The Wolanski Foundation Project


Report no 1 section 6: Performing arts information management in NSW









List of papers








performing arts information management in New South Wales



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 it?

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 legislation.

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 recently.

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 organisations

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 utility.

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.

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