Interview with Dr. Stephen Ellis, the Director-General of the NAA


The National Archives of Australia is an agency of the Australian Government, established under the Archives Act 1983. Our head office and exhibition spaces are in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, and there is an office and reading room in each state capital and in Darwin. The National Archives of Australia helps Australian Government agencies create and manage their records and selects the most valuable records created by Australian Government agencies to
become part of the national archival collection. The Archives also stores, describes and preserves
the national archival collection and makes those records which have entered the open access
period publicly available.

Q: What made NAA to become the fourth laureate of UNESCO/JIKJI Prize?

A: The prize recognises the Archives’ ability to be innovative in this area, our willingness to share the results of our research and our professional leadership. Over the last 40 years, the Archives has become a world leader in the archival profession, consistently sharing professional expertise through numerous publications and open source tools for digital preservation. The prize also recognises the Archives for its worldwide investigation into the conservation issues of parchment documents written in iron gall ink, which are vulnerable to iron gall corrosion. I am deeply honoured that the National Archives of Australia’s leadership in digital recordkeeping and preservation has been recognised in the award of the 2011 UNESCO/Jikji Memory of the World Prize. The National Archives is continuing to investigate and develop methods for the preservation of archival records in digital and other formats and is committed to sharing its developments with the archives profession throughout the world.

Q: Could you tell your organization’s the biggest contribution to preserve documentary heritages?

A: The National Archives of Australia has a commitment to the preservation of records of National significance in all forms, dating from the earliest forms, though to digital formats. For more than a decade the National Archives of Australia has had a focus on the preservation of digital records. Starting with a research project in 2001 that resulted in the Performance Model for Digital  reservation, we have developed a suite of software tools and systems in support of this model. Since 2003 we have been sharing the results of our work with anyone having an interest in digital preservation. We make our open source software and documentation freely available via the internet and today our software is downloaded all over the world, many times every year. We are continuing to develop our software and systems to meet the challenges of large volumes of digital material and the expanding range of digital formats that we must preserve and make accessible.
At the other end of the spectrum we are also actively involved in the challenges of preserving some of our earliest national records, In cooperation with Canberra’s universities and national cultural institutions, and co-funded by the Australian Research Council, the Archives has carried out extensive research into documents written in iron gall ink, which are vulnerable to a form of deterioration called iron gall ink corrosion. Many cultural institutions around the world hold collections of historic artworks, illuminated manuscripts, maps, musical scores, official documents and books that are endangered because they were written or drawn in iron gall ink. Within The National Archives of Australia this includes such valuable records as the Australian Federation documents including Australia’s ‘birth certificate’ – Queen Victoria’s Commission of Assent
to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 9 July 1900, written almost exclusively
in iron gall ink. The National Archives has played an important role in the world-wide investigation of this ink and measures to preserve these at risk records.

Q: How will you spend your prize money?

A: The prize money will fund a conservation student placement at the Archives as an investment in the future of documentary heritage preservation.

Q. What is your organization’s future plan or goal?

A: The National Archives is preparing its 5-year plan to become a wholly digital-ready archive by 2016. By “digital- ready” we mean not only having the capability to deliver access to archival records via digital means over the internet, but also the capability to advise Australian Government agencies on the making, keeping and preservation of digital records for government and community purposes. We will build on our existing online services to the government and the public using contemporary technology and continue to investigate and to develop new ways to provide access and to preserve records using new technologies as they become available.

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