""

Author: Public Record Office Victoria

In July 2021, we asked for feedback to learn more about which public records the Victorian community is happy to see published on the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) website. 


The survey

We invited people to complete a survey about the online publishing of open public records that may contain graphic, distressing or personal information of people both living and deceased. People were asked how they felt about being able to easily access records containing this type of information on the PROV website.

The first question was broad, asking generally how people felt about public records being accessible online, followed by five specific scenarios. Some questions relating to demographics were also asked to get an idea of who was responding and of their past experiences with PROV (if any).

This is an overview of the main findings to date. 


Who participated?

The survey was conducted between 1 July and 10 August 2021. Five hundred and eighty-nine people contributed, most answering all questions. 

How respondents identify:

We asked people to categorise themselves by the type/frequency of research they undertook at PROV. Respondents were able to select more than one category.  
 

Regular private researcher 137
Casual private researcher 268
One-time user 35
Victorian Government employee seeking records management support 48
Historian or other professional researcher 120
Student 32

 

We asked the employment sector people worked in.

Government agency 136
Commercial business 25
Educational institution 52
Not-for-profit 93

 

Other aspects of the response demographics that are worth noting:

  • Of the 136 responses from staff of Government agencies, including councils, 35% have engaged with PROV as casual private researchers and 30% as a ‘Victorian Government employee seeking records management support’.
     
  • Of the 25 respondents from a Commercial business or consultancy using records, 76% have engaged with PROV as a historian or other professional researcher.
     
  • Of the 52 respondents from an Educational institution, 44% have engaged with PROV as a historian or other professional researcher and 38% as a casual researcher.
     
  • Of the 93 respondents from a Not-for-profit organisation which uses Victorian public records, 46% have engaged with PROV as casual private researchers and 34% as historians or other professional researchers.


Summary findings

Five scenarios were presented. In the first four scenarios, people were asked to indicate their level of comfort with having a specific kind of record online. The fifth scenario asked what type of support people would expect to see if they were to encounter files that were confronting or distressing. 

Key themes:

  • You are happy to see public records online.
    Just over three quarters (77%) of people said they were happy to see public records online while 14% had concerns about misuse of information and the privacy of living people.
     
  • You have a significant level of discomfort with publishing recent probate files.
    While 41% of you were comfortable with publishing recent files, just as many were not, with a high percentage being unsure. People not familiar with PROV’s public access services (first time users and Government records managers) recorded a slightly lower level of comfort than other groups.
     
  • You are comfortable with older probate files being published.
    The proportion of people comfortable with publishing a probate file over 50 years old more than doubled, and more people than not were comfortable publishing a 25 year old file.
     
  • Your concern over publishing records does not appear to be strongly linked to any relationship the file has with you.
    While a small number of comments were in favour of the relatives of those mentioned in records being involved in publishing decisions, in general respondents indicated the age of the file is the most important factor in their level of comfort with it appearing online.
     
  • As there is some concern over publishing records with graphic content, you expect to see guidance or sensitivity warning notifications for these published records.
    Most respondents (72%) told us that they expected to see some kind of pop-up mechanism to flag distressing material.


Next steps

The survey has been important in helping PROV to better understand the needs and expectations of the community. PROV is continuing to analyse the data and early in 2022 will be developing guidelines around what and how to publish.

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples.