Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The Future of Digitising at the State Library of Victoria, Australia

Catherine Herman and Indra Kurzeme discuss the multimedia source project, set within the context of the pro-multimedia State of Victora, Australia.

The State Library of Victoria has dedicated itself to becoming a Library of the Future. It has embraced the possibilities that Multimedia has to offer and is working towards developing an on- line collection of digitised materials for the world to access. The establishment of the Multimedia Source Project is evidence of this and reflects the main role of the State Library which is to preserve the cultural heritage of the State of Victoria. Our mission reflects this and the notion of providing access to these materials.

Mission statement

The State Library links Victorians to the world’s knowledge, the world to our documentary heritage.

Background to the Project

The beginning of providing online access to materials by the State Library began in 1990 when the State Library of Victoria received a grant of $309,000 from the Sidney Myer Fund to create a videodisc consisting of a range of Victorian pictorial materials from the Library’s extensive Picture Collection (more information can be found at the State Library’s web site [1]). The videodisc was aptly named Pictoria. The Picture Collection consists of over 600,000 pictorial images in a wide variety of formats. This collection is sometimes difficult to access because of the fragile and often unique nature of the materials. The project’s intention was to make these images available to the Library’s users through the use of video and computer technology. At the time the primary focus was to make reference, not archival copies of the images and videodisc technology was seen as the most cost-effective option. Initially, materials from this project were made available via stand-alone terminals from within the State Library using propriety software and an NT Box as an image server. The Pictoria team captured 104,000 images to videodisc. Included in this capture process were images of oil paintings, water colours, drawings, photographs, postcards, woodcuts and etchings. As part of the project, records were created in the Library’s catalogue, using a slightly modified version of the standard MARC graphical materials format. Separate indexes were created for all materials (digitised or not) which were catalogued using this format.

The next stage in the history of Pictoria was to enable the State Library to provide these images online via the World Wide Web. Pressed by the rapid development in the Internet in Victoria, due to organisations like VICNET [2] , the State Library of Victoria looked for further funding to add value to the Pictoria Project. Victoria has set a precedent by appointing the first Minister of Multimedia in the world [3] and a funding body - Multimedia Victoria [4] dedicated to ensuring that projects like Pictoria are possible. Multimedia Victoria granted the State Library the funding to digitise Pictoria and the Multimedia Source Project is the result.

Multimedia Source Project

The Multimedia Source Project has just finished the first year of its two-year funding. The first year was spent establishing an appropriate database infrastructure to support access to digital content. In reviewing the requirements of the multimedia database the Library focussed on the need to: When planning the multimedia database it was known that virtually all of the collection items that had already been digitised and already had existing bibliographic records in the State Library’s Dynix catalogue. When Ameritech released WebPAC, a World Wide Web retrieval interface to its Dynix bibliographic database, the decision was made to identify these records as the Multimedia database within the already existing bibliographic catalogue, rather than create a separate multimedia database. WebPAC had made it possible to meet all our requirement without the need to duplicate already existing bibliographic data.

Implementing WebPAC

In implementing this infrastructure the Library has gained many benefits. However, as with all new products, developmental issues have taken time to resolve. Prior to “going live” the Library customised the WebPAC interface to reflect a look and feel consistent with the Library’s web site and to more fully reflect the information requirements of our database. Customisation of information templates have been fairly simple and the WebPAC interface has been set up using up- dateable features such as image maps that can be centrally changed if required. These image maps add value to the catalogue as they contain links to information about copyright and reproduction rights for available material, as well as links back to the Library’s contents page.

