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Paper no 13 part 3









List of papers









By Paul Bentley

December 2000


Part 3 of article originally published in Online Currents January/February 2001 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd.  


Big picture thinking

The industry produces an avalanche of information. Managing this information – online and offline – requires macro and micro approaches to maximise productivity and accessibility.

There is no grand plan, although there have been noises in a number of circles on the way government bodies and other organisations embrace technology. The risk is that too much emphasis will be given too early to e-commerce and technological solutions before underlying needs have been well articulated. The role of governments, libraries and special interest groups is vital in ensuring that the right questions are addressed before micro solutions begin to pave over cow patches.

A national inventory of organisations would be a useful starting point to integrate and clarify issues like industry and enterprise reporting needs, approaches to information management and the preservation of cultural heritage material..

Industry and enterprise reporting is shaped by the Cultural Ministers Council Statistics Working Group, established in 1985 to develop, collect and disseminate statistics using the National Cultural-Leisure Industry Statistical Framework. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has produced reports with information on employment, expenditure and revenue, among other features of the industry. Improvements to the statistical framework itself and the way the information is collected and collated to deliver more sophisticated information will involve a high degree of planning and promotion by government bodies, working with cultural enterprises.

Information and records management strategies are needed because of the impact of the ubiquitous PC, which has had both deleterious and beneficial consequences in performing arts organisations.  Information is more easily created, manipulated and shared.  It is also sometimes harder to find and easier to lose. Whole-of-government policies and auditable records management programs in government agencies are in train, but addressing information management issues in non-regulated environments requires deeper analysis

On audio visual preservation of performances, the most direct and most elusive form of information, Australian organisations have nibbled at the question for some time. The systematic development of an archive was implied when the PAML Pilot Project was announced, but the issue appears to have fallen through a crack.

The Cultural Ministers Council has decided to commission a study of factors influencing the artistic and financial position of Australia's small-to-medium sized performing arts organisations. The extent to which this exercise will embrace information management, digital preservation and other online questions is unknown at this stage.

The media

The media, newspapers in particular, play an important role in promoting and documenting the performing arts. Coverage of arts events in newspapers has doubled in the last two decades 

Access to newspaper archives via internet sites can be cumbersome and often disappointing. Moreover, access is limited or only available for a fee. Issues relating to access and long term preservation of this information have received prominence in previous issues of Online Currents.

Some libraries have been involved in major indexing projects or have created significant press clippings files. The Sydney Morning Herald indexes and Infoquick database, created by the State Library of New South Wales, and the substantial press clippings file and index, created by the Dennis Wolanski Library of the Performing Arts 1973-1997, now at the University of New South Wales Library, are examples.  .

There is enormous scope for the identification and conversion of existing manual and electronic indexes in the hands of libraries, academics and publishers into a more accessible online form and, if proprietary interests can be satisfied, long-term possibilities in utilising media effort and database systems to streamline the creation, control and use of this information.

The role of libraries and associations

The information approach by large and small cultural organisations is idiosyncratic and sometimes based on whim.

Changes in government records management policy and legislation are likely to improve information management and transfer in government controlled organisations. The role of the national and state libraries in handling long-term curatorial obligations and interests in the non-regulated digital environment needs to be articulated.

The performing arts attracts an Australia-wide audience of 7,550,600 annually. Audiences have helped to build library collections through donations of memorabilia such as theatre and concert programs.  The printed program will not disappear for some time to come. Nor will the process in which collectors will donate them to libraries. It is a labour intensive inefficient exercise, awaiting online innovation.

Performing arts library and information associations include Arts Libraries Society/Australia and New Zealand, Museum Australia’s Performing Arts Special Interest Group of Museums Australia (PASIG), the Australian Branch of the International Association of Music Libraries, Documentation Centres and Archives (IAML), the recently formed ALIA Music Special Interest Group and the Australian Sound Recording Association (ASRA). All have websites and links to people with long-standing dedication to the subject, journals that generate ideas and electronic discussion groups. However, they have tended to operate with little coordination and, generally, with limited aims and influence centring on curatorial and library user issues.

Neil McLean, in Collaborating to Compete: the search for new alliances, puts it well:

Broad areas require collaborative solutions in order to reach cost effective scaleable solutions for matching users with information resources... the old rules and mechanisms for library collaboration do not readily translate into the networked information service environment and new ways have to be found to both scope and plan the boundaries for collaborative activity and fund the resulting business models.

 Good advice for further development of online resources in the performing arts.

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