National Library's digital archive a 'centre of excellence'

Award a first for a library

The National Library has become the first organisation in the world outside an educational institution to be recognised by Sun Microsystems as a “centre of excellence”.

The Sun Centres of Excellence scheme sets up a special partnership giving the institution access to significant technology support and international intellectual property in support of specific projects.

Sun, in turn, benefits by association with innovative ICT projects. In the National Library’s case the project is the National Digital Historical Archive (NDHA), the Government-supported plan to preserve data which enshrines important elements of a nation’s history and culture.

A third partner to develop software for the project is yet to be chosen. The Library has issued an RFP and expects to make a selection in the first quarter of next year.

While other libraries have started plans to preserve digital heritage, they are operating in larger nations and the comprehensiveness of their data collection is necessarily limited, says Sun’s national manager for education and research, Andrew Boulus. New Zealand’s effort, under the leadership of the National Library, is a realistic attempt at digital preservation for an entire nation.

Preserving its digital past will help the country “realise its digital future”, says communications and IT minister David Cunliffe. A library is the best-equipped institution to bring a nationwide fund of information together and thereby encourage its population in the skills of analysis and criticism which are essential to an information-immersed world, he says.

An amendment to the library’s governing act in 2003, as well as the recently passed Public Records Act, opened the way for it to acquire and retain the nation’s stock of digital information. The library has been empowered to “require” copies of digital as well as paper-based publications and even web pages from publishers for its archive.

In 2004, the Library gained approval from the government to spend up to $24 million to establish the NDHA. Archived material will be available to researchers and a large amount of it will be made accessible to anyone through the internet.

This fits squarely with the government’s digital strategy, says Cunliffe.

As recently as five years ago, such an exercise would not have been possible, says Jim Hassall, Australia–New Zealand manager of Sun.

“The computers [needed] would have just been too expensive.”

Hassall praises National Library chief executive Penny Carnaby and director of digital information services Graham Coe for their vision in bringing to fruition a resource “that will enrich people’s lives from a historical, political and cultural viewpoint”.

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