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Trove thrown overboard amid funding cuts

Trove, Australia’s expansive digital repository of published work, may shut down after Federal Government funding runs out in July 2023.

Trove features more than 250 pictures by David Moore.
Trove features more than 250 pictures by David Moore.

Trove, run by the National Library of Australia (NLA), features more than six billion digital copies of items sourced from over 900 Australian collecting institutions. The purpose is to ‘enable cultural content to be managed, explored, and engaged with digitally’. The publicly-accessible repository includes digitised photos, newspapers and magazines, journals, reports, theses, maps, archives, ephemera and other items.

It’s a valuable and hugely popular resource for users searching for a variety of collected items. Trove receives more than 22 million visits per month. This makes it one of only two Australian government websites in the country’s top 15 internet domains (the other is the ABC), and shows it’s used by more than just academics, historians and researchers.

Trove includes over 2000 pictures by Max Dupain.
Trove includes over 2000 pictures by Max Dupain.

Pictures are the second-most engaged items by historians on Trove – the first is newspapers – with Trove accessed three times more than access to resources through physical trips to the NLA in Canberra.

The NLA is facing a 21 percent budget cut from July 2023, equalling to $13 million, which could have a devastating effect on the Library. If the funding cut goes ahead, not only will Trove potentially shut down, but the Library may be forced to introduce other cost-saving measures such as further staff redundancies, fewer operating hours, and a re-introduction of entry fees.

‘The future of Trove beyond July 2023 will be dependent upon available funds. To achieve the full strategic vision will require substantial investment,’ the NLA states on the Trove Strategy webpage. ‘More modest investment sustained over a longer term would enable achievement of the strategy at a measured pace. In a limited funding environment, Trove may reduce to a service focused on the National Library of Australia’s collections. Without any additional funds, the Library will need to cease offering the Trove service entirely.’

In an internal NLA document, viewed by Fairfax reporters, the Library has set out three possible funding scenarios and their implications on Trove:
– Firstly, with no dedicated long-term funding, Trove is shut down;
– Secondly, with funding of between $7-$10 million annually, Trove could be maintained with no improvements or expansion;
– Thirdly, a $50-100 million funding injection could make Trove a world-leading platform within a short time frame.

Trove is expensive to run and there are limited external revenue streams beyond direct Government funding. The service receives philanthropic contributions and also generates revenue from partners to have their collections digitised and added to Trove. It will not adopt a pay-for-view model.

The service was under threat in 2016 due to government funding cuts, however a campaign persuaded the government to allocate a further $16.4 million in funding over a four year period.

Academics Mike Jones and Deb Verhoeven, in an article published in The Conversation, use a couple of metaphors to argue why Trove needs more than ad hoc cash injections.

‘There’s little value in a one-shot dose of vitamins if you are suffering from malnutrition. We’ll just all be back in the emergency room again in another few years,’ they wrote. ‘Trove itself needs a radical overhaul. What is currently a Frankenstein’s monster of dead and mouldering technologies and systems needs more than just cosmetic surgery. It needs to be rebuilt from the ground up as an essential component of national library services.’

They feel Trove shouldn’t be considered an ‘optional extra’ – a service quickly cut when funding dries up – as it would be outrageous if the Library began downsizing the physical collection due to funding. ‘Public access should not be the first sacrificial offering every time there is a budget crisis.’

It’s unclear whether the Albanese government will save Trove through a financial injection, let alone provide it additional funding to make it a world-leading platform.

‘We are in active discussions with government about funding required to maintain Trove and other library services,’ a Library spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘These negotiations are budget-in-confidence, and we will not be providing any further comment.’

Funding decisions will be made in the coming months.

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