Part of the customisation of WebPAC required adjusting the display of the MARC Record’s 856 tag in the long view so that URL’s would display the thumbnail images as active hyperlinks within the record. The 856 tag is the tag in the MARC record that contains information needed to locate an electronic resource. Records with images now provide this hyperlinked, thumbnail size display of the image in the long view of the record. With records containing multiple images, the first image is provided as a thumbnail and subsequent images are provided as text hyperlinks lower down in the record. A decision was made not to display more than one thumbnail per record to facilitate speed of access to bibliographic information. The thumbnail images and the multiple image hyperlinks, are linked to large versions of the image displayed in a separate web page via the 856 tag. Both the thumbnail and web page image are in jpeg format at screen resolution.

A record from the database

Figure 1: A record from the database

The large image web pages provides information about the title, artist, subject, library record number (Dynix Bibliographic Number) and links to copyright and reproduction conditions. This strategy whilst effectively duplicating some of the data held in the Dynix record, provides additional access and usage options over the World Wide Web medium. Each of the web image pages stands alone as a unique entity that can be linked to by other sites. In addition the Web page includes data consisting of title, artist, subject and format in the hidden title field providing the potential for indexing by web search engines, broadening the scope of access to the Library’s resources. This data in the title field is currently in the process of being transferred into official metadata tags to comply more fully with HTML standards.

Implementation Problems

The Multimedia Source Catalogue went “live” at the end of October 1996 in Phase 1 release. The release of the Catalogue has not as yet been publicised by the Library as there still some constraints in its functionality.

During the initial public access phase the Library became aware of a number of data integrity issues impacting on searching, causing WebPAC errors. One problem it was later discovered resulted from hidden null characters within the bibliographic data which, though they had no ill effect within the Dynix standard catalogue, cause error message and problems displaying brief records sets in WebPAC. Currently we are running a regular program over our data to remove such problem characters.

It was also discovered that some Dynix records had been generated with two leaders in the MARC records, one with data, the other without. Again this issue had never caused problems in Dynix standard. In WebPAC however, while this problem was not sufficient to always cause an error we found it was probable that in cases where a double leader existed, a non-display problem would occur. Recently all empty leader fields have been removed and this has considerably reduced error issues in the WebPAC catalogue.

More recently “invalid access” error messages have been reported by a small number of users when attempting to search the WebPAC catalogue. Users are able to access search pages, and enter search requests but receive invalid access errors as a response. Currently we have been unable to resolve this problem however we believe that it may be occurring to users who are accessing the Library’s catalogue via a Proxy server.

One essential component of the WWW catalogue is ensuring that hyperlinks remain valid in the WebPAC catalogue. The Library is currently in the process of implementing a link checking program to resolve these problems. This program will confirm the validity of all hyperlinks, both those we add to our own database and those which may be downloaded via ABN when we update bibliographic records.

While many of the problems we have experienced are data or server related we have also experienced some issues that require input from Ameritech. Amongst these are the inability to display the subject field in the short view of the record, something which could be deemed as unnecessary in a bibliographic catalogue, but a significant feature in a database of images. This we are hoping will be resolved with the next release WebPAC. Another issue is in the brief view of the record, WebPAC translates the MARC coding for the presence of an image as “Film” whereas the correct translation should be to “Visual Material’. This has a detrimental effect on the validity of our presentation of the material. Apart from giving the impression that the user will be able to retrieve a moving image, it also makes it appear that the Library has been less than rigorous in its cataloguing of its content.

Despite some of our initial teething problems with ensuring data integrity the WebPAC interface has proven to be a valuable tool in making our image resources accessible to the world community. While the initial Pictoria Project only provided access to images to patrons who had to physically visit the Library, WebPAC has disolved the physical boundaries of the State Library taking us a step closer to the “virtual library” concept. The Library is in the process of fine tuning the WebPAC catalogue and future plans, hopefully with the next release of WebPAC, will include customising the brief view record display and adding automated request forms to allow online ordering of material via the catalogue.

The Current Status

The Project has been dormant for a few months as the original Co-ordinator left to take up a post at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Multimedia Assistant is now the State Library of Victoria’s Web Administrator. This temporary hiccup has delayed aspects of the project by three months.

