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Collecting a born digital writer

Paperback vs ebook

Literary archives provide scholars and researchers with invaluable insight into the lives and works of writers, scriptwriters, as well as literary organisations and movements. But how do we collect literary archives effectively when the material is born digital?

The State Library holds extensive collections on Australian writing and publishing, covering drama, poetry, fiction, essays and satire, as well as business papers that reveal the journey from manuscript to published work.

Our focus has always been authors, settings and content associated with NSW and this has help us to produced a set of rich and diverse collections. The Library’s manuscript shelves are filled with famous names including: John Birmingham; Gabrielle Carey; Peter Corris; Mona Brand; Miles Franklin; Kate Grenville; Donald Horne; Elizabeth Jolley; Thomas Keneally; Gillian Mears; Ethel Turner and Patrick White. Many of these collections contain handwritten and typescript documents, oral history recordings, printed and pictorial material - all of which can form the basis of a writer’s personal archive.

Now that more and more of a writer's work exists in the digital realm - how do you collect and preserve their digital archive?

The Library will soon be piloting a digital collecting project that focuses on this very question. In this project we will not only look to the traditional manuscript papers, edited drafts, typescripts and research notes but also on the digital archive. The digital archives can include digital manuscripts, emails, audio recordings and social media accounts such as Pinterest and Facebook. This collecting project will continue to document the development of a literary product: from unpublished work to its final form.

Should we collect the same content as traditional literary archives or should we also collect more modern forms of a writer’s creative process? 


Scholarly researchers of the future might be interested in not only the edited works of a writer but also what inspires writers to produce great biographies and memoirs, novels, stories, plays and poetry. Of particular interest is the inspiration found on the wide variety of social media platforms (such as: Twitter and Instagram).

Future collections will build upon the Library’s digital collecting strategy to initiate the proactive collecting of born digital literary manuscripts. This may involve new forms of social media not yet imagined. 

We have more than 12,000 linear metres of manuscripts in the Library. In the future what will our digital collection of petabytes translate as?

To discover more about the Library's exciting future connect here and explore the State Library’s collections.

- Written by Suzette Brunati, State Library NSW