Assembling the Web of Australia’s past: online technologies, national heritage, and the shaping of the contemporary cultural record
Australia’s national and state libraries have a collective, legislated responsibility to build, maintain, and provide access to comprehensive collections of library material. As the Internet emerged as critical communications infrastructure in the 1990s, and a proliferation of digital media forms were produced and disseminated, the contours of these comprehensive collections have been radically altered. While some have suggested that collecting and preserving content from the web offers the opportunity to build a more representative, even democratic, record of contemporary Australian cultural output, there has yet to be any examination of how the contours of these contemporary collections are defined, and little critical assessment of the gaps, silences, and biases that characterise even the very largest of library collections.
Using ethnographic and historical research, this thesis examines how Australia’s contemporary national and state library collections have been defined, reimagined, and enacted since the installation of Australia’s first webserver in late 1992. To do so, I explore the modes of classification and categorisation that have redefined the boundaries of collections, the rules and protocols that guide or constrain flows of information into collections, and the changing and multiple meanings attached to these collections.
I argue that the boundaries of Australia’s contemporary national library collections take shape in the zone where the categories, rules, and imaginaries associated with library collections meet the categories, rules, and imaginaries of the web. Here, a complex and heterogeneous governance arrangement made up of library legislation, copyright law, license agreements with private technology companies, and technical protocols shape the contours of collections. Categories and standards long used to manage diverse information resources become contested and reimagined in the face of shifting meanings of public and private. Different ideas about what library collections are, could, and should be in an online environment meet and become sites for new forms of social relations. In this zone of entanglement, the shifting boundaries and distinctive gaps that characterise contemporary library collections are revealed.