Brick by Brick: Constructing a Digital Archive about Heritage Housing for Waverley Library

As I was cataloguing a particularly dusty set of Photographic Archival Recordings, I came across a report completed for my old high-school. Naturally curious, I spent a little extra time reading the history of the buildings I once knew to be the Visual art and Design and Technology rooms, a place I had spent countless hours over my seven years of education there. In reading this report, I came to discover that this building was purchased by the school in the 1980s but until that point, had housed what had been known as the ‘Oddfellows Society’, a group of workers and merchants and their families who compiled money and resources together as a contingency should any hardship arise. I was particularly affected by this report, namely by the manner in which myself and my own community was connected to the distant yet ever present remnants of another. This served as a turning point for me, for I began to see an intricate tapestry of interwoven stories and lived experiences that connected my life, my reality and my story to those of bygone eras. Surprisingly, the thread of this tapestry was the buildings history had left behind and the reports that wrote about them.
My initial perception of this project with both Waverley Library’s Local Studies Centre and Waverley Council Chambers was centred on the idea that I would be handling largely objective and entirely factual assessments about old buildings. This has not only proven fantastically false, but has rather enlightened me to the rich, varied and expansive historical narrative that exists in my local area. This imbued my task of archiving the expression of such narratives- the reports and assessments of these buildings- with a sense of gravitas, for my work and my influence was to play a significant role in the writing and preserving of the Waverley Council District’s history.
These ponderings solidified my understanding of the significance that libraries play in local historiography, for I came to realise that archiving became a key means through which historical preservation occurred. As a convenient, multifaceted and educational tool that allows the Waverley Library historical collection to be easily conveyed to the public, the archive provided the autonomy necessary for me to shape the historical narrative conveyed to the Waverley community. This meant that consideration for the user served as the centre of all decisions regarding the design of my archive.
Thus, the focus of my project has not so much been the reports themselves, but the buildings that these reports discuss, for the intended audience of this archive shall be Waverley residents, whether that be amateur historians or home-owners who require knowledge about the history of their homes (to satisfy curiosity or to fulfill council requirements for intended modifications or demolitions of heritage housing). As this audience may be unfamiliar with heritage housing policy or using archives, categorisation has directly correlated each house with its heritage classification, so as to expedite the ascertaining of the information required by the user. In regards to the organisation of the physical reports, I have filed them according to suburb so as to match the archive created, making reports easier to find whilst also revealing to audiences the general trends of development that had occurred in the area (for example, one wishing to learn about 69 Ruthven Street could compare this site with other buildings on the street and thus discover that many houses here were built in the Late Victorian style. From there, one may extrapolate ideas about the development of housing on that street). I have also made note of the existence of digital copies of the reports catalogued, something which assists Waverley Library in their ongoing endeavour to digitise their collection, but will also allow consumers of the archive the ability to access such files when the archive is eventually made digitally available.
Unavoidably however, arose questions and limitations regarding technology, for many of these reports did not include a corresponding digital file. Thus, digitisation became another concern for this project, more centrally, the need for Waverley Library to preserve its collection through its digitisation, playing technological “catch-up” as it battles to keep up-to-date in a world where technological advancements quickly makes past technological modes of storage redundant. Through my digitisation of these reports, I also discovered that archiving provides an invaluable yet systematic (and therefore highly useful) opportunity for digitisation to occur, becoming a crucial and effective technique for preservation that combats the redundancy of outdated technology.
On a note of personal reflection, this project has also greatly enlightened me to the significance libraries play in broader local historiography. When reading reports such as that about my old high- school, the pub that my friend currently works at, even something as mundane as the tunnels at Bondi Beach, I have come to learn about how my personal narrative has been built upon a grander and long-running story. Waverley Library’s role in cataloguing these reports thus takes on an almost sacred quality, for they are the gate-keepers to local knowledge about the past, and actively work to continually build a repository that preserves such stories for the unwitting patrons that they serve. For other locals within the Waverley council area, I hope this archive shall serve as the contents page in the book about their own stories and communities, or mayhaps even (if one may indulge me this metaphorical pun), the door that serves as the entrance to the house of this community’s history.

One thought on “Brick by Brick: Constructing a Digital Archive about Heritage Housing for Waverley Library”

  1. Hi Mikaela,
    As not only someone who has lived in the Waverley area but also whose mother grew up in the area I have an emotional connection with the area across many years. I am pleased the council is making these records more easily available for residents and ex-residents.
    As a professional archivist I am pleased you have come to grips with the complexities of digitisation – a very misunderstood area.

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