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Australian manuscripts access policy

1. Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to document the basis upon which public access is provided to original manuscripts held in the State Library of Victoria's collection. The aim of the policy is to balance public access to original manuscripts with the Library's responsibility for the long-term preservation of the state's cultural heritage. The policy also documents other considerations that influence public access to manuscripts.

2. Background

The Australian Manuscripts Collection contains the unpublished papers and records of individuals and non-government organisations. The collection contains letters, diaries, minutes and other archival records, almost all of which are unique copies and many of which are rare and fragile. The collection also contains copies of original manuscripts, either created as part of various microfilming projects or as a means of reducing the physical handling of items already held in the collection.

3. General principles governing access

A major consideration when determining whether access to the manuscripts collection can be allowed is the need to minimise physical handling of rare and fragile documents. The collection is therefore treated as a collection of last resort. This means that Library users are expected to have consulted all the obvious published sources of information before seeking to use original manuscript material. It is also expected that users will have made full use of any available descriptive lists or finding guides, and that they will have a clearly defined research subject that they are investigating.

Users of the manuscripts collection will include the following categories of Library users:

  • donors, their families and close associates
  • both undergraduate and postgraduate students who are pursuing research projects or theses
  • researchers and members of the public who can expect to find relevant information to assist research in their subject area

4. Circumstances where access to manuscripts may be restricted

In certain circumstances public access to material held in the manuscripts collection may be restricted.

When manuscripts have been acquired by the Library and the donors of that material have imposed restrictions on public access as a condition of that donation, it will always be necessary for the Library to honour those restrictions. Such restrictions are typically imposed for privacy reasons and will usually expire at a specified date, or on the death of a particular person. In some cases the Library is able to pass on requests for exemptions to restrictions.

When preservation copies of original manuscripts have been created, it is expected that these will be used rather than the original document. Access to original documents is restricted to those cases where extra information can be obtained (e.g. watermarks, faint pencil inscriptions).
When collections are not properly sorted and packaged and are at risk of becoming increasingly disorganised, access will be restricted.

When the physical condition of the material is extremely fragile the advice of the Library’s conservation staff will be sought to develop conservation and copying options.

School students, including those doing VCE research topics, may not use original manuscripts. Library staff will assist students in finding published copies of manuscript materials that will support their studies.

It is a requirement for use of the collection that the application for use of Australian manuscripts form will be completed and signed, and that the Library user agrees to the conditions outlined on that form.

5. Copying of manuscripts

Requests for copies of manuscripts are governed by the provisions of the Copyright Act, any specific requirements imposed by donors of the particular collections, and the physical condition and conservation implications of making a copy.

All copying of manuscripts is undertaken by Library staff. The Library's ability to meet copying requests will be determined by the size of the copying request.

In some cases the Library holds a copy of material where the original is in private hands or another repository. Normally further copying of such items is only allowed with the permission of the owners of the original. However, in those cases where the original is believed to be in private hands but the owner cannot be contacted, and where the Copyright Act is not infringed, then a copy will be made.