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Unearthing gems in our collection

For the past 12 months or so the Library has been designing, building and testing our new catalogue preview. In previous blog posts, we've talked about the many reasons we needed to improve our catalogue experience, as well as the different methods we’ve used to do it.

Now we're sharing some interesting finds from our collection that can be explored using our new and improved catalogue features. 

Custom image viewer 

A great deal of research using the Library’s collections is done remotely, away from the buildings on Macquarie Street. We’ve spent years digitising our collection items - especially original material that is fragile, rare or at risk of degradation - to enable a better online research experience.

So it was vital to provide a good experience for viewing images in the new catalogue. We've built an image viewer that's easy to use on every kind of device and provides a suite of tools to easily explore our digital collections.

Here is an example of the viewer displaying Louise Whelan’s photo of the Oz Afrique dance troupe

Image of Oz Afrique dance troupe

You can now view fast-loading, high-resolution images -  copyright permitting - which means you can ‘deep zoom’ into even the smallest details of many images.

Take this fascinating photograph of a wholesale merchant's premises at Hill End in the 1870s:  Meagher & Co., general warehousemen & wholesale wine & spirit merchants, Hill End

Because we can provide a high-resolution digital image, the ‘100% zoom’ feature means you can pinpoint details such as brand names, prices and advertisements in the shop window: 

Zoomed in crop of Meagher & Co., general warehousemen & wholesale wine & spirit merchants, Hill End

Take a look at this photo of another general store in Hill End. Using the deep zoom function, see if you can identify a common medicinal product sold at this store (hint: try zooming in above the doorway).  

In paintings and drawings, deep zoom can give you an insight into the artist's techniques and materials. Viewing this George Lawrence painting of White Bay, you can explore his masterful use of colour, texture and varied brush-strokes in a way that wouldn't otherwise be possible - even if you were standing nose-to-glass looking at this painting in our galleries: 

Zoomed in crop of Marshalling yards, White Bay, 1952 / painting by George Lawrence

Some other items worth checking out with deep zoom include the colourful fibres of Patrick White’s writing rug, a wonderful vintage tourist map of Sydney (see if you can identify the point of interest where the Opera House now sits) and a sketch of an echidna from the 1790s (for a cute surprise, zoom in to its mouth).  

Album view 

Our new image viewer has an album view feature that allows readers to quickly browse thumbnails of all images within a collection, something that was never easy to do in our existing catalogue interface. Good examples of the album view in action include artist John Lewin’s book of botanical sketches with 256 images, James Stuart’s ocean of colourful fish, and this album of images exploring every stunning detail of the Macquarie Collector’s Chest

Thumbnail images of the Macquarie's Collectors Chest

Digital collections search 

As well as improving the traditional catalogue experience, a new pared back interface allows readers to limit their research to our digital collections. This is a fun way to browse images and digital files using simple criteria like format type, key words or date range. It also means you can easily browse digital files across multiple formats. For example, this search for ‘stained glass’ which gives you a gorgeous list of paintings, photographs, sketches and even glass patterns: 

Screenshot of search results displaying stained glass patterns and artworks

Some other great examples from exploration of our digital collections search include an amazing array of images of Bondi Beach (among them this fascinating photo of the famous beach from the 1870s), these beautiful specimens and depictions of ferns, and this search for kites that led to the discovery of an innovative form of beach safety

Photo of kite at Bondi

Image tags 

As shown in a previous post, we've been using artificial intelligence to help us describe images, often making them easier to explore in our digital collections interface. Our TIGER tags have allowed us to easily browse items by colour, shape, profession, article of clothing, or even by a very specific size of cat. Our machine generated tags often add contextual value when paired with existing subject headings created through traditional cataloguing. Examples include this image of a cattle farm at Glen Innes and the image below of a wedding at Elizabeth Bay where the location was identified by librarians and TIGER could add more specific details like the bride and wedding cake: 

Image of wedding at St John's Church

Book viewer 

Another  new catalogue feature that we're excited about is the custom-built book viewer. The Library holds thousands of published books, such as these rare books by Charles Dickens, and our book viewer allows readers to view digital versions online. Examples include this beautiful guide to Australia’s snakes, an illustrated copy of Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll, and Joseph Lycett’s Views of Australia.  

Wherever possible, the book viewer includes a machine generated full text version (known as OCR), which allows readers to search within a book. If you are so inclined, you can learn about what it took to make your gold-digging fortune in 1852, browse this 1879 guide to Sydney, or, as demonstrated in the image below, search for the many references to bushrangers in Kingston’s 1887 teen fiction Australian Adventures:

Screenshot of images from Kingston's 1887 book Australian Adventures

More features 

These are just a few of the many features already available in our new catalogue preview, or soon to be released. We hope  our new catalogue makes it easier for readers to do their research and also offers the opportunity for joyful exploration, serendipitous discovery and a renewed appreciation for the treasures layered deep within the collections of the State Library of NSW.