Amy Baker sorting vertical files (Source: Neera Sahni)
The Vertical Files are a collection of approximately 1250 files stored upright in filing cabinets. Each file is a collection of newspaper clippings, pamphlets, pictures, chapters of books and other materials dating from the 1970s to September 2017. These files are full of useful and unique documents about a wide range of subjects relating to Parramatta.
Inside view of Vertical Files (Source: Neera Sahni)
However, in this format they are time consuming to search and difficult to keep in order. The library needed to find a way to make them accessible to researchers. It was decided that all the materials in these files would be digitally scanned creating a digital version. Digital documents are far more accessible, especially because they can be searched for a name or keyword, reducing the amount of time it takes to find a document or piece of information. However, due to copyright restrictions digital copies of these materials cannot simply be made available on the internet. While it is possible to purchase copyright clearance for some materials, such as newspaper articles, it is prohibitively expensive. Therefore, the library needed to find an alternative way to make the contents available to the public. It was decided that an introduction database would be created. This would include a brief introduction for each file; describing its subject matter and a summary of the items included. Thus, this project will produce an introduction database that will be available on the Research Library’s website so that researchers can determine whether the Vertical Files contain materials about their topic of interest. Then they will be able to visit the Research Library and digitally access these files.
This project is a work in progress and the Research Library aims to make the introduction database available via the Research Library’s website in coming months. In the meantime, the public can visit the Library to access the digital copies of the Vertical Files.
I chose the Parramatta Local Studies and Family History Research Library for work experience as part of my Masters in Information Studies because it is located in my local community and would provide a unique opportunity for me to both develop my professional skills and knowledge of this community. During my work experience I was able to see how the goals and values of the Heritage Centre are translated into library activities that respond to the needs of the community. Accordingly, I tried to ensure that my work on the Vertical Files project would raise awareness of these resources and make them more accessible to the community.
I have found this project very interesting and learnt a lot about Parramatta’s history. Accordingly, I have returned as a volunteer to work on the vertical files project two days a week over my university summer break. However, making sense of the files has not been without its frustrations. Most time consuming has been identifying people; where relevant and possible I tried to include birth and death years. Instances where there was more than one person with the same names caused me a lot of confusion. Often, they were related but there were also people who coincidentally have similar names. My favourite example is John Nicholls and John Nichols who both appear in documents in one file. John Nicholls was a convict who arrived in Australia on the First Fleet in 1788, whereas John Nichols arrived as a ship steward on the Second Fleet in 1790. Both men were born around 1755 and they died only 3 years apart.
Overall, contributing to the introduction database for the Vertical Files has been an interesting and rewarding experience and I am hopeful that the increased availability of these materials, some of which may not exist elsewhere, will be useful to people researching Parramatta’s history.
Amy Baker, Volunteer Research Assistant, Parramatta Heritage Centre, City of Parramatta 2020