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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5642

Senator TIERNEY (7:04 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

It gives me great pleasure tonight to speak on the 2001-02 annual report of the National Library of Australia. I have had the honour of representing the parliament, and particularly the Senate, on the Council of the National Library of Australia since November 1992. So it is appropriate, on my 10th anniversary on the council, for me to speak. You may wonder why someone would stay on such a body for so long—and I see Senator Marshall nodding his head. Senator Marshall, I would invite you to come down to the National Library and see what a rich cultural repository of Australia's heritage the National Library is. As you move through the National Library, you could spend days and days looking at the collections. Just to give you an example, Senator Marshall, I would invite you to come down and look at the Rex Nan Kivell Collection. Sir Rex Nan Kivell was an art collector in England between the wars.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Could we have some order so that we can listen to Senator Tierney.

Senator TIERNEY —I am sorry, Mr President, I did not realise this would be so controversial. One of the collections Sir Rex Nan Kivell put together was on the South Pacific, consisting not just of books but also of paintings and artefacts. We did have the Rex Nan Kivell Collection on display. This collection in the National Library is so vast that we could display only three per cent of it, and that is just one collection. The building you see by the lake holds the collection of the National Library. Underneath it are subterranean chambers that extend almost out into the lake, and around Canberra there are many vast warehouses that contain parts of the collection of the National Library.

The great challenge for us in the information age is to get this collection out to the people. With web technology and what has happened in communications over the last 10 years, there is now an outstanding opportunity for us to deliver this collection to the people. Historically, it would have been bound by geography: you would have had to come to Canberra to observe any of it. Now, with the marvels of digitisation, you can call up on your computer a vast array of material from the Library's web site. One of the challenges for this country is to increase and accelerate that digitisation process so that more of this collection—

Senator Lundy —They need more money.

Senator TIERNEY —I did not see the Labor government giving it too much up to 1996.

Senator TIERNEY —As a matter of fact growth through efficiencies, if I recall, was your policy at the time of cutting back resources to the National Library.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator TIERNEY —As I said, Mr President, I am amazed that this is such a controversial topic. We have Senator Lundy here, who represents the ACT. I am sure she is also a great supporter of this great cultural icon of Australia.

One of the things that have changed so much is technology and the way in which people can now so rapidly access information. My first contact with the National Library was in the 1970s, when I was doing my PhD. I once spent a day down there chasing 100 items that I wanted to have a look at. I had the list of items and I went in and looked up the card index, as you had to do in those days. On the cards were 30 of the items that I had listed. I went into the stacks to find these items, and of the 11 that I found only three were of any use. That was a full day's work to get there, to go through that time-consuming manual process and to locate the information, only to find that little bit. What I can do now on the laptop is access all that very quickly, read through the abstracts and probably get done in an hour what would have been a day's work. That is how this technology is delivering a revolution to our information economy and why we need to develop strategies to move this out to the people. (Time expired) I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.