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The primary function of archives is the permanent preservation of records which are unique because of their administrative, financial, legal, research, cultural or other information value. The records are generally no longer required for the conduct of current activities by government agencies, non-government organisations or individuals. While much archival work is an adjunct to other activity, a growing number of archival bodies employ specialist staff to serve the legal, administrative and research needs of individuals and organisations and are funded by governments and private sources.
The National Archives of Australia (NAA) is the Commonwealth organisation which promotes reliable record keeping and maintains a visible, accessible and known archival collection, in the interests of accountable government and for the benefit of the community. There are NAA offices and reading rooms in all states and territories. The national headquarters in Canberra also houses the Treasures Gallery, the Exhibitions Gallery and the Federation Gallery. Constructed as part of the Centenary of Federation in 2001, the Federation Gallery houses Australia's original 'birth certificates' including the Constitution and Queen Victoria's Royal Commission of Assent. The National Archives administers the legislative framework for Commonwealth records management (including arrangements for the disposal of records), maintains information systems, provides appropriate custody and preservation arrangements (including archival storage) and makes records available under the relevant legislation. Records covered by the Archives Act 1983 (Cwlth) occur in all formats including files, index cards, architectural models, photographs, films, video tapes and electronic media. The National Archives curates touring exhibitions, produces publications based on its collections, and presents education and events programs. The database 'RecordSearch' and many of the record keeping publications and reference guides are now online. The National Archives also maintains the 'Documenting a Democracy' web site which presents the founding documents of democratic governments in Australia.
In addition, each state and territory government maintains its own archives and provides for public access to records, and archives have been established by some churches, business corporations, universities and city councils. The Australian War Memorial collects private material concerning Australians at war, and it is also custodian of certain official Commonwealth records relating to war or warlike operations. ScreenSound Australia collects cultural material relevant to the film and sound media. Other corporate and private records continue to be collected by some state archives offices, libraries and universities.
The National Archives maintains a web site entitled 'Archives of Australia', which provides information about archives in Australia and operates as a portal to the web sites of other Australian archival institutions.
Libraries and archives industry
An ABS survey of libraries and archives in respect of 1999-2000 showed that there were 505 local government library organisations with 1,510 library locations, eight national and state library organisations with 26 locations, and eight national and state archive organisations with 27 locations. The libraries held 54.3 million books and other library materials at the end of June 2000, of which 36.4 million were available as lending stock. The total income of the industry in 1999-2000 was $792m, with government funding accounting for 91% ($725m) of the total. For additional information on the libraries industry, see Service industries.