Kilometres of magnetic tape reveal the richness of Tasmania’s history

Over 5 000 collection items in the Tasmanian Archives are being digitised by a small team of archivists and digital services officers at Libraries Tasmania in a large project coordinated by Karin Haveman, Manager for Government Archives and Preservation.

The team, alongside external contractors, are tracking to complete the project well before a 2025 deadline – with the aim of digitally preserving all magnetic media material for future generations, and for most content to be accessible on the Libraries Tasmania catalogue and Libraries Tasmania YouTube channel from 2023.

So why the hurry?

In 2015, the National Film and Sound Archives (NFSA) published a paper (PDF here) outlining three key reasons why magnetic tape produced in the twentieth century is at risk. These are tape degradation, technical obsolescence, and loss of human expertise.   

What are magnetic tape formats?

Magnetic tape is a medium for magnetic recording, made of a thin, magnetisable coating on a long, narrow strip of plastic film. It was developed in Germany in 1928, based on magnetic wire recording. They can include VHS, Betacam, U-matic, PC floppy disks, CDs or audio cassettes.

Libraries Tasmania received funding from the Australia Government to start the Preservation and Digitisation project in 2020 with the aim of digitising the entire magnetic media collection at the Tasmanian Archives by 2025 at the very latest.

Thousands of items are now digitised and will be searchable on the Libraries Tasmania catalogue from 2023 onwards.

The significance of having online access to the Tasmanian Archives film and audio files can’t be underestimated – making these items discoverable online to anyone around the world is essential for the preservation of Tasmanian heritage and history. 

“Apart from the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the NFSA, Libraries Tasmania is one of the libraries in Australia that has a larger audio-visual collection,” said Karin Haveman.

“Many libraries and archives would donate audio-visual collections to the NAA or the NFSA, a state government or national organisation. Libraries Tasmania is part of the state government, and so our collection is quite large. The Tasmanian Archives has kept all of the audio-visual collection (including original footage of the thylacine and Royal visits to Tasmania).

“The film archives bring a lot of richness to the Tasmanian people on how it was, and how things go … especially a landmark like Cadburys for Tasmania… [there was a film] showing the whole process of how the cocoa comes to us from the plantations in Gold Coast of North Africa, now Ghana, at the time when the exhibition ‘By Mountain and Sea: 100 Years of Cadbury’s at Claremont was showing in the State Library of Tasmania Reading Room. We [also] discovered a beautiful Lake Pedder film taken prior to the flooding that nobody had ever seen before … that footage is just beautiful.”

The digitisation process involved viewing and converting the material to digital format and storing the files in Preservica, a preservation files software application. The team also performed critical conservation work on the physical objects themselves, unpacking the films and audio reels, rehousing and cleaning them, before shelving carefully in the new Geilston Bay Repository housing the Tasmanian Archives.

You can look forward to exploring unseen footage when it is made available in early 2023 through the Libraries Tasmania catalogue, YouTube and other social media platforms. All Tasmanian Archives digitised material will be available to the public by request, with a small amount limited by copyright and other considerations.

Do you have magnetic tapes at home?

Magnetic-based tape in general has a life span of 10 to 20 years but can last much longer if stored in the right conditions.

If you have tapes produced in the twentieth century, consider asking a local vendor to digitise them.

Image credit: photo of Tasmanian Archives – photographer: Miu Lee

What’s on at Libraries Tasmania in November

Do you love the feeling of walking into an art gallery, and being surrounded by colours and textures you’ve never seen up close before?

Take the chance this spring to explore the exciting exhibitions and events happening at the library.

Our latest exhibition, Skying: Cloudscapes in Tasmanian Art opens at the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts on 11 November 2022. Tasmanian artist Tracey Cockburn explores the unique and ephemeral qualities of light and clouds in Tasmanian painting, through contemporary print techniques.

Please note that the Allport will be closed for exhibition preparation on 31 October and 1 November, and again on 7 and 8 November.

Join in as we open our doors for Open House Hobart at the State Library and Archives building. Bookings are essential.

Discover the techniques behind researching the history of buildings at If walls could talk: researching the stories and histories of Tasmanian buildings, now on display at the State Library and Archives building.

