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RecordSearch is the online collection database of the National Archives of Australia. Based on the series system, RecordSearch provides rich, contextual information about series, items, agencies, and functions.

Unfortunately RecordSearch doesn't provide access to machine-readable data through an API, so we have to resort to screen scraping. The notebooks here all make use of the RecordSearch Tools library to handle the scraping.

If you plan to git clone this repository, make sure you include the --recurse-submodules option. This will grab the RecordSearch Tools code along with the notebooks.


Tools, tips, and examples

Harvest items from a search in RecordSearch

Ever searched for items in RecordSearch and wanted to save the results as a CSV file, or in some other machine-readable format? This notebook walks you through the process of creating, managing, and saving item searches – all the way from search terms to downloadable dataset. You can even download all the images from items that have been digitised! And if you want to harvest series with more than 20,000 items, some strategies for this are included as well.

Harvest files with the access status of 'closed'

The National Archives of Australia's RecordSearch database includes some information about files that we're not allowed to see. These files have been through the access examination process and ended up with an access status of 'closed'. While you can search by access status in RecordSearch, you can't explore the reasons, so if you want to dig any deeper you need to harvest the data. This notebook shows you how.

Harvest recently digitised files from RecordSearch

This notebook scrapes data from the 'Newly scanned records' section of RecordSearch, creating a list of recently digitised files. See below for datasets created with this notebook.

DIY Redaction Art Collages

Redactions are a way of restricting access, of witholding information – they're dead ends. But with this notebook you can recycle redactions into something interesting, something creative, perhaps even something beautiful.

Sample redaction collage

Just set the desired size of your final image and click on the button. A random sample of redactions will be obtained from the dataset and packed into the image dimensions. Once it's finished you'll be able to download both the finished collage, and a CSV dataset containing metadata that describes all the redactions used, including original file references. If you're not happy with the result, try again. Every piece of redaction art is unique!

Harvesting functions from the RecordSearch interface

This notebook attempts to extract information from the RecordSearch interface about the hierarchy of functions it uses to describe the work of government agencies. Previous explorations have shown that the NAA's use of functions is rather inconsistent. All I'm doing here is finding out what functions RecordSearch itself says it is using. This may not be complete, but it seems like a useful starting point.

How many of the functions are actually used?

In this notebook we'll import data about functions that we've harvested earlier and search for each of these functions in RecordSearch to see how many are actually used.

Harvest agencies associated with all functions

This notebook loops through the list of functions that were extracted from the RecordSearch interface and saves basic details of the agencies responsible for each function. To keep down the file size and avoid too much duplication it doesn't include the full range of relationships that an agency might have. If you want the full agency data, use the app below to harvest agencies associated with an individual function or hierarchy.

Download the contents of a digitised file

RecordSearch lets you download a PDF of a digitised file, but sometimes it's more convenient to work with individual images. Just give this app the barcode of a digitised file and it will grab all the images as JPGs, zip them up into a folder, and generate a download link.

Get a list of agencies associated with a function

RecordSearch describes the business of government in terms of 'functions'. A function is an area of responsibility assigned to a particular government agency. Over time, functions change and move between agencies. If you're wanting to track particular areas of government activity, such as 'migration' or 'meteorology', it can be useful to start with functions, then follow the trail through agencies, series created by those agencies, and finally items contained within those series. This app makes it easy for you to download a list agencies associated with a particular function.

Who's responsible?

The National Archives of Australia's RecordSearch database divides government activities up into a series of functions. Over time, different agencies have been made responsible for these functions, and it can be interesting to track how these responsibilities have shifted. This notebook uses data about functions harvested from RecordSearch to create a a simple visualisation of the agencies responsible for a selected function.

Screen capture demonstrating use of app

DFAT Cable Finder

If you ever need to find a file in the National Archives of Australia that contains a specific numbered cable from the Department of Foreign Affairs this is the tool for you! Just give it a cable number and it will look in the series listed below for a file that might contain the cable. For each possible match it returns a link to the file as well as a bit of information about it.

Screen capture demonstrating use of app


Recently digitised files

Harvested on 27 March 2020.

CSV file containing details of files digitised between 25 February and 26 March 2020, harvested using the notebook above.

Recently digitised files – repository of weekly snapshots

This repository contains weekly harvests of newly digitised files in RecordSearch. The automated scraper is currently scheduled to run each Sunday, saving a list of files that have been digitised in the previous week. The weekly datasets are saved as CSV files in the data directory. The date of the harvest is recorded in the file name, so digitised-week-ending-20210328.csv was harvested on 28 March 2021.

The CSV files contain the following fields:

  • title
  • item_id
  • series
  • control_symbol
  • date_range
  • date_digitised

Cite as

Sherratt, Tim. (2019, November 17). GLAM-Workbench/recordsearch (Version v0.1.0). Zenodo.