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CityLibraries Townsville

CityLibraries Townsville

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The Local History Collection at CityLibraries Townsville started to formally digitise its collection of historic photographs in 2009 when a digitisation officer was appointed for 14 hours per week. The initial project was to digitise the Photoimage collection, a complete set of approximately 10,000 photographs and make them available online through the catalogue and Picture Australia, which would later be absorbed into Trove. This discrete collection was held in the reference section of the City Library and formed part of the History Collection.  Since then, the digitisation project has expanded to include other photograph collections and resources within the Local History Collection.

The digitised photographs are used extensively by the library, the community and researchers. The library uses them for community displays and engagement.  The images are also used to support the projects CityLibraries Townsville undertake.   The most recent of these is the historic walking trails/tours in the Townsville Tours and Trails app which can be downloaded by Google Play and the App Store.


CityLibraries Townsville provides public library services to the people of the Townsville area, with 54 staff and 31 volunteers. The volunteers are employed in the Homework Help initiative and do not participate in digitisation programmes.  The Digitisation Officer role is part-time at 0.6 FTE and works primarily with the Local History Librarian to digitise for preservation and enable online access to as much of the collection as possible.  Time is divided between digitising and cataloguing the Photoimage collection and other collections and participating in various projects requiring use of the digitised collections.

Community Engagement and Partnerships

The Local History Collection is open to the public Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm.  CityLibraries Townsville works collaboratively with other local history groups in the city to provide the best possible access to local history resources. The Local History Collection worked with the Museum of Tropical Queensland and James Cook University of North Queensland to develop a display held at the Museum of Tropical Queensland to celebrate Townsville’s Sesquicentenary. To celebrate this milestone in the city’s history, the Digitisation Officer also worked with journalists from the Townsville Bulletin who produced the book Townsville from Strength to Strength, newspaper features and booklets.


The Local History Collection includes books, manuscripts, artefacts, plans, maps, audio-visual resources and images. There are 6000 historic photographs in the Picture Townsville collection, also available via Trove, and approximately 180 items in the Townsville History Online collection including maps, documents, booklets, artefacts and oral histories. At a rough estimate 25% of the current held images are catalogued and discoverable. The Local History Collection has a backlog of thousands of photographs, including print, negatives, slides and digital images still to be sorted, digitised and catalogued to be made available online.  


The Local History Collection uses Adobe Photoshop CC for the processing of images, and Adobe Acrobat Pro for the processing of PDFs. CityLibraries Townsville uses SPYDUS Library Management System and File Manager to host Picture Townsville and Townsville History Online.


CityLibraries Townsville uses a range of equipment to digitise, including an Epson Perfection V800 Photo scanner, an Atiz Mini book digitiser with 2 Canon cameras, a Plustek Opticbook A3 bookedge scanner and a photo-stand outfitted with a Canon Camera and lighting.

Digital Access

Online access to the Local History Collection’s digitised items is provided via through CityLibraries Townsville’s SPYDUS catalogue, and through the Picture Townsville and Townsville History Online portals. Digitised content is also available through Trove, while tailored content has been used for the Townsville Tours and Trails app, on Flickr for online exhibitions, on Facebook for a Local History photo of the week and to publicise the collections and Local History programmes, and on HistoryPin. Video content has been created fpr the Townsville City Council YouTube channel and is also available in the library catalogue. The Local History Collection webpage provides a wealth of links to education kits, video, audio, ebooks, and Picture Townsville.


The process for digitising items is the same for all collections.  An archival copy of the image or resource is created and from that access copies and thumbnails are created to enable online access.  Photographs, manuscripts, documents and oral histories are digitised for both preservation and public access.

For the Townsville History Online project, a photographer was contracted to take photographs of many of the artefacts held by the Local History collection that are normally housed in climate-controlled conditions and away from public access.  The photographs of the artefacts have been made available through the Townsville History Online portal of the catalogue for public access. 

Digitisation Strategy

As the number of digitising projects expanded, a Digitisation Strategy was written in 2015. Attached to the Strategy is the Annual Plan which is amended annually.  The plan sets out the priorities for the digitisation of items for the next 12 months. 

CityLibraries Townville’s Digitisation Strategy is available to download here: PDF icon Creating_a_Digital_Local_History_Collection.pdf

Balancing the capacity of the staff member who does the physical digitisation and the large collection of unprocessed items is always difficult.  For example, during T150, Townsville’s Sesquicentenary, the digitisation of items requested by organisations for events and displays for the celebration, was prioritised over general work.

CityLibraries Townsville have participated in a number of projects with the State Library of Queensland and others including:

Memories for a new generation: Townsville remembers World War 1 - A State Government grant  to produce 11 videos detailing the experiences of local families during WWI and its aftermath.

Queensland Memory Opal Oral History project : Townsville voices – This project digitised a number of oral histories and made them available online via the catalogue.

From Selection to Discovery - A pilot project to digitise the historic minute books held by the Townsville City Council and make them available online. This project is ongoing.

Digitise It, Preserve it, Share It - A grant from the State Library of Queensland also allowed us to set up a Digitisation Lounge for community groups and members of the public to come in and digitise their collections. We provide access to an Atiz Mini book digitiser, an A3 scanner and an A4 scanner for photographs, negatives and slides as well as training in the use of the equipment.


Although at times daunting, what can be achieved for the community, council and library is rewarding and sets the library up for today’s and tomorrow’s researchers.   CityLibraries Townsville have achieved outstanding results.

The challenges include keeping up with demand.  This is a new area for libraries and the demand for digitised items is high.  There is a large backlog. The library continually and gratefully receives donations from the community, further adding to the backlog.

There is an expectation to undertake projects with “Wow” factor help to inform and educate on the value of the collections to the community and to the organisation.  Through a Queensland State Library grant the library obtained equipment to open the digitisation lounge to allow organisations and the public to access digitisation equipment and specialist knowledge on standards and settings.  This equipment must be kept up to date and this cost now falls to the library and must stand in line through budget priorities. Currently, the book digitiser is not capable of handling large format books such as the old Council Minute books.  Due to the high cost of suitable equipment, valuable time is taken searching all available options for these resources. 

Initially, a major difficulty was identifying authoritative documentation that set out clear standards for digitisation of specific formats, that the library was able to achieve with the equipment the library could afford.  Once this was achieved, the library produced guides for staff and customers. 

Townsville is geographically isolated.   Training courses for digitisation staff are limited.  One on one instruction is simply not available.  The library has researched, asked questions of experts and used trial and error to get to the point it’s at now.

Upgrading the Library Management System to cloud storage caused considerable disruption.  The library is now limited in the size of the files that can be uploaded to the file manager.  The time it now takes to access the files from cloud storage is frustrating to our customers.


It is envisaged that demand will only increase as the collection grows.  The public expect content to be digitised and discoverable.  Researchers are searching for digitised content as well and this will only increase.  We are working to digitise film for use as another primary resource and from early feedback expect that it will be as popular as the images, audio and the limited video we have made discoverable so far.

Having the photographs available online, particularly through Trove, has greatly increased awareness of the collection and the use of the resources.   The library now takes enquiries from all over the world. The Local History Collection has contributed to a display held in the British Museum and have supplied images to researchers from many different countries.  The library has also supplied images for a number of television programmes such the Tony Robinson’s Time Walks, Who Do You Think You Are? and Coast Australia

Contact details

If you would like more information on the work CityLibraries Townville is undertaking, please contact them at or telephone (07) 4727 9667.