State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 47 & 48 1991

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The Newspaper Collection of the State Library

The Newspaper Collection of the State Library of Victoria is the largest collection of newspapers in Australia. It is divided into three sections, the Archival Section, the Microfilm Section and the Current Newspapers section. The Newspaper Collection has several main functions. It is the historical archive for all major Victorian and many early interstate newspapers. The reference service which is offered to assist people to use the collection is another important aspect. The other major function of the collection is to initiate and coordinate microfilming of all Victorian newspapers throughout the State.
The Archival Section is made up of 80,000 hardcopy volumes of newspapers. This section includes nearly 40,000 volumes of Victorian newspapers, 20,000 volumes of interstate papers and 20,000 volumes of overseas papers. The earliest of these is the Daily Post (London) for 1744. The collection also contains more than ninety five percent of all Victorian newspapers published since February 1882. Prior to that date, there is a large selection of the very earliest newspapers published in the Colony of Victoria, including some of the gold rush papers, complete runs of the Argus (first published 1846), the Age (first published in 1854) and the Herald (first published in 1840). The collection also contains fairly complete runs of such titles as the Melbourne Advertiser (the first paper published in Melbourne in 1838 by John Pascoe Fawkner), its successor the Port Phillip Patriot and the Port Phillip Gazette. The newspaper collection also contains many of the earliest newspapers published in Australia including a sizeable number of interstate titles dated prior to settlement in Victoria. Many of these papers are the only copies known to exist.
The Microfilm Section consists of over 26,000 reels of microfilm. The collection is acquired by microfilming the archival collection of Victorian newspapers, purchasing subscriptions to Victorian titles and major overseas and interstate titles which are filmed by other agencies and whenever funds become available purchasing large runs of backsets of overseas and interstate titles for which the hardcopy is in constant demand.
The Current Newspaper Section contains all newspapers that are published in Victoria and are less than three months old, duplicate copies of major Victorian titles which are retained until the microfilm becomes available, and all overseas and interstate newspapers that are less than ten years old. There are 379 Victorian titles and 142 interstate and overseas titles. When these papers are no longer classified as current newspapers most titles become part of the Archival Section. However overseas and interstate titles that are available on microfilm are usually discarded. The Library spends over $60,000 a year on the purchase of 65 major overseas and interstate titles. A number of interstate local papers, ethnic papers and overseas papers are acquired by donation. Many of the European papers are sent airmail and are available within a day or two of publication. At this time most of the Pacific and Asian language papers are sent by surface mail and are only available several months after publication. Most of the Victorian newspapers are received under the publishers’ Legal Deposit obligations.
The Collection is used by more than 80,000 people every year. It is used by academics, local historians, family historians, sports historians, VCE students, undergraduate and postgraduate students, tourists, migrants, long term visitors to Australia, business people, people searching for overseas information such as car prices, house rentals and sporting results and professional and amateur authors.
The major concern for the Archival Section has simply been to ensure that the collection of original newspapers survives. Unfortunately many of the hardcopy volumes are in a very fragile state. This is due to many reasons. Obviously the nature of the material is a major contributor. Newsprint is not intended to last more than a few days but in an archival collection it is expected to survive for hundreds of years. The storage conditions, as well, have been far from adequate and as a result many volumes have suffered substantial damage. Some of this damage has also been made worse by the fact that many of the volumes were not originally bound to correct archival standards. The other
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major contributing factor has been the constant use of the collection over a long period of time.
The Library is at present looking at several initiatives to ensure that the collection will survive intact. There are different forms of storage such as heat sealing processes which are being reviewed for their archival suitability. It is hoped that these processes will enable many of the most fragile volumes to be disbound, then stored safely in a more stable environment and so decrease the risk of deterioration. The Library over the last few years has also been slowly improving the storage areas so that more volumes are now stored flat, thus preventing damage from movement when surrounding volumes are retrieved for users. The shelves are also less tightly packed, which is an added protection to the papers. Plans have also been made to replace all substandard shelving with correct newspaper shelving as money becomes available.
At present there is some work being undertaken to repair damaged newspapers. However in the past unbound newspapers have been flattened and restored when these papers have been required for microfilming and it is hoped that money will soon become available to continue with this work.
‘The Library has in fact invested a substantial part of its staffing and economic resources to preserve the Newspaper Collection. It is hoped it mil continue to do so in the future.’
The microfilming program is another major component of the Library's conservation strategy. The program also enables the Library to make the information contained in the newspapers available to a very large number of readers who because of the restricted access to hardcopy newspapers would not otherwise be able to use them. The microfilming program also makes it possible for newspapers to be available at many different locations. This can be a great advantage to people who have limited access to the State Library building or who live in remote areas.
The program began in the 1970s with the intention of reproducing titles for readers who require long runs of newspapers. It was then expanded with the aim of making available on microfilm all Victorian newspapers up to 1920. Over recent years however the emphasis of the program has once again changed and the Library has concentrated most of its $30,000 budget on microfilming newspapers which have great significance to the state as a whole. As a result newspapers such as the Herald, Weekly Times, Sun-News Pictorial, Truth, Go-set, Neos Kosmos, Australian Jewish News, Leader, Australasian and the Advocate are all being microfilmed. One of the reasons that the Library has been able to change this emphasis has been because of the large contributions made to the microfilming of their newspapers by local historical societies, libraries and educational institutions. The State Library tries to encourage these groups to continue their own programs and when possible assists them with funds to microfilm pre-1920 newspapers. The State Library adds to its microfilming funds through the sale of duplicates of its master films to other organisations. The royalties are all used to microfilm more newspapers. Another result of the microfilm program is that the Library has been able to publish lists of microfilm masters it owns and therefore advise users what newspapers they can purchase on film.
Next to the microfilm project the major task that has been undertaken by the Newspaper Collection since 1986 has been to develop a catalogue of all holdings. Until this time no true and accurate record of the collection has been available. The process of recording the collection has been long and involved. Eventually in order to trace the correct holdings and the complicated networks of title changes, incorporations, title splits and mergers most of the work has involved original cataloguing from the volumes themselves. At the present time work on 2,100 Victorian titles is complete and the records are available as a hardcopy printout. It is hoped that they will soon be registered on the Library's on-line computer. The records contain the most complete history possible of each newspaper's title changes and amalgamations, the total holdings of hardcopy and microfilm, listings of unlocated titles, volumes that have been withdrawn because of their fragile condition, details of publishers when this is known and the frequency of publication.
Work is presently being done on the catalogue of interstate newspapers held by the Library.
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One of Fawkner's own copies of the newspaper he published, the Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser.