Big Library Read for November

The next Big Library Read runs from 2 to 16 November. Library members can read the same book at the same time without any holds or waitlists using the Libby app. The featured title is A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger.

This award-winning title draws on traditional Lipan Apache storytelling structure to weave an unforgettable tale of monsters, magic and family.

Awards include Newbery Award Honor, American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor and National Book Award Longlist.

Good to Know Expo at Hobart Library – making the most of what we have

Are you feeling the pinch with the rising cost of living?

Want to know tips, tricks and services in the community that can help you make the most of what you have?

Join us for the Good to Know Expo at Hobart Library on 24 November from 11 am to 2 pm. Find information about renting and housing, sustainability, healthy eating, positive ageing, community services, getting the most from MyGov, the Aurora Plus app, Service Tas and more. It’s easy, just drop in!

Visit the latest community art exhibition at Rosny Library

From Between the Pages is a community art exhibition showing from Monday 7 to Wednesday 30 November. Artists were invited to submit works inspired by books, stories, storytelling, and poetry.

Register for these events and workshops at your local library on Eventbrite:

And for the kids…

For more events or to register visit Eventbrite or contact your local library directly. If you need help with finding a class, program or doing research, ask our friendly staff.

Connect with us

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where we keep you up to date with online book clubs, events, exhibitions, and more.

Behind the scenes with our conservation team

Our highly skilled team of conservation experts always have fascinating projects on the go.

An acquisition of a group of cased images and miniatures by English-Australian artist, photographer and engraver, Thomas Bock (1790–1855), was recently checked, treated and rehoused by the Libraries Tasmania conservation team and is now housed in the Allport collection.

We thought you may like a peek into the delicate work that keeps these treasures in good condition…

Miniature portrait of Isabella Lewis (nee Mackellar)

This item was loose in its frame, had no protection on the back, and the glass cover was dirty.

Conservator Stephanie McDonald carefully removed the locket from the frame by bending the metal tabs with padded tweezers.

She then cleaned the glass with cloth, fabricated a shaped piece of museum board, and a dust cover from black cotton paper (which was sanded and adhered with an archival EVA and starch paste mix). The additional backing meant that the locket was no longer loose.

Reference: FA1346 Miniature portrait of Isabella Lewis (nee Mackellar) in Japanned frame. Location:

Daguerreotype portrait of David Lewis

This item’s embossed leather case was broken at the hinge, so Stephanie McDonald, our conservator, repaired it with Japanese paper inserted under the leather of the spine and adhered with starch paste. The Japanese paper was retouched with watercolour.

photo of portrait box side on

The daguerreotype glass cover was also cleaned, and the package reassembled.

Reference: FA1347 Daguerreotype portrait of David Lewis in an embossed leather case. Location: 

Collection storage

Finally, to house the entire collection safely, conservation officer Gaynor Tollard made small storage boxes with Ethafoam padding for each cased image, and a larger storage box to keep all the items together.

Every week our conservation team are working with some of Tasmania’s most rare and historic items to make sure they are stored safety for future generations.

Libraries Tasmania opens its doors for Open House Hobart

Are you a fan of late twentieth century architecture?

Have you always wondered about the origins and secrets of the Libraries Tasmania State Library and Archives building in Murray Street, Hobart?

Well, you’re in luck, because Libraries Tasmania is once again participating in the Open House Hobart program on Saturday, 12 November 2022.

Visitors can book a tour of our heritage-listed building (architect: Public Works Department / John F. D. Scarborough and Associates (1960, 1972)) – and can expect truly fascinating insights into this ground-breaking piece of architecture!

The State Library and Archives building was the first major concrete frame building in Hobart, and its façade is the earliest example in Hobart of a Modernist glass ‘curtain wall’.

Sleek mid-century details can be found throughout, while the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts features nationally significant Tasmanian colonial art, books, objects and furniture. Next door, the striking ‘Brutalist Stack’ building houses the Tasmanian Archives and provides access to one of the highest vantage points in the city.

Tours are available at available at 10:00 am, 11:00 am, 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm. Tours will fill up fast so book now to ensure you don’t miss out!

Tours are 45 minutes long, wheelchair friendly and suitable for children.