SCISConnections

The Dawn of a new resource

In March 2012, the National Library of Australia (NLA) announced it had added historical magazine The Dawn to the Trove online collection of Australian digitised newspapers.

The Dawn on Trove, National Library of Australia

The Dawn on Trove, National Library of Australia

Trove is a powerful search engine run and developed by the NLA; visitors to the site are able to search a vast range of resources including maps, music, images, oral histories, books, journals, magazines, archival collections, biographies and digitised newspapers through one simple, user-friendly website.

The name comes from 'trouver' a French verb meaning to find or discover. The NLA has created this tool to make it easier to access content in the treasure trove of not only the national collection, but collections in our state libraries too.

The Dawn: Journal for the Australian Household, was published in Sydney by Louisa Lawson from May 1888 until 1905. It is a rich resource for use by teachers across the curriculum.

The only complete collection of The Dawn that still exists is the one that belonged to Louisa Lawson herself; every single issue, in bound volumes sits on the shelves of the State Library of New South Wales.

Bound hard copies of The Dawn from the State Library of New South Wales
Bound hard copies of The Dawn from the State Library of New South Wales
Photo by Craig Mackenzie courtesy of the National Library of Australia

 

It is an incredibly precious and fragile artefact of history and almost impossible for most people to access. It can’t generally be handled by people casually visiting the library. While it has been available on microfilm in major libraries since 1986, there’s no denying that having it freely available online means more people will be able to read The Dawn and use it for research.

Now that The Dawn is in Trove, anyone can access it and even better, they can do a full text search. This opens up avenues for historical research that previously just weren’t possible.

Given that the new Australian history curriculum specifically identifies federation and suffrage as key themes, The Dawn is uniquely placed to provide fresh insights on this important phase of nation building. The many column centimetres devoted to these topics should give students the opportunity to do their own research in a primary source of the time. They can even help correct errors in the articles created by the automatic text recognition of the scanned page images. Creative educators may also find inspiration in regular columns in The Dawn. Perhaps the poet’s page can provide hitherto undiscovered gems for English studies. Does the children’s corner contain interesting ideas for engaging early learners?

I was alarmed to discover that The Dawn was not readily available online when I was searching for stories of women using and creating technology before the digital age. I had imagined Louisa Lawson’s important journal would be a good place to look. Disappointed to discover it was not yet online, I contacted the National Library to ask them to include The Dawn in their project to digitise Australian newspapers and put them online.

This was the reply:
'Currently this title is not on our schedule for digitisation through until 30 June 2011... From July 2011 we are seeking to digitise additional titles funded by other libraries and institutions.'

And this was my response:
'I shall investigate a campaign to raise funds, I’m sure women’s groups and institutions might be interested... How much money are we talking about?'

The answer surprised me; around $6,000 plus GST. From that point on, I spoke about Louisa Lawson's journal to friends and colleagues, and raised the idea of running a fundraising campaign to 'Digitise The Dawn'. They were supportive and enthusiastic. I asked the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW), the organisation behind the Australian Women’s Archive Project, if they would support a campaign to 'Digitise The Dawn', and thankfully they said yes.

I began the campaign online by writing a blog post and creating a ChipIn page. ChipIn is a website that allows anyone to create a simple web page to collect money from people for a cause or project using the PayPal system to process their contributions. As momentum picked up, I started work on a website for the campaign, bought the domain name and created a Twitter account to get the word out. Eventually, I shut down the ChipIn page, and instead put a PayPal donate button directly on the http://digitisethedawn.org website. A green bar showed website visitors the progress being made towards our dollar target.

The Digitise The Dawn campaign website

The 'Digitise The Dawn' campaign website

My next step was to reach out in every direction I could think of to help spread the word. And spread it did, in all sorts of unexpected directions; through networks of women academics, genealogists, librarians, Wikimedians and politicians. As a result the donations started pouring in. It turned out many people agreed it was high time to digitise The Dawn, and not only did they agree, but they were prepared to commit their own funds to see it happen. The flood of cash set off alarm bells at PayPal. We were flagged for extra scrutiny under provisions of the anti money-laundering and counter terrorism financing act and our PayPal account was shut down until we could prove we were a charitable organisation. As I was using my business account, there was no way I could ever prove I was a charitable organisation. Fortunately the NFAW kindly agreed to continue taking donations for the campaign and the NLA agreed to vouch for us by writing a letter to PayPal assuring them we were authorised to collect donations on its behalf.

The lesson I learned from this experience, and hope to share with you, is that the fight to preserve the archives that matter to us is an important one. If you have collections you’d like to see digitised in your communities, think about who your allies might be; contact your local, state and national library for advice. Use the power of social media to spread the word and connect with potential allies. It takes persistence and passion, but anyone can do it.

Links

1. Trove: National Library of Australia http://trove.nla.gov.au

2. The Dawn, now online http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-title252

3. Campaign to Digitise The Dawn http://digitisethedawn.org

4. National Foundation for Australian Women http://www.nfaw.org/

5. Australian Women’s Register www.womenaustralia.info/

Donna Benjamin

Donna Benjamin

Donna is Executive Director of Creative Contingencies, a small web consulting business based in Melbourne.
http://cc.com.au/donna/bio