ARTS INFORMATION AND CURATORIAL SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
IN AUSTRALIA: A DRAFT PROPOSAL
By Paul Bentley
Governance and decision-making
Liaison and lobbying
Websites and listservs
It is proposed that special interest groups
representing arts libraries, archives and museums merge and/or develop new
structures and/or create collaborative programs and projects to deliver
quality services in the future.
Option 1. Merger. Merger of organisations at
a national and state level.
Option 2. Part merger. Merger of
organisations at a state level only
Option 3. Collaborations. No merger, but
development of structures such as joint committees and combined
conferences, publications, listservs and projects.
At the Seminar of Arts Information in Australia
organised by the Museums, Arts and Humanities Group (MAHG) at Hobart in
1975, the question of an integrated professional arts information
association was raised. The consensus, strongly influenced by Thor Wood (New
York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center), was no - the
visual arts, theatre, music and film/radio/television are different
disciplines with different histories and practices requiring different
After the conference, MAHG was disbanded in
favour of the establishment of a local branch of the Art Libraries Society (ARLIS).
The scope of the local version, the Arts Libraries Society/Australia and New
Zealand (ARLIS/ANZ), was tweaked to embrace all the arts, although its focus
continues to be on the visual arts. Music library interests continued to be
represented by the local branch of the International Association of Music
Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML), which had been formed
in 1971. The performing arts in general and theatre in particular were never
forcefully represented until the formation of the Performing Arts Special
Interest Group (PASIG) of Museums Australia in 1992. Another group, the
Australian Branch of the International Association of Sound Archives,
transformed itself into the Australian Sound Recording Association in the
Information management has become more complex.
The sources of information and the means of delivering information have
become more diverse. Paradoxically, diversity is also producing converging
relationships and practices – between information suppliers, handlers and
users, between librarians, archivists, museum curators and information
technology practitioners, and between subject disciplines.
These trends have implications for organisations
representing information professionals and their institutions.
Professional library and information groups
operate with varying degrees of effectiveness in Australia. Group interests,
understandably, play second fiddle to the demands of individual
institutions. Business or strategic plans are of variable quality. Financial
possibilities are not fully explored. Projects often involve noble unpaid
efforts by individual members and are sometimes completed at a snail’s pace.
The members of one group are sometimes unaware of the existence and
activities of another group. The potential for dovetailing professional
thinking and expertise with related groups is not fully realised. A wider
membership is not fully exploited.
Has the wheel turned 180 degrees? Do the
circumstances of the 1990s propel us towards some kind of merger? These
questions in my mind turned to an affirmative response in the last month
while I was preparing a paper called Virtually Yours for the 1998 IAML
conference and Acting on a New Stage, a report for the Wolanski Foundation.
ARLISANZ, PASIG and IAML have expressed interest
in exploring the pros and cons of a merger. When PASIG considered peak body
affiliations in 1996, the link with Museums Australia was regarded as a
marriage of convenience, an affiliation that would be reviewed at an
appropriate time. Structures are less important than the imagination, energy
and perseverance of people working in organisations, but clear
organisational structures and structured networks can help people maximise
the impact of their efforts.
The arts information and curatorial community is represented by several
uncoordinated special interest groups. Group enthusiasm, energy and
effectiveness fluctuate in response to a range of factors.
ARLIS/ANZ, IAML and PASIG comprise institutional
and individual members from national, state and local government collecting
institutions, from single discipline and multi-discipline tertiary
institutions, special collecting institutions and other organisations. Each
group has individual members who are not affiliated with an institution.
ARLIS/ANZ is Australasian. IAML, which began as an Australasian body, has
separate Australian and New Zealand branches. PASIG is an Australian body.
A larger membership with potentially
increased capacity to achieve group objectives – particularly at a state
A more rationale approach for representing
and dovetailing multi-discipline subject interests [eg the performing
A more effective mechanism for sharing
common interests between disciplines [eg music interests in PASIG and
IAML; exhibition interests in ARLISANZ and PASIG; use of technology by
all subject interests].
2 Governance and decision making
Each group is served by strategic plans and operational frameworks of
variable quality. ARLIS/ANZ’s has a good draft Strategic Plan 1998-2000.
PASIG’s strategic direction was articulated at a workshop hosted by the
National Library in 1996, but requires further iterations to capture missing
issues. IAML relies on an outdated statement of purpose composed in the
Each group has a national executive that is
rotated every few years, state by state. Some groups have official state
representatives or state committees and individuals or working groups
dealing with particular issues or projects. Group decisions are often
dependent on the frequency of general meetings: PASIG holds national
meetings every 6 months; ARLIS/ANZ every year; and IAML every two years.
An integrated business plan – or several dovetailed business plans – dealing
with environmental, financial, stakeholder and marketing issues will provide
a clearer framework for the development of strategic plans relevant to arts
information and curatorial institutions and their users.
Different reporting mechanisms and the use of
groupware such as listservs will improve the ability of interest groups to
develop and act on strategic plans and respond in a more timely fashion to
information and arts industry trends.
3 Liaison and lobbying
There are few formal strategic links with peak industry organisations like
ALIA and CAUL and with coordinating institutions like the National Library
of Australia. PASIG is a special interest group of Museums Australia. IAML
is represented on the Music Council of Australia.
The Music Library Association in the United
States, among other associations, offers an excellent model for representing
group interests via formal links with peak body associations, specialised
committees, joint committees and other forums.
Stronger links with peak body organisations, cross-sectoral forums, special
committees and national institutions