National Archives digitised records: A better view

14 June 2009

There’s a great free tool to view and print digitised records in the National Archives of Australia’s (NAA) vast RecordSearch database.

Many Australian government Timor-related records are available through NAA’s ongoing digitising-for-access program and researcher activity is increasing that number. These records are directly viewable online and can be printed from the work or home computer for personal research and reference purposes.

Good as this facility is, there are some practical limitations. You can only print one page at a time and the resulting print-out details the archival item’s barcode only (see image below). I find the latter a puzzling choice by NAA because the barcode is not part of NAA’s recommendations on citation of its records (and curiously, the barcode must be entered in the Keywords rather than Reference number RecordSearch field if you want to find the item again later).

Standard NAA print-out

Standard NAA print-out

A better view

If (and only if) you use the Firefox web browser, you are in for a treat.

Science historian and web developer Tim Sherratt has created a script for Firefox which changes the RecordSearch digital record view entirely. Instead of this:

Standard NAA viewer

Standard NAA viewer

You see this:

Firefox script viewer

Firefox script viewer

This viewer allows you to select a page range to print, including the whole file. Access to Adobe Acrobat or other PDF file creators allows you to ‘print’ the whole file to PDF on your computer for much more efficient off-line viewing.

Script print format

Script print-out

The physical print-out is also an improvement over the NAA original (click thumbnail image at left). In addition to providing the file barcode, it also records the source in a form compliant with NAA’s short citation recommendations (in the example here: NAA: A11443, 3) and indicates the page number in the digital file (both crucial for reference purposes).

Browsing in 3D

Optional: Install the Firefox add-on called CoolIris and you can view a whole file on a virtual wall of pages by clicking on the ‘Browse in 3D’ button. A fascinating experience but I find larger files cause my computer to slow down.

Instructions for installation of the RecordSearch viewer script can be found here. More information on the CoolIris option on Tim Sherratt’s website.

Highly recommended to any researcher frequently accessing National Archives of Australia digital records.

Note: The example shown here is one page of  NAA’s Series A11443, item 3 – which is three copies of the official record of talks in Australia in 1975 between Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Indonesia’s President Suharto. Portuguese Timor was a significant agenda item. See whole file here; pages 18-24 for the substantive Timor discussion.