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



6.2 Information managers: libraries and museums

6.21 General observations

A survey of selected libraries and potential stakeholders in March 1998 provides preliminary data and opinions on individual organisations. 

The survey questions were pitched at a fairly superficial level. The process was not conducive for capturing collective thought and exploring new paradigms. Pressures in the workplace made it difficult for those completing the survey to transcend the daily grind and look beyond immediate practicalities. Accordingly, this description and analysis must be regarded as a preliminary step towards a broader outlook and approach in developing performing arts information services in New South Wales.

The analysis also focuses on libraries rather than museums. Some aspects of music librarianship are placed in the background. The libraries of the University of Sydney and Macquarie University were not approached.

Services are provided by state, tertiary, public and private libraries with different objectives, different primary clientele and different capabilities.

The State Library of New South Wales is the primary repository for archival and manuscript material and, most likely, the principal performing arts information delivery service in other respects. It has significant holdings and professional capability. On the other hand, its generalist interests and priorities can inhibit specialised activities in areas like the performing arts. To some people, it can be intimidating. To some people it is a library "where things are hidden away in boxes". There is fact and fallacy in these perceptions.

The tertiary libraries maintain performing arts collections to support the needs of the teaching and student bodies of the institutions they represent. The provision of services to a wider audience is inhibited by the primacy of this role – although tertiary libraries, increasingly, are opening up their services to a wider clientele in exchange for improved access, on behalf of the primary clientele, to resources held by public and special libraries.

The Seaborn Broughton and Walford (SBW) Foundation is the chief private collection offering services to the general public. It derives its strength from its specialised interest, enthusiasm and the potential of its support group. Its success is inhibited by lack of clear objectives and policies, limited finances and a total reliance on voluntary staff.

Mark Carpenter at the University of New South Wales has created a performing arts database based on his collection of 11,000 programs. The University of New South Wales School of Theatre, Dance and Film Studies has a small number of collections donated by collectors and former professionals. The Southern Highlands Institute for Performing Arts received press clippings, 1843-1970, books and artefacts from the Sydney Opera House with the intention of incorporating them into a proposed entertainment museum at Bowral.

It is vital for the currents in tributaries to flow back into the main river by strengthening mechanisms for communication and co-operation between all parties.

6.22 Business and strategic plans

Very few libraries have business or strategic plans. This may be partly explained by the fact that libraries have tended to place much of their business definition into collection policies. Wider application of business planning practices is desirable not only as a mechanism for fine-tuning operations in individual libraries but also as a device for consolidating activities collectively.

6.23 Information workers in libraries

Often the most valuable information resources in libraries are the people who acquire, process and make available the information in their collections and advise on external avenues for pursuing enquiries. Yet these dynamic resources are rarely identified, classified, packaged and promoted in a way that maximises their usefulness to those who are seeking information.

Volunteers are used by the State Library and the SBW Foundation. The Dennis Wolanski Library had a volunteer force of about 30 people assisting in managing press clipping and program collections. Students were also used effectively for special projects as part of their course work. The identification of projects and the development of clearly written procedures, supported by some form of quality control system, may produce dividends in some libraries such as the University of NSW Library and the SBW Foundation.

6.24 Collections and systems

6.241 Policies

Most libraries have written collection policies. All libraries need one. All policies need to be reviewed regularly.

The scope of collections is determined by four main elements: subject coverage, geographical coverage, period coverage and material types. Subjects fall into three major groups: [a] theatre [b] music and [c] film, radio and television – each with their own collection management requirements and peculiarities.
Geographical coverage is normally coded by interest in foreign, Australian, and New South Wales' materials. Collections are also described and assessed by their holdings in four major types of material – [a] printed material [b] archival and manuscript material [c] audio-visual material and [d] special collections like programs and press clippings. The Australian Conspectus may be used formally or informally to describe and rate holdings.

6.242 Holdings
The table below is a preliminary stab at representing the strengths of each collection, based on my assumptions rather than an intimate knowledge of each library. It would be useful to review and complete this exercise, in consultation with each institution, using three or more tables for different subject groups.


Although all material types deserve further assessment, comments following the table below are confined to three key areas: archival and manuscript materials, programs and press clippings.

Archival and manuscript material

The State Library of New South Wales is the main repository for archival and manuscript material, with extensive holdings on performing arts organisations and personalities associated with the history of the state. The Powerhouse Museum has limited holdings, governed by its selective interest in Australian cultural objects and artefacts.
Other libraries should enter this territory only if they have satisfactory facilities and the professional and financial resources to perform the task.

The State Library of New South Wales acquires programs relevant to the history of New South Wales. The University of NSW Library, which acquired the Dennis Wolanski program collection of about 60,000 items, the SBW Foundation and Mark Carpenter also collect and catalogue programs. These collections are broader in scope than the collection at the State Library, but some form of rationalisation is desirable to make the most of available resources.

