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.

More than Meets the Eye: History Beyond the Bookshelves

Throughout this semester, we have been discovering the many ways in which local histories are informed and constructed, something that is often impacted by varied contextual, socio-cultural and even resource-driven factors. When thinking about the intricacies involved in such processes, libraries are often perceived as the places history is written within. But, as I have since discovered, this public institution plays an integral and multi-faceted role, preserving, collecting and even writing history itself.
This, I found especially pertinent when researching and liaising with the Local Studies Centre at Waverley Library. When delving into the department’s function and work, one would be mistaken to think it is simply a place where they store old books, or where past issues of the ‘Southern Courier’ are kept. In reality, the Local Studies Centre is where resident Local Historian, Ingrid, writes and preserves the history of Waverley and its surrounding suburbs (such as Bondi, Clovelly and Bronte), whilst also making such information and resources available to those community members interested in researching their own histories. The collection and archiving of sources, however, is but one aspect of history-making that involves the library. The Local Studies Centre is also a major and dynamic contributor to local historical research and conservation, helming such projects as the investigation into and preservation of the Clovelly Cemetery and the establishment of the celebratory centenary exhibition of the Bondi Beach Lifeguards.
From this we see an ever dynamic and multitudinous actor in public history emerge. Libraries such as Waverley play both a “secondary” role in preserving, archiving, categorising and making publicly accessible historical resources, and a “primary” role by writing history themselves. This role is both highly unique and intriguing and I am excited to learn how the Local Studies Centre juggles its preservationist role with its more active history writing initiatives.
Upon meeting with Ingrid and subsequently discussing potential areas in which I may be able to assist the library, it was revealed that the Local Studies Centre requires assistance on two fronts; the transcribing and digitisation of its vast collection of oral histories, and the creation of an archive which digitises artefacts, reports and manifests collected from local heritage listed homes currently held by the Heritage Planning department of the Waverley Council Chambers. Again, here we see many different roles and responsibilities in play. Hopefully, through further discussion and collaboration with the Local Studies Centre, a greater understanding of the library’s intricate relationship with historiography shall be discovered.