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The treasure in Trove

By Associate Professor Nathan Wise, Public and Applied History, University of New England (UNE).

Over the past decade, Trove has risen to become one of the most valuable resources for Australian historians and genealogists.

At face value it is an easy-to-use search engine that researchers can use to find resources relating to aspects of Australian history, culture and politics; but there is a lot of depth to the site for those willing to put more time in. 

At the basic level, when a user enters a search term into Trove’s search bar, Trove retrieves results from its vast collection of more than 6 billion works. Results may be divided into books, pictures, photos, objects, digitised newspapers, government gazettes, journals, article and data sets, maps, and others. Researchers can narrow down their search to particular types of resources or to a particular decade or year. Then, by clicking on ‘view all results’, researchers are presented with a list of results showing the brief context within which their search terms appear. The results show key details – depending on the nature of the source – such as the source title, year of publication, and type of source. 

Clicking on a particular result typically brings up either a digitised version of the source, or information on where the source can be accessed. For most researchers, the availability of digitised sources is where the true value of Trove lies. The digitised version of the source highlights the relevant section where the search result appears, with search terms highlighted in yellow. From here, researchers can focus on the highlighted section, or they can browse the source broadly. 

To the left of this image, an optical character recognition [OCR] version of the digitised document appears. This automated OCR text often contains errors, and users have the ability to ‘Fix this text’ by clicking the relevant button. This has given rise to an active and engaged community of ‘Trovites’ who, at times, compete to see who can correct the most lines of text. In September 2009, users corrected 772,375 lines of text within the month; ten years later, in September 2019, users corrected 3,380,670 lines of text within the month. The registered user base has also grown immensely; from 62,771 registered public users in January 2010, to 296,543 registered public users in October 2019. 

Probing deeper, it becomes evident how much work goes on behind that engine to bring together the thousands of libraries, museums, universities, clubs, societies, and organisations to build the Trove collections. Trove has been a revelation to researchers, and it continues to grow its user base and value with every passing year. 

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