Fund Trove by Jackie French
- Monday musings on Australian literature: Save Trove by @whisperinggums
- I Love Trove! (Ask anyone who knows me, I say it all the time!) by @linksinachain
- One cut too many – how much more efficient can our national culture get? by Chris Bowen at Music Australia
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.