About: Digital Excellence Program - NSW State Library

Project Scope

NSW State Library Digital Excellence - digitising collectionIn July 2012, the State Library of NSW launched its Digital Excellence program, which will provide unprecedented, world-wide access to our state, and nation’s most iconic and historically significant documents and objects.  A comprehensive 10 year digitisation program, it will transform the State Library from one of Australia’s most respected and valued libraries to a library internationally renowned for digital excellence.

Valued at more than $2.142 billion and consisting of over 5.5 million items including; photographs, manuscripts, books, maps, pictures, oral histories, newspapers and artefacts, the collection continues to grow as the State Library documents life in NSW and Australia’s modern history.

Under this program, the State Library’s most valuable collections, comprising the world’s foremost archive on European exploration and settlement of Australia and the Pacific, will be digitised.


Supported by the NSW Government with an initial contribution of $32.6 million for the first four years, the Digital Excellence program has commenced the State Library’s major digitisation program and begun the much needed renewal of its digital infrastructure and systems.

With $22.4 million in funding to commence the State Library’s collection digitisation program, and a further $10.2 million allocated to enhancing access to the State Library's collections and services online, the Digital Excellence program has enabled the Library to meet the changing expectations of its clients.

Not only will the funding of the Digital Excellence program improve access to the Libray’s collections, through digitisation it will ensure the long term preservation of collections at risk.

As an example of the preservation work done through the Digital Excellence program is with the State Library’s large acetate film negative collections and analogue oral history collections. These collections which were slowly deteriorating have now been digitised and preserved as a direct result of the Digital Excellence program.

Digital material will be created and preserved on a scale never before undertaken in Australia, with an estimated 20 million digital objects progressively created over the next decade. The State Library’s collection experts have already identified the most in-demand, fragile and valuable collections for digitisation.

Digitisation of these collections will prove important to individuals like those in regional areas and in the creative industries, who will no longer have to travel to the State Library to view these items. The program will also substantially increase global access to the State Library’s collections online making them available to new audiences, anytime and from anywhere.

While large scale digitisation of the State Library’s important collections is a major focus of the Digital Excellence program, equally important is the renewal of the Library’s end of life infrastructure and backend systems. This aspect of the program will deliver a robust infrastructure platform that is capable of supporting expanded access to the State Library’s collections, for at least the next five years.

How does this project improve service delivery?

The State Library’s website and online channels continues to be the main channel clients use to access the Library’s online collections and services. With 4.3 million visits online to the website recorded in 2012/13, an increase of 25% compared to the previous year, there is a growing expectation from clients to access materials online.

A key deliverable of the Digital Excellence program will to upgrade the State Library’s catalogue, collection management system and website to make access easier for the public.

This aspect of the project will offer enormous benefits to specific user groups like educators, students, historians and researchers, who will be able to access the State Library’s expansive range of educational content online which is aligned to the national education curriculum.

The planned upgrades will also transform client experiences onsite and online as that everyone can access, search and discover the State Library’s unique materials.

Conclusions and lessons learnt

The Digital Excellence program is a complex program which faced numerous challenges and enjoyed many successes in its first year. The project team was established, a program governance framework was implemented and more than 20 demanding projects commenced concurrently.

With very few large scale and similar digitisation projects to reference and learn from, the State Library of NSW pioneered a number of cutting edge digitisation activities early in the first year.

The engagement of the National Library of Australia (NLA), to digitise more than 6 million historic regional newspapers, has delivered tremendous results to regional NSW. During the first year of this four year engagement, the NLA digitised approximately 2.5 million newspaper pages and published more than 60 new newspaper titles on its acclaimed website - Trove. These received more than 13 million direct accesses online during the year.

The commencement of the David Scott Mitchell book digitisation pilot and WWI diary digitisation project are each ground breaking in their own right. Already generating significant interest across business, government and community sectors, in 2014 the online publication of more than 800 WWI digitised soldiers diaries will play a significant part in the State Library’s 100 year commemoration of World War I.

Other challenges overcome in the first year of the Digital Excellence program include:

  • Meeting the first year financial target

Building a program of such magnitude from scratch is not easy but the State Library achieved this, and acquitted the year one financial allocation of $8.747 m judiciously through thorough planning, strong governance and an excellent project team.

  • Responsibility for due diligence falling back on the agency

The digitisation of heritage and cultural materials is difficult and a very specialised field of work. As such, there are no bodies of knowledge or established panels that exist within NSW procurement to assist with procurement. Consequently, the State Library of NSW has had to undertake Tenders with the necessary diligence processes, ensuring probity, risk management and financial assessment were factored prior to the awarding of contracts. To make it easier to engage industry in the future, the State Library has worked closely with DFS Procurement and the DTIRIS Global Procurement team to establish a new sub category for digitisation within the ICT Services Scheme.

With an impending launch of the new ’Digitisation’ sub category, it should be much easier in the future, for the digitisation industry to be engaged and undertake the planned 80% of digitisation work intended for industry. The experience gained to date, should make it easier for others across Government to undertake similar work.

  • In order to grow the market we have had to be flexible in procurement

The aim of the project was always to develop industry capacity. With a shortage of capacity in industry to undertake the large amount of outsourced digitisation work planned, representatives from the State Library of NSW are working with others across Government on how best to mentor and develop capacity in this specialised and highly skilled industry.