The National Library of Australia (NLA) has launched the next stage of its online culture and research portal following a four-year modernisation and digitisation project.
Assistant director-general Alison Dellit said the overhaul involved a complete reconfiguration of the portal’s frontend and a new Drupal-based content management system (CMS).
The CMS reduces the time taken to update the frontend, which Dellit said could previously take up to three weeks to change so much as a single word.
The new system presents users with a richer and more dynamic platform optimised for mobile, and makes searching Trove’s 6.5 billion records easier for people without a background in archival research.
Part of the overhaul involved reworking the way records were indexed using a process developed by the NLA called atomisation that allows Trove’s 68,000 daily users to search for information within files themselves using ‘Finding Aids,’ improving on previous searches that could only take users as far as an overarching description of the collection.
This was because collections representing boxes of physical materials were previously digitised as singular documents, Dellit told iTnews, using the example of Sir John Monash’s correspondence.
That worked well for users looking to learn more about Monash, but if a researcher wanted to specifically focus on his correspondence with certain prime ministers or his writings on the suffragette movement, “what we formerly advised people to do was hit CTRL+F and do a search for the term they wanted”.
“So you had to scroll through a PDF document in order to work out where the digitised item was and then link to it, and that’s obviously really not an ideal way to search.
“What we’ve done with atomisation is that we’ve got an automated way of breaking long lists up into individual records, which means that anyone who’s in Trove who’s searching those long lists won’t have to think that an item might be in Monash’s collection. Instead they can just search that keyword [they’re after] and have the letter returned directly in Trove.”
Using the new atomisation technique, NLA was able to add up to 14,000 finding aids for a single document on Trove.
Last six months
The modernisation was a significant task for around 50 full-time staff, a dozen of whom were IT staff working with business area product owners at the NLA to build APIs and integrate the CMS with the Trove app.
The teams worked in three-week sprints, Dellit said, which got “brutally hard” in the last six months.
“So for the last six months it’s been done partially from people’s living rooms.
“We have, in that context, quite strong daily stand up meetings so all of the team makes sure we’re in contact every single day.
“We had to juggle the inevitabilities of using VPNs and secure root access when people are not onsite and having to juggle those difficult last-minute scoping decisions in a remote environment.”
The situation was made somewhat easier due to the fact that, as a national institution, the NLA already had some experience with remote collaboration.
“The people who worked with digital systems found it easier to work at home because we already had a number of systems set up to support remote working, and I think we’ve really deepened those [capabilities] because they’re not really about technical skills, they’re about teamwork skills and how you actually communicate in this environment.”
Dellit added that the push to finish by the end of June was imperative due to changes in funding, which were announced on Friday as the new Trove portal was officially launched.
The federal government provided the NLA with an additional $8 million over the next two years to support ongoing developments with Trove.
Communications, cyber safety and arts Minister Paul Fletcher said the investment will further strengthen the significant national asset.
“When Trove was first launched in 2009, it comprised mostly print content. Over the last decade it has evolved and today approximately 90 percent of Trove’s use is for digital content,” Fletcher said.
“The National Library and its partner network are to be commended on maintaining, building and contributing to a resource of such cultural and historical significance for all Australians.
“The additional funding will provide ongoing support for the operation of Trove, enabling the National Library to continue to invest in the development of this outstanding service.”