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It is expected that the Interstate Catalogue will have well over one thousand records and it is hoped that it will be completed in 1991. When this section of the work is finished staff will then commence cataloguing the overseas newspapers. This too, is expected to be nearly one thousand separate records.
In the last seven years, the Newspaper Collection has undergone many changes and developments. There has been two huge projects to relocate more than a third of the collection. Nearly all the records of the section have been computerised. The Newspaper Reading Room has been renovated and air-conditioned to improve the facilities for users. The Library is making available to the public for the first time on-line access to the Murdoch newspapers through its connection to the PRESSCOM data base.
There have been considerable developments overseas in the access to contents and in the preservation of newspapers. It is hoped that many of them can be used by the State Library. For example, many newspapers are available in machine readable formats which make it far easier to locate information. It is likely however that due to the . archival instability of machine readable formats, microfilm will still be the means of preserving information content of newspapers, even it is not the means of accessing it.
The question still remains as to what will happen to the original hardcopy newspaper, which still provides the basis of the newspaper collection. Over recent years there has been considerable discussion on the relevance of retaining the hardcopy collection when the information can be made readily available in alternative formats which are in fact a good deal more economical to store. However the State Library has an often stated responsibility to preserve the publishing heritage of Victoria and the Archival Newspaper Collection represents one of the most important parts of that heritage. The Library strongly supports the view that newspapers are not only valuable for the information they contain but have an intrinsic value as historical items not related simply to the printed text. It has in the past invested a substantial part of its staffing and economic resources to preserve this aspect of Victoria's history and it is hoped will continue to do so in the future.
Deirdre Wilmott