State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 53 October 1994


Australia's Most Wanted

A National Plan for Australian Newspapers

In 1988, Australia's bicentennial year, the State Librarian of South Australia, Euan Miller, proposed the development of a co-ordinated national plan for collecting, preserving and making available all Australian newspapers. The outcome was the launch in 1992 of NPLAN, the National Plan for Australian Newspapers. It is supported by all state and territory libraries and the National Library. The State Library of South Australia administers NPLAN on behalf of the Council of Australian State Libraries (CASL).
Newspapers are essential to many areas of research and are in high demand. The user surveys carried out by the State library of Victoria in 1984 and 1993 both found that over 20% of library patrons used mainly the Newspaper Collection. When account is taken of those people who used newspapers in conjunction with other collections, use rose to over 25%. This high demand coupled with the physical characteristics of newspapers causes enormous problems for libraries. Newspapers are large and bulky, requiring extensive special shelving. They are often printed on poor quality paper that deteriorates rapidly, even in favourable environmental conditions. They become fragile and are easily damaged even by careful handling. As they usually lack indexes researchers may need to browse through their contents, thereby accelarating deterioration.
All major libraries have taken some measures in recent years to improve the physical condition of their newspaper collections. The State Library of Victoria has developed minimum standards for packaging and shelving newspapers. It also has an extensive microfilming program for Victorian newspapers under which filming is carried out in co-operation with the National Library, public libraries, local history groups and other community support. The SLV purchases interstate newspapers on microfilm as resources permit.
“In 1993 over 20% of Victoria's State Library patrons used mainly the Newspaper Collection.”
Poor bibliographic access to Australian newspapers has also been a long standing problem for researchers. Finding out where a title is located and what issues are held can be quite a challenge, despite the publication of Newspapers in Australian Libraries (National Library of Australia, 1985). Holdings in libraries are incomplete, especially for the 19th century, but even some issues as recent as 1956 are not available in public collections.
The purpose of NPLAN is to address these problems in a systematic way. The goal of the National Plan for Australian Newspapers is to preserve all Australian newspapers and to
ensure the public has access to them.1 For the purposes of NPLAN a newspaper is defined as a publication with the following characteristics:
it is a serial publication
it is originally printed on newsprint
it does not have a cover
it has a masthead
it has at least four columns per page
it is usually A3 or greater in size.
Excluded from consideration in NPLAN are publications with a specific subject orientation, frequently associated with membership of an organisation. This means that some titles presently in the Newspaper Collection of the State Library of Victoria may not fall into the NPLAN definition. However, as the Library is committed to preservation and provision of access to all Victorian publications, any Victorian titles which do not strictly meet the definition will be included in any preservation and access programs.
To achieve its goal, NPLAN has three major programs — acquisitions, preservation and information. Each program places particular responsibilities on participating libraries, and will shape their newspaper-related activities through to 2001.
The acquisitions program has two key aims:
to collect hardcopy of all news papers as published
to identify, locate and collect missing files.
The State Library of Victoria, like all other state and territory libraries, accepts responsibility for collecting all current newspaper titles published in the state. The legal deposit provisions of the Libraries Act 1988 assist in reaching comprehensive coverage. Library staff actively seek out new titles and missing issues.
Identifying and locating missing newspapers from the past is much harder. Community support will be a key factor in success, so NPLAN will launch a publicity campaign in 1994 encouraging the public to advise the relevant state or territory library of newspapers in their possession. It is also likely that smaller libraries, public libraries, historical societies or museums could hold unique newspapers. The State Library of Victoria is keen to acquire original early Victorian newspapers it does not yet hold, or to microfilm newspapers if their owners wish to retain them.
The State Library of Victoria has decided not to repatriate interstate newspapers to their state of origin at this stage.
One unique recent acquisition is featured on the front of a publicity brochure currently being produced for NPLAN. The English and Chinese Advertiser was published in Ballarat between 1856 and 1859, “but the earliest issue known to survive is one in the Mitchell Library for March 1857. There is a photocopy of an issue from November 1857 in the State Library of South Australia.”2 The State Library of Victoria held only two issues in its collection until recently when No. 87, Saturday June 5th 1858 was purchased at auction. This rare newspaper is printed in
English and Chinese, using woodblock technique, and includes advertising in both languages. Other issues of the English and Chinese Advertiser are now on the list of “Australia's Most Wanted” which features 10 of the more than 160 titles that state libraries know are held in incomplete runs.
The preservation program places primary responsibility for permanent retention of hardcopy newspapers with the state or territory library of origin. In accepting that responsibility for Victoria the State Library aims to improve its storage of hardcopy to acceptable standards to minimise deterioration.
Access policies are formulated to reduce wear and tear through provision of microfilm copies. All current microfilming is done to Australian Standard 2840, and microform preservation masters, duplicating masters and working copies are produced. Plans are being developed for storage of preservation masters off-site in cold climate conditions. Duplicating masters are used to create replacement copies for damaged or lost working copies, and to create sale copies so that the newspaper can be accessible in other research libraries and in the local community in which it was originally published.
To ensure that each state library is able to collect and preserve every newspaper produced in its state, NPLAN recommends limited repatriation of hard copy originals to their state of origin under certain conditions. The State Library of Victoria has the largest newspaper collection in Australia, and holds a number of runs of interstate newspapers which are not held in the state of origin. Although the NPLAN provides for the receiving state library to pay for microfilming and provision of a free microfilm copy to the current owner, the State Library of Victoria has decided not to repatriate interstate newspapers to their state of origin at this stage.
“The State Library aims to improve its storage of hardcopy to acceptable standards to minimise deterioration.”
Information about holdings is the key to access for research. A survey by CASL identified a poor level of bibliographic control for Australian newspaper holdings in state, territory and academic libraries. Participant libraries have identified the national bibliographic database ABN (Australian Bibliographic Network) as the vehicle for listing holdings of both hard copy and reproductions, and as the source of information about microform masters.
The State Library of Victoria has undertaken four major projects to improve access:
An assessment of the physical condition of all newspapers was carried out to determine the risk of further deterioration through continues use. During the survey each volume was assigned a preservation status which indicates the type of use that can safely be made of the volume, and volumes were boxed or shrink-wrapped as appropriate. As a result more newspapers than previously have been made available for public use.
The Library also has data on which to plan future preservation and microfilming programs.
Descriptive records with holdings information for Victorian newspapers have been loaded onto the Dynix computer catalogue and can be found by searching the State Library catalogue. It is planned to load this information onto ABN in the future.
Bibliographic records have been created for all current interstate and overseas newspapers on ABN. This information is now accessible throughout Australia via ABN and in the State Library of Victoria.
By June 1994 all current newspaper issues received by SLV will be recorded on Dynix. Library users will be able to see on the catalogue screen both the retrospective holdings and the latest issue available.
The State Library of Victoria is committed to achieving the goals of NPLAN. It has already directed significant resources to improving its performance in collecting and preserving Australian newspapers and making them available for the wide variety of researchers who seek to use them every year. NPLAN provides a framework for planning our endeavours over the coming years with the other state libraries and the National Library to ensure that this significant part of our heritage is available now and in the future.
Jill Wilson


In preparing this article the author has drawn on papers and minutes of the meetings of the State Librarians’ Council and its successors the State Libraries Council and the Council of Australian State Libraries.


National Plan for Australian Newspapers. Brochure. State Libraries Council, [1992].


Hordern House Rare Australian Books Part III: 1850–1900. Hordern House, 1992.