Australian National University
The Australian Common Reader is a database of loan records from six regional Australian libraries from 1861 to 1928. Built in 2008, its search interface was reworked with help from the Centre for Digital Humanities Research at Australian National University from 2015-2018. The new search interface drew some attention in the press and does seem to have made it easier for ‘lay’ users to explore the data. However, challenges still remain. In this talk, I will discuss the process of reworking the ACR interface and the continuing challenges to do with resourcing such a project, including the ongoing work of checking and adding to the data held within it, as well as making it amenable to the increasing range of DH tools that are available.
I will also use the example of a reader, Matthew Charlton, whose loans appear in the ACR and who becomes, over the period of his borrowing, an elected representative – from a miner, to a union organizer, to an elected Member of the State and then Federal Australian parliaments. He was later to go on to become the fifth leader of the Australian Labor Party. I use a number of different tools to approach the question of what it means for someone to be a ‘representative reader’ within their community, and how we approach the work of extrapolating from the readers whose loans we are examining to thinking about broader reading patterns and what they can tell us about the cultural history of a time and place.