Digitising of images still continued despite the change of management. Working in collaboration with the Co-ordinator and Assistant are a team of 5 Imaging Assistants who manage the imaging of items using 2 UMAX scanners. For the purpose of image capture, the Multimedia Source Project purchased two Umax Powerlook 2000 flatbed scanners for reflective and transmissive scanning of photographs, negatives and transparencies of no greater than A4 size. Specific training requirements in using this equipment were met in-house and through a one day training session using a consultant.

Recently, a new Co-ordinator was appointed and an Imaging Steering Committee has been created which consists of the Deputy State Librarian, the Head of Technology Services, the Head of Preservation and Storage, the Head of the Network Services Division, the La Trobe Librarian (Australiana) and the Multimedia Co-ordinator. From the outset it was evident that the Committee could be called nothing else but the Digitising Steering Committee as types of media other than pictures will be digitised in the future. In correlation with this the Imaging team also has had a name change to Multimedia Access Team. The upgrading and training of the Multimedia Access Team will improve their opportunities for employment and make them specialists in their field.

The Future

While there is a vast amount of content for the Multimedia Project within the Library’s collections the State Library is also committed to developing cooperative digitising projects. While public institutions are primarily repositories of source materials, there is still much that rests in private or commercial hands and this project will be used as an opportunity to encourage the owners of these collections to allow them to be copied and held on the source materials database. An example of this cooperative relationship is the Rural Water project currently in the process of being digitised. This collection is on loan to the Library for 50 years before it is passed on to the Victorian Public Records Office. The State Library is selectively digitising this collection and will retain the images making them available via the source project. This ensures ongoing accessibility even after the collection is physically removed from the Library.

The future of the project will see the incorporation of VRML files and small animations show- casing areas such as the new Information Centre at the State Library of Victoria. Admittedly this is a form of advertising of the newly designed and fitted out space however, the State Library of Victoria has recently undergone a major redevelopment both physically and technologically and multimedia provides the opportunity to show these changes to the world in an innovative and creative way.

The Multimedia Project’s brief is not just to create an online catalogue but also to add value to existing resources through the use of multimedia. A perfect opportunity for this exists in the creation of online exhibitions providing a virtual tour of some of the Library’s unique collections. The State Library is employer to some extremely talented reference librarians who have specialised, in-depth knowledge about their collections. There have been several “real world” exhibitions that could be quite easily transformed into virtual exhibitions combining short animations as well as audio. The catalogue essays that accompany the exhibitions are concise, informative introductions to more specialised material that the State Library of Victoria houses.

The main access point to the Multimedia Source Project is the State Library’s website and a close working relationship with the Web Administrator has been established. There is no one particular area on the web site that will be exclusively multimedia orientated. All areas of the State Library’s collection and all information will be enhanced by multimedia techniques where deemed appropriate.

The Multimedia Source Project will be investing in a Real Audio Server to enable access to audio recordings of artists such as Dame Nellie Melba. The State Library of Victoria also has a large collection of oral history tapes that will benefit from being digitised so that a larger audience will be able to enjoy them. These files will be incorporated into the WebPAC catalogue as well as possibly being included in virtual exhibitions about the artists.

There is a great deal of work still to be done over the next twelve months and it is hoped that when the funding runs out further funding from Multimedia Victoria or a commitment by the State Library of Victoria will mean the creation of a Multimedia Unit within the State Library to continue to enhance the Library’s future as a Digital Library!


  1. State Library of Victoria Web Site,
  2. VICNET Web Site,
  3. Alan Stockdale, Minister for Multimedia, Victoria State, Australia,
  4. Multimedia Victoria Funding Body,

Author Details

Catherine Herman,
Web Administrator
email: cherman@slv.vic.gov.au
Address: State Library of Victoria, Victoria, Australia

Indra Kurzeme,
Multimedia Co-ordinator
email: indrak@slv.vic.gov.au
Address: State Library of Victoria, Victoria, Australia