Resources in the State Library of South Australia

This talk was given by Carolyn Spooner, Content Services Librarian, at the launch of Chequered Lives in the Hetzel Theatrette of the State Library of South Australia on 7 February 2104.

A book launch is always a great thrill for the staff at the State Library — It's very gratifying when people have spent years coming into the Library doing their research — we get to know them very well — they become part of the family — and then a book suddenly appears — well done Iola and Chris — experienced researchers like you are the life blood of a state library, you bring our collections to life and by publishing you make your research available to everyone else

It can be a steep learning curve for the first time researcher though — on more than one occasion I've been explaining the different resources somebody will need to go through for their research — only to be interrupted by the person saying 'Isn't everything on the computer?' Well we have 50 kilometres of collections, so we wish!

Having said that, there's never been a better time to do research on your family history or your pet topic because libraries are doing everything we can to get our best used material digitised and online. For example newspapers. How many people here have spent hours or weeks or years going through old newspapers on microfilm looking for references to your family's name or your cricket team? It's a slog. I'm sure everyone here knows the magic word Trove which has revolutionised the searching of newspapers, but if you haven't and you've been avoiding doing research because of the hassle of going through newspapers — talk to the State Library.

The most popular resources we have are photographs — and we are trying to get them all digitised and online — so far there are more then 200,000 images you can see on our catalogue — and again through Trove you can search the photographic content of all the state libraries and the National Library and find more than two million images from around the country. And while you are looking at our photographs you can help us. When people donate their family photos to us — maybe of Echunga or Burra — often they don't have captions describing what's there. So if you are looking at the the image online and have additional information — the catalogue has a link that opens up an email where you can send your information through to our archivists to amend the catalogue record — because libraries are about being interactive these days.

One of the most loved resources for exploring your family history or the history of your house are the postal directories which list the people who lived house by house street by street in the metropolitan area — we have digitised them in-house from 1864 up to 1959 so you can search them from home.

How you access these directories is through one of our online library guides — which are really fabulous setting out exactly what resources we have to help with your topic, whether it's family history — military records, immigration records, shipping resources, indigenous resources and heaps more.

If you don't have a computer at home we have PCs that you can book for two hours a day — with troubleshooting staff who can help you to access things like the Ancestry Library Edition which we subscribe to so you can access all the databases. And if you've got a computer at home, you can access a range of full text databases from home — databases like the London Times Newspaper Digital Archive 1785 to 2008, and 70 other 19th century newspapers.  This service is for registered users in South Australia only: see list of home access resources.

Even our handwritten archival resources like letters and diaries we are slowly transcribing and getting online — the next generation of researchers may not even be able to read 20th century handwriting let alone 19th century handwriting. We have a group of volunteer transcribers — who come into the library and sit in front of a PC keyboarding handwritten papers into a transcribed document — which we then attach to the catalogue entry — and which is also keyword searchable. It's a great service and one of our volunteers is 94 and comes in rain and shine two days a week to do his shift — of course Chris spent years transcribing for himself the diary and letters of John Barton Hack which Iola's family donated to the library — Chris has kindly donated his transcripts to us and you can see them on the catalogue. For example, go to the catalogue entry for the diary and click on Connect to: Finding aid (transcript of diary) which opens a PDF document.

It's through people like Iola's father and gradfather and their donation of the Hack family papers that we build our archival collections, which are the basis of original research — and we always want more — although because of space limitations our Collection Appraisal group do have to assess material within our collecting guidelines — at the moment with the centenary of World War One happening this year we are hoping to attract donations of diaries and letters and photographs as well as those ephemeral things like postcards or menus or drawings. These items are treasured in families but they may just sit in a cupboard to be looked at occasionally. When families give items into our care — we clean and conserve them, house them, catalogue them, maybe digitise them, maybe transcribe them, and maybe display them. So we invest a lot of resources adding value to your precious items.

And then we have staff who help you find these items and navigate your way around the collections — at the Information desk — and our Telephone service (08) 8207 7250 or 1800 182 013 for SA country callers — where a librarian actually answers the phone and will look something up for you. And we provide a Research Service where we will spend an hour researching out-of-the-way resources on your behalf, four times a year.

Our family history staff are saints — they're always happy to listen to your story — the SBS program 'Who do you think you are?' has attracted a new set of researchers — you may not know that our family history staff spent about a year unearthing interesting stories for the South Australian component of the series.

We are offering sessions on doing your family history, next on 26 March 2014, and also an online session on 26 February 2014. If you'd like to talk to us about your research or donating some collection items to the library, come and see my colleagues at the Information desk anytime.

Well done Iola and Chris — you’re an inspiration to us all to get our own research completed.