Friday, May 30, 2008

National Libraries - not just books

We've just had a budget here. Everyone hangs out to see if they've got tax cuts, or bonuses, or interest rate reductions, or maybe more money for education and health. Sometimes what seems like small stuff gets ignored. Like the cut in funding this time to the National Library of Australia. I know the NLA does things like archives copies of every publication produced in Australia. I know they have a great research library in Canberra. I know they host writers' events (I went to one last August). I know they have been producing a great history book series for kids called Making Tracks.

What I have also discovered, thanks to an article in The Monthly by Gideon Haigh, is that the NLA also holds an amazing range of artifacts (like Chinese woodblock-printed sutras from 1162), it is endeavouring to archive an enormous amount of web material that disappears daily, and is trying to retrieve some very important Nobel laureate material from 1980s computer disks. The Library is, on many counts, about preserving history through printed materials.

I blogged recently about digital photos - how my photos taken with my old SLR camera and printed on photo paper will last a very long time, and my digital photos on my computer might disappear at any time, thanks to a virus. The NLA is also breaking new ground in doing things like digitising old newspapers (so you can find stuff in them). As well as dealing with five semitrailer loads of material that gets deposited with them each year.

So what did the government do? Well, they cut funding, didn't they? Just like most governments, federal, state and local, are cutting funds to libraries all over these days. Who needs books, for goodness sake? One of the reasons I'm fond of apocalypse stories (the ones where the world ends for some reason) is that nearly always the thing that saves the survivors is they find books. Books that survive techno-meltdown, nuclear disaster and plague, let alone the power going off. Books that tell them how to do things like build houses, deal with injuries, make their own power and restore communications.

Funny how books can do that. Because they survive. As a librarian said, the Chinese book from 1162 can still be opened and read. Ten years from now, anything on CD or DVD will probably be unreadable, unless you've got a player stashed out in the shed somewhere that you can resurrect. But seeing as there are dozens of them in the local rubbish dump every week, how likely is that? Yep, buy more books. Treasure them. They'll last. Gee, you can even read them again in 20 or 60 years. Or give them to your kids!! Fancy that.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic blog, Sherryl. It should go to the newspapers.

Sherryl said...

Thanks, Lorraine. To be honest, Gideon Haigh's article says it all for me - and much better!
Although I did hear the series editor talk about 'Making Tracks' at a conference in February, and they were very worried then that the series would be axed. A great pity, especially when Australian history is often seen as boring - those books are very interesting and well-written.