This instalment of the digital history of AustLit briefly outlines the projects and teams that eventually came together to create AustLit, including our predecessor AUSTLIT, the Lu Rees Archive, and a range of independent bibliographical projects on aspects of Australian writing.
According to former AUSTLIT Project Manager Jan Blank's history of the database, the original card catalogue was spurred by Professor Grahame Johnston's difficulties in compiling Annals of Australian Literature (published in 1970). Compiled during the 1970s within the Department of English at the University of NSW (at the Royal Military College, Duntroon), the catalogue was expanded by researchers including Joy Hooton and Sandra Burchill:
The card file was of great value in the preparation of Hooton's bibliography of A.D. Hope, Barry Andrews and Bill Wilde's Australian literature to 1900: a guide to information sources, and the Oxford companion to Australian literature (compiled by the three above-named authors), as well as numerous theses and smaller works. In turn, each of these contributed more data to the file until by 1985 close to 100,000 bibliographic items were recorded. (Blank, 71).
For more information on the card catalogue (and indeed the AUSTLIT database), we highly recommend reading Jan Blank's 'AUSTLIT: It's No Furphy' (Australian Academic & Research Libraries 20.2 : 71-78).
On Tuesday 15th of July 1980, the Lu Rees Archives Collection of children's literature, made up of over 1500 books at the time, was formally presented to the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE) Library. The CCAE is now the University of Canberra.
Lucy ('Lu') Frances Harvey Rees started the collection in 1974. A bookseller, book collector, and passionate advocate for children's literature, she founded the Canberra Children's Book Council in 1957.
The Lu Rees Archive's collections formed the foundation of AustLit's original records for children's literature, with thousands of records migrated from the Lu Rees Archive, supplemented by records drawn from other AustLit sources, including the Bibliography of Australian Literature (BAL), Marcie Muir's Australian Children's Books : A Bibliography and Terence O'Neill and Frances O'Neill's Australian Children's Books to 1980.
Under the direction of Professor Belle Alderman, Lu Rees Archive staff continued to support the development of bibliographical records about Australian children's literature in the early days of AustLit.
The Lu Rees Archives continues as a specific resource for Australian children's literature; however, in 2015, the name was changed to The National Centre for Australian Children's Literature.
The bibliography, compiled by Bruce Bennett, Peter Cowan, John Hay, and Susan Ashford, systematically recorded texts written by authors with Western Australian ties and works concerning Western Australia.
A revised version of the bibliography was published nine years later under the new title Western Australian Writing: A Bibliography.
In the late 1990s, the bibliographies were converted into an electronic form and subsequently incorporated into the AustLit database.
The card file index was created and maintained by staff of the then School of English at UNSW@ADFA.
Production of AUSTLIT was later transferred to the UNSW@ADFA Library.
In 1985, Professor Harry Heseltine of the School of English and Lynn Hard, the Academy Librarian, began the process of transferring the card catalogue to an online database. Data clean-up took place in 1986 and 1987. (See The Canberra Times.)
'Students of Australian creative literature will acquire a powerful new work-horse when AUSTLIT is launched by Mr Gough Whitlam, at the University College, Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra on Monday 8 August.' (Uniken)
Within a very short period of time after the process of digitising the card catalogue had begun, the great utility value of AustLit became apparent.
As AUSTLIT Project Manager Jan Blank notes:
By the end of 1987, it was clear that the database had a growing user market despite not yet being publicly available. Students at ADFA were requesting searches to support their course work, several Canberra schools were developing their Australian literature curricula from it, and a number of writers and researchers from Canberra and interstate had applied to the Department and the Library for access. (Blank, 72)
When it launched, the Canberra Times reported, 'With more than 100,000 individual references on authors and their work, AUSTLIT is a major initiative in Australian literary studies.'
Positions Vacant ...These snippings from The Canberra Times advertise job positions with the early AUSTLIT Database at UNSW@ADFA between 1988 and 1994.
The project began at the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University in 1990 with the aim of expanding and updating E. Morris Miller's earlier bibliography Australian Literature from its Beginnings to 1935. Among the editors on the project were Associate Professor John Arnold (who was involved with the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash from its inception in 1989) and the late Emeritus Professor John Hay, former Vice Chancellor of The University of Queensland.
'By 1997, the BAL project had joined with others as part of the broader initiative called Australia's Literary Heritage. The end result was the formation of the electronic database AustLit in 1999.' (Carol Hetherington)
The four print volumes of The Bibliography of Australian Literature were published in 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2008, and edited variously by John Arnold, John Hay, Sally Batten, Kerry Kilner, Terence O'Neill, and Christopher Wood.
Compiled by Sneja Gunew, Lolo Houbein, Alexandra Karakostas-Seda and Jan Mahyuddin (and drawing on both Houbein and Karakostas-Seda's prior research in Australian multicultural writing), the bibliography drew critical attention to the diverse backgrounds of many Australian writers.
