ON A NEW STAGE:
performing arts information management in New South Wales
6 PERFORMING ARTS INFORMATION MANAGEMENT IN NSW
6.1 Information Creators
6.11 Performing arts organisations
Over 17,000 arts organisations are listed in the
Australian Performing Arts Directory, including performing arts centres,
theatre companies and orchestras.
A proportion of the information generated by
these organisations will eventually find its way into libraries. Is the most
desirable proportion? Will any vital records be lost? Can anything be done
to simplify the task of librarians and archivists who eventually deal with
The quality of record keeping in these
organisations, by and large, is unknown. The impact of technology on record
keeping in these organisations, by and large, is unknown. And in
organisations where resources have been allocated to manage information
resources, practice is of variable quality.
In Australia’s premier performing arts centre,
the Sydney Opera House, for example, responsibility for administrative
files, electronic records, architectural drawings, photographic files and
other documentation, between 1973 and 1996, was shared by a number of
departments, including the library, administration and marketing
departments. Corporate restructuring in 1997 and associated decisions
appeared to be setting up an approach that would solve some problems but
exacerbate others, including the loss or burying of basic information about
performances in its venues. A benchmarking exercise in 1997 assessed the
organisation as being 40% compliant with new state record-keeping
The record-keeping philosophies of people like
David Bearman have brought about radical changes in the archival world. To
what extent have they been adopted by the library world? Is there a need for
libraries to adopt a life-cycle management approach in managing performing
arts manuscript and archival material?
In this context, the work of PRESERVE, the
Coalition for Performing Arts Archives in the United States, deserves close
attention. Formed in 1987, PRESERVE seeks to educate the performing arts
community about the value of its documentary heritage and to provide the
means for preservation of these archives.
More recently, Adrian Cunningham (formerly of
the National Library of Australia, now with the Australian Archives) has
written about "the increasing variety of durable recordkeeping systems in
unregulated and semi-regulated environments" and "the lack of a coordinated
national system for identifying, preserving and making available a
collection of private archival fonds which collectively constitute adequate
documentation of Australian social, cultural and intellectual life in all
its various manifestations."
6.12 Broadcasters and publishers
Performing arts intellectual capital is created
by broadcasters like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, newspaper
publishers (eg Fairfax) and other publishers (eg Currency Press).
Access to information in the major Australian
newspapers is available either directly through newspaper web sites or
indirectly through hosts such as AUSINET, Presscom Australia and Reuters
Business Briefing. Information from the Australian Financial Review is
available from 1981. Information from the Adelaide Advertiser is available
from 1986. Access to information in other newspapers was activated more
What impact do these developments have on
library performing arts documentation activities?
In her article Australian newspaper databases:
are they for surfers or searchers?, Elizabeth Swan described the
"spectacular growth in the number of databases available online for both
casual users and professional searchers" and "the less than adequate search
engines to meet their needs".
A trial of the Presscom service conducted by the
Dennis Wolanski Library in February 1996 drew similar conclusions.
Performing arts information is now available from most newspapers and their
search engines can act as powerful tools in retrieving information. However,
access can also be cumbersome and often disappointing, especially when the
information is sought from several sources. Moreover, access to archived
text is increasingly only available for a fee and some sites only provide
limited direct access to archives (e.g. the SMH, which only has an archive
of 3 months available via its website).
6.13 Knowledge workers in creator
Information in the above organisations is
created by arts managers, critics and other knowledge workers who possess
information not recorded in institutional record-keeping systems. Academic
workers also produce intellectual capital, some of which is distributed in
the form of articles and books. Some of it exists only in tacit forms.
This knowledge is a resource that needs to be
identified and classified and appropriate systems created to maximise its
6.14 Performers and patrons
In 1990, as part of a feasibility study for a
performing arts museum in New South Wales, Peter Sumner provided a report on
theatre collections held by performing arts organisations and individuals,
many of them performing arts practitioners and patrons. This attracted the
appellation ‘The Orphan List’ because it suggested there was a vast quantity
of privately held performing arts material that had not found a suitable
home because none was suitable.
The quantity and quality of this material and
the extent to which they duplicated existing holdings of libraries was not
investigated. The lack of a suitable home was also over-stated. But, again,
it represents a body of information that requires identification
classification, evaluation and action.