During the era of bilingual education in the Northern Territory, many books were produced at 20 Literature Production Centres in more than 25 languages.  These materials are both widely dispersed and endangered, and contain interesting and significant stories in Indigenous Australian languages, with many beautiful illustrations. The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages project is creating a digital archive of this endangered literature, with permission from the language owners to make the materials available to community members, researchers and other interested parties through a searchable and extensible online repository. The result aims to be a living archive with connections to the communities where the books belong.

The process involves identifying and sourcing the books, scanning and digitising them, and sharing them with the communities where they were originally made, inviting community members to check the texts and add stories or sound files. With permission, the digital copies and any other related material will then be uploaded to the online archive so people can find them and read them.  The project was funded in 2012 by the Australian Research Council through the Linkage Infrastructure Equipment and Facilities scheme, with partner agencies Charles Darwin University, Australian National University and the NT Department of Education and Children’s Services.

Since the project began in February 2012, work commenced on 16 collections of material. This has included visits by project staff to identify materials, select copies for scanning, and seek the permission of authors and illustrators to put the materials online. Over 2500 different titles have been digitised and prepared for uploading to the CDU Library eSpace digital repository. Each title has a presentation version (PDF format), a text file (TXT format), and a cover image (JPG format). Preservation versions (TIFF format) of each page are stored for long-term archiving. An interface was developed to allow simple search and browse functions, including a map interface to assist users with low literacy.

Once the infrastructure was established, a successful second application to the Australian Research Council allows the project team to expand the archive beyond the original bilingual schools, and to engage people in using the materials contained in the archive. New partners – Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Northern Territory Library and the NT Catholic Education Office join the project, alongside existing partners the NT Department of Education and Australian National University.