The Bibliography of Australian Multicultural Writers became a part of the Australia's Literary Heritage Project at Monash University and the University of Queensland in 1995.
'READERS in any way involved in multiculturalism and its literary representatives cannot safely ignore A Bibliography of Australian Multicultural Writers.' — The Australian Jewish News, Melbourne Edition.
In 2000, the Australian Multicultural Writers dataset was added to AustLit.
On the 25th of March 1992, then Minister for Employment, Education & Training, Kim Beazley, officially launched AUSTLIT's CD-ROM as part of AUSTLIT's efforts to become more widely available to subscribers both in Australia and internationally.
At the time, the database contained more than 100,000 records.
AUSTLIT's CD-ROM version was published by Informit, a subsidiary of RMIT University, Melbourne.
The work of Dr Lyn Jacobs and Rick Hosking, the Bibliography of Literary Responses to 'Asia' was published out of Flinders University in 1995, and recorded Australian literary responses to Asia in poetry, short stories, novels and plays, 'from the beginnings of the colony to 1995'.
'The data has been gathered from many sources but the AustLit data base from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Library in association with the Australian Defence Forces Academy Library and Alison Broinowski's seminal study of Australian artistic impressions of Asia, The Yellow Lady, were particularly useful.' — Dr Lyn Jacobs and Rick Hosking
In 2000, A Bibliography of Literary Responses to 'Asia' was adapted, expanded, and published on AustLit.
The database was originally created by Anne Chittleborough, Graham Tulloch, and Rick Hosking in collaboration with the State Library of South Australia. The database took a heavily bibliographical approach, with emphasis on preserving detailed local and familial information about female writers who were either born in South Australia, moved there, or spent a significant amount of time there.
Anne Chittleborough's Hope and Fear: An Anthology of South Australian Women's Writing, published in 1994, provided a useful preliminary study for the database.
Compiled by Terence O'Neill, Kerry Kilner, and Sally Batten, and edited by John Arnold and John Hay, the bibliography outlines the basic bibliographic details of around 9,500 Australian writers as well as the genres in which they write.
The List of Australian Writers contributed significant foundational work to the Bibliography of Australian Literature project (BAL).
The database followed the precedent set by the University of Virginia's Electronic Text Centre.
'SETIS is a key participant and host in collaborative projects such as the AustLit database, the Australian Federation Full Text Database and the Australian Digital Theses Program.' (The University of Sydney Library)
SETIS's goal was to house and provide access to The University of Sydney's growing collection of full-length digital texts including the works of Shakespeare, Goethe, Kant, and over 700 Classical Greek texts.
The bibliography, compiled by Kerry Kilner in conjunction with the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University. Focused on identifying and recording information about Australian dramatic and theatrical works and their secondary materials such as articles and reviews, it enhanced previous work undertaken as part of the Bibliography of Australian Literature project.
In the first two to three years of the project, nearly 6,000 plays were indexed, over 1,800 of which were unpublished.
From Page to Stage became the basis of AustLit's Australian Drama research project. AustLit continues to track drama as part of its regular indexing work.
'You are the new chum at AUSTLIT the Australian literary database. On a fine autumn day you arrive at work and, as usual, log on to the system, set up the microfilm reader, have a chat with your colleagues about the latest Demidenko drama and then settle down to index a volume of The Bulletin.
'However, you soon begin to realise that this is no ordinary day: anticipation permeates the air, people rush back and forth behind you and before you long you hear a squeal of delight followed by the pop of a champagne cork. The AUSTLIT team has just created citation 500,000 on the database. The celebrations begin!'
'And so the history lesson for the AUSTLIT near chum comes to a close. Having finished the champagne and enjoyed a celebratory lunch in the sunshine, you settle down to work again, thinking of the next milestone ahead, the magic million mark.
'By then you may be an old chum.'
(Adapted from AUSTLIT indexer Stephanie Pribil's article on working for AUSTLIT, and published on in Uniken.)
AustLit's original consortia originally included eight Australian universities (UNSW @ ADFA, The University of Queensland, Monash University, Flinders University, Deakin, the University of Western Australia, the University of Canberra, and the University of Sydney) and the National Library of Australia:
All eight universities had made long term investments in Australian Literature biographical and bibliographic 'products', some of which were available to the public (either in print or electronic formats), and some of which had not yet been made so available (Ayres et. al.).
The group would eventually grow to include the University of Wollongong, James Cook University, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies [AIATSIS].
In 1998, the planning committee began developing an Australian Literature Subject Gateway to replace AUSTLIT, whose software was now obsolete and not compatible with modern software protocols.
Inevitably, these projects began to duplicate each others' work:
By 1998, it had become imperative to adopt a collaborative and cooperative approach to ensure that all known resources could be described in a single information space, and to ensure that none of these scarce resources was being wasted through duplication. (Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, Executive Manager, AustLit)
This cooperation and collaboration created AustLit: The Australian Literature Gateway.