User Tools

Site Tools


Module 8: Local studies (Reference Excellence)

Purpose of this module

To provide an overview of Local Studies Collections in public libraries and identify key resources for Local Studies collections and services.


The collection of local historical and geographical materials in public libraries provides an important means of preserving detailed information about local areas. Names given to such collections include Local History Archives, Heritage Centres (where Local History Collections may be combined with Council Archives and Museum functions), or perhaps most commonly, Local Studies Collections. Traditionally these collections have primarily consisted of paper-based and microform (microfiche and microfilm). Digital and online formats are being used to preserve and provide access to historical information.

What is local studies?

Local studies is the collection of historic and contemporary resources in many formats relating to your local area.

Local studies collections in public libraries

  • Vary greatly in size, scope and content.
  • Collect and make accessible historical and geographical material.
  • Contain material from the present as well as the past.
  • Digital and analogue formats
  • Contain information in a wide range of original and copy formats, including
    • books;
    • unpublished manuscripts;
    • digital, newspapers and periodicals;
    • maps and plans;
    • photographs;
    • glass plate and film negatives;
    • colour slides;
    • microfilms and microfiche;
    • audio tapes;
    • videos and DVDs;
    • realia (physical items such as Honour Roll boards etc.);
    • artworks;
    • pamphlets;
    • topic files; etc.

The scope of your Local Studies collection may be described in your library's collection development policy.

Local Studies guidelines are included in Living Learning Libraries

Exercises for local studies

  1. Does your library have a Local Studies collection?
  2. Where is your Local Studies collection located?
  3. How does the public access the collection?
  4. Does your library have a Local Studies librarian, or is there a staff member who usually answers these questions?
  5. Look in your collection development policy at the section on Local Studies. How current is it?

Module 8 Answers and review

Why collect local studies resources?

Libraries collect local studies materials for a number of reasons, which may include:

  • Facilitating access to detailed information on local communities which may not be readily available through larger institutions at State or Federal Level.
  • Meeting a patron need for local historical, geographical or cultural information.
  • Promoting an understanding of the history, culture and development of a given area.
  • Providing continuity of care for historical materials.
  • Collecting and preserving contemporary material.

Among the benefits of collecting these resources are:

  • Providing access for the local community to uniquely local material
  • Developing specialist local knowledge.

Exercises for 'Why collect local studies resources?'

  1. Browse the local studies shelves in your library and find 3 items about the geography of the local area.
  2. Browse the local studies shelves in your library and find 3 items about the history of the local area.
  3. Using your library's catalogue, find 3 items about the cultural development of your local area.
  4. How does your library promote its Local Studies collection or services?
  5. What ideas do you have for promoting your library's Local Studies collection?

Module 8 Answers and review

Building a local studies collection

Local studies collections may grow through:

  • Donations of material from a wide range of sources,
  • Purchase of new materials when available or rare and out-of-print materials from antiquarian booksellers, dealers, auctions, etc.
  • Resource sharing with other public and state libraries; archives and community groups; local information experts.
  • Proactive information seeking projects e.g. Oral history recording; essay writing competitions.
  • Encouraging use of resources for research,
  • Promoting your collection on social media to encourage contributions,
  • Regular displays of materials, which create interest and potentially more donations from the community.
  • Local Studies collections can grow through staff creating content for the collections, for example
    • taking photographs
    • recording videos or
    • ordered List Item conducting oral histories.

Exercises for building a local studies collection

  1. Talk to your Local Studies specialist. How do they source material for the collection?
  2. Does your library include digital material in the Local Studies collection?
  3. What kind of content does your library create for the collection?
  4. Does your library work with your Local Museum or Local Historical group to enhance the Local Studies collection?
  5. Watch an episode of Chopsticks or fork on the ABC and think about the potential for collecting local studies items through taking photographs, recording oral histories, ambient sound recordings or videos.

Module 8 Answers and review

Key resources for local historical research

The resources used to answer local studies questions will vary depending on the question asked, whether the information needed was ever officially recorded, and whether that information has survived.

Some key resources used include:

  • Published works on local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; church history; school history; theatre history; transport history; suburb history; biographies of prominent local people etc.
  • Cemetery lists and transcripts
  • Electoral rolls
  • Local newspapers, containing news stories; birth and death notices; obituaries; photographs; sports results, etc. Many are now searchable on Trove
  • Birth, death and marriage indexes (online and microform)
  • Funeral directors' records
  • Probate records
  • Business and telephone directories
  • Court records
  • Council rate books and minute books; valuation records; building applications/business registers/health registers
  • Ephemera, which is a broad range of everyday documents intended for one-time or short-term use eg election pamphlets
  • Photographs
  • Maps, especially parish maps (showing the names of early settlers) and land subdivision maps
  • Aerial photographs
  • Heritage building and site reports
  • Tourism and other published guides
  • Archives of local organisations including schools
  • Local historians
  • Historical societies and museums
  • Community groups
  • Oral histories
  • Residents
  • Council staff
  • Resources in other libraries and archives e.g. NSW school archives at State Records

Exercises for key resources for local historical research

  1. Collect 3 examples of ephemera from your area and discuss adding them to your own collection with your Local Studies specialist.
  2. How does your library store and preserve ephemera, how is access to it provided?
  3. Look for social media about your area.
  4. What hashtags are used? Often it will be town or suburb name, but there could be other relevant local hashtags as well.
  5. Find two or examples of social media that you might like to add to your library collection - look at Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or YouTube for examples.

Module 8 Answers and review

Key resources for local geographical research

Some key resources used include:

  • Environmental Impact Statements for major developments
  • Urban planning documents
  • Bush regeneration studies
  • Geological and soil surveys
  • Flora and fauna surveys
  • Water quality surveys
  • Waterway / Beach studies e.g. creeks, lagoons, lakes, foreshore
  • Maps, especially topographical maps
  • Aerial photographs
  • Demographic information from ABS and other sources

Exercises for key resources for local geographical research

  1. Find an example of an Environmental Impact Statement
  2. What kind of maps does your Local Studies collection contain?
  3. Consult with a colleague to access an ABS publication containing information relevant to your local area

Module 8 Answers and review

Local studies and family history research

Local Studies collections and Family History collections have common threads.

A major user group of local studies collections is the family historians who are looking for information on families or individuals that once lived in your area. Local Studies resources may help to fill in the gaps for these researchers with photographs, documents etc. In turn, researchers often have valuable material and research which they may share with the library.

See also Module 9 Family History

Exercises for local studies and family history research

  1. Does your library house the local studies collection separately from the family history collection? Why or why not?
  2. How would you use the local studies collection to find out about a person or place they lived?

Module 8 Answers and review

Local studies challenges

There are many challenging and interesting aspects of Local Studies. Key challenges include:

  • Collection of past and current materials from a wide range of sources.
  • Balancing preservation and access to historical materials
  • Using digital technologies to make information more widely accessible and able to be reused.
  • Conservation, cataloguing and providing access to materials in a wide range of formats
  • Many research tools used in Local Studies research were created for completely different purposes than their current use, for example, electoral rolls and telephone books being used for local research, or magistrate’s court records being used to research local families
  • Collecting social media relevant to local studies - the new ephemera
  • Creating original content
  • Knowledge of locally relevant resources held in other institutions

Exercises for local studies challenges

  1. How does your library manage the challenges listed above?
  2. Which aspect can you contribute to? Discuss your ideas with a colleague.
  3. What would be the challenges to creating a display of Local Studies material? How would you manage access to the items and ensure it is not damaged while on display? Think about all aspects of preservation.

Module 8 Answers and review

If you would like further information on aspects of Local Studies in public libraries, including meeting dates; agendas for the NSW Local Studies Working Group look here. There are some books on Indyreads which may be helpful too.

Module 8 Answers and review

Other modules for Reference Excellence

module_8_local_studies_ref-ex.txt · Last modified: 2024/03/19 22:22 by michelleh