Press clippings
One of the major resources of the Dennis Wolanski Library was its comprehensive press clippings collection of several million items, mainly 1970-1996. This was transferred to the University of NSW together with its associated card index and an index of Australian plays. Chronological files and unprocessed clippings 1843-1970 were transferred to the Southern Highlands Institute for Performing Arts. Policies and strategies need to be completed to guide access, maintenance and development of this scattered material.

6.243 Dennis Wolanski Library transfers

The collections of the Dennis Wolanski Library of the Performing Arts were transferred to a number of interstate and intrastate organisations.
Major parts of the library were transferred to the following organisations:


State Library of NSW Some Australian publications, archival and manuscript material, photographs, posters, and works of art.
Performing Arts Museum, Melbourne Archives and manuscript material, photographs and artefacts
University of New South Wales Library Press clippings and program collections, with indexes, and theatre books.

Additional material was deposited in the following organisations:

Seaborn Broughton and Walford Foundation

Archival and manuscript material, photographs, books.

University of Western Sydney, Nepean

Dance books and serials.

National Institute of Dramatic Art

Theatre books.

Sydney Conservatorium

Music books.

Rockdale City Library

Music books and scores.

Powerhouse Museum

Artefacts, some archival and manuscript material

Southern Highlands Institute for Performing Arts

Artefacts, books, press clippings 1843-1970

Sydney Theatre Company

Model sets.

Performing Arts Collection of South Australia



Small quantity of clippings about foreign films personalities

National Film and Sound Archive

Sound recordings

Queensland Performing Arts Museum

Manuscript items

The process of transferring this material was flawed: deadlines were more important than quality decision-making. Some material may have gone to the wrong organisation. The ability of organisations to absorb this material and make it available varies from institution to institution. In the past year, some users have experienced difficulty in locating information previously supplied by the Dennis Wolanski Library.

6.244 Systems and data creation

All libraries have computer systems. The level of sophistication varies.

Hardware and software details are important, but they are less important than the way the information is structured, entered and controlled in individual systems. General information standards are relevant. Standards need to be created for managing performing arts information, including guidelines for the use of author, title and subject fields for events, use of general material designations and specific material designations to distinguish material types, codification of event types, levels of description, authority control and means for data exchange.

The prospects for collaborative computing need further assessment. There are two basic approaches – a centralised approach or a distributed approach (in which interface protocols like Z39.50 assume importance). Examples of collaborative computing and resource sharing between academic, public and special libraries can be found in Virginia Virtual Library Project, UNILINC and the ACT Libraries for All Consortium proposal.

Performing arts databases

Access to information about Australian performers and performances 1800-1998 is of central interest to performing arts libraries. This information in the past has been derived largely from program and press clipping holdings or newspaper indexes.

The program collections of the National Library of Australia and the State Library of NSW have been catalogued with minimum level entries, some of which are accessible through the Websites of each library. The State Library also produces Infoquick, a comprehensive index to the Sydney Morning Herald from 1988.

The University of NSW Library has a card index to the Dennis Wolanski’s press clippings and program collections. The SBW Foundation has a comprehensive index of music performances, c1947-1995, created by Fred Blanks. Both Mark Carpenter and the SBW Foundation are creating a database from their program collections. Manuscript, card and published indexes exist in various locations covering various forms and periods from 1800 to the present day.

There is strong need to map the coverage, grapple with the issue of indexing future performances in the light of changes in the way newspaper information is made available via the Internet, and develop appropriate cooperative strategies. Inspiration for this work could be drawn from the London Stage Project 1660-1800 and the JP Wearing London Stage publications.

6.245 Cataloguing backlogs

There appears to be little need for assistance in reducing cataloguing backlogs of print materials. However assistance may required in organising and indexing manuscript collections, program and press clipping collections – particularly in satellite collections like the SBW Foundation and in collections that have recently modified their collection scope or have absorbed major collections from the Wolanski Library (eg University of New South Wales, NIDA).

The question of cataloguing Internet resources was not raised in the survey and has not been addressed, but there may be scope in future for a project that assists in providing more streamlined access to these digital resources.

6.246 Copying and digitisation projects

The Cultural Ministers Council produced a report in 1996 that looked at digitisation projects in Australia. Recommendations were made on a range of management issues such as policy, structure, copyright, user needs, priorities, collaboration, commercial and technical matters. The Digitisation Forum Online and other initiatives of the Department of Communication and the Arts have evolved from this report.

There is merit in reviewing the holdings of NSW performing arts collections to identify material that could be microfilmed or digitised as a preservation strategy and as means of improving access.

The press clippings collection at the University of New South Wales and the collection now with the Southern Highlands Institute of Performing Arts deserve consideration.

Copyright questions and the availability of the information in other forms in other locations need to be balanced against the convenience of consolidated information, improved preservation of the collections and improved controls in providing access.


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