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Untapped: the Australian Literary Heritage Project

Most Australian books ever written are now out-of-print and unavailable to readers. That includes local histories and memoirs, beloved children’s titles – and even winners of our most glittering literary prizes.

Untapped is a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers, working together to identify Australia’s lost literary treasures and bring them back to life!

We’re digitising culturally important out-of-print Australian novels, histories, memoirs, poetry and more. They’ll be licensed into public libraries around the country, and our library partners will promote them so everyone has an opportunity to rediscover these engaging, enlightening texts. And most of them will be made available for sale as ebooks too!

This project will create a new income source for Australian authors, who currently have few options for getting their out-of-print titles available in libraries. And it supports arts workers affected by COVID, who we’re hiring to assist us with the proofreading necessary to get the scanned books up to library quality.

It will also support vital research into the economic value of out-of-print rights for authors, the value of libraries’ book promotion efforts, and the relationship between library lending and sales.

The results will be fed into public policy discussions about how we can best support Australian authors and literary culture. And we’re hopeful that this new investment and attention will cause some of these important books to get another look from commercial publishers too.

Online gala launch!

Untapped officially launched in November 2020 with a special online gala, hosted by the Hon Julie Dodds-Streeton QC and A/Professor Rebecca Giblin live from Longacres, Sir Arthur Streeton’s historic retreat. It featured readings and appearances from Australian authors Anita Heiss, Garry Disher, Carmel Bird, Gillian Rubinstein, Sophie Masson and Danielle Clode, as well as international bestseller Cory Doctorow, readings from some of Streeton’s letters (which will be made available again as part of the project) and a reading of Dorothy Porter’s marvellous The Lazy Poem.

Who’s involved?

Meet the team

Untapped is led by A/Professor Rebecca Giblin of the Melbourne Law School (University of Melbourne).

Steering group

Margaret Allen PSM, CEO and State Librarian of Western Australia

Olivia Lanchester, CEO of the Australian Society of Authors

Sue McKerracher, CEO of the Australian Library and Information Association

Matt Rubinstein, Director, Ligature Press

and The Hon Julie Dodds-Streeton QC

Researchers

A/Professor Rebecca Giblin, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

Dr Paul Crosby, Department of Economics, Macquarie University

A/Professor Imke Reimers, Professor of Economics at Northeastern

Dr Airlie Lawson, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

Joshua Yuvaraj, Monash Law School, Monash University

Industry and Government Partners

More partners to be announced..!

Discover our books

Our books span literary and genre fiction, memoirs, histories, poetry and plays. We’re still identifying and signing authors and books, but here’s a sneak peak of some of the gems we’ve signed so far..!

I’m not racist, but… (2007)

Anita Heiss

The Unlucky Australians (1968)

Frank Hardy

Working Bullocks (1926)

Katherine Susannah Pritchard

Metal Fatigue (1996)

Sean Williams

The White Garden (1995), Red Shoes (1998) and Cape Grimm (2004) (the Mandala trilogy)

Carmel Bird

15 Days in June: How Australia became a Football Nation (2007)

Jesse Fink

The Green Prince (2000)

Sophie Masson AM

Billy Thunder and the Nightgate (2002) and Winter Door (2003)

Isobelle Carmody

Noonkanbah: Whose Land, Whose Law (1989)

Steve Hawke, photographs by Michael Gallagher

The Mindless Ferocity of Sharks (2003)

Brett D’Arcy

And many more to come..!

The Ligature collection

In addition to the books we digitise ourselves, we’ll also be making a collection of previously out-of-print ebooks that have already been digitised by Matt Rubinstein’s Ligature Press available in libraries for the first time. This makes even more important Australian culture available, and also helps us with the design of our research experiments! Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ligature texts we’ll be including in the collection:

The Hand that Signed the Paper (1994)

Helen Dale (as Helen Demidenko)

A Future in Flames (2010)

Danielle Clode

Space Demons (1986)

Gillian Rubinstein

The difference to me (1988)

Garry Disher

Rising Water (2012)

Tim Winton

Mem’s the word (1990)

Mem Fox

And many more..!

What’s involved?

1. Identify missing books

There are so many missing treasures out there that it’s hard to pick the most important ones to invest in! We’re working closely with library collections experts, the Australian Society of Authors, literary agents and individuals to create the best possible selection of lost books in need of rescue.

2. Find the author and obtain the rights

We work with authors to understand whether they own the rights to their out-of-print texts, and get their permission to digitise them, license them into libraries, and make them available for sale.

Our author contract was vetted by the Australian Society of Authors and directs all royalties (after costs) to participating authors and their heirs.

3. Now it’s time to digitise!

We use sophisticated scanning methods to copy the print book, then apply OCR to convert the text. After that, we use a dedicated proof reader to pick up any errors and make sure the scan is of library quality. For the proofreading work, we’re hiring arts workers affected by COVID.

Once all that’s done, there’s still the cover design, handling the metadata, getting the royalty accounting sorted out and uploading to the library elending platforms – all the usual services publishers handle.

4. Libraries promote the collection

Libraries around Australia will license the treasures for digital lending, let readers know about them via all kinds of exciting promotional initiatives, and, of course, pay the authors when their books are borrowed.

5. The researchers collect the data and crunch the numbers

The research team will analyse the sales and loans of these books to understand the value of out-of-print rights to authors, the value of libraries’ book promotion efforts, and the relationship between library lending and sales.

The results will be fed into public policy discussions about how we can best support Australian authors and literary culture.

6. The books live on…

Even after the research is complete, the project will continue. Once we’ve created the infrastructure to enable out-of-print titles to be licensed into Australian libraries it will exist ongoing – and we’ll keep rescuing lost literary treasures for as long as we have the resources to do so.

Giving

Donations are fully tax-deductible!

The more books we can digitise, the more authors and arts workers we can support, and the more culture we can make available to everyone.

Please consider offering a tax-deductible donation of any amount to help support this important initiative.

Donate a book in honour of a loved one

It costs between $600-$700 to digitise each book, including scanning, proofing, cover design and more.

If you’re in a position to donate the cost of a whole book, you can choose to have that contribution acknowledged publicly at the beginning of the digitised book itself.

Perhaps there’s a loved one you’d like to memorialise? Or a person who would love to have a book given in their honour for a special birthday or Christmas?

Enlist your book club or community group to help?

Can you help us with our book rescue mission by marshalling your book club members, community group or workmates to the cause?

Share this information with them and consider whether it might be possible to donate a book between you!

How else you can help

There’s also lots of other ways to get involved!

Nominate books for inclusion

Get in touch if there’s an important out-of-print Australian text you think should be in the collection – and tell us why!

Buy and borrow our books

Sign up to our Untapped mailing list to get updates about when these literary treasures become available for library borrowing and for purchase.

Spread the word and keep in touch

Please help us get the word out to your book-loving friends by sharing this page and talking about us on social media.

Check out Untapped: the Australian Literary Heritage Project. It’s on a mission to rescue lost literary treasures, create new revenue for authors, and support arts workers affected by COVID.

Progress so far

Our goal is to rediscover, digitise, and breathe new life into at least 200 important Australian books.

We currently have funding to digitise 57 titles.

Just 143 books to go!

With thanks to Melbourne Law School (and its advancement and events teams) for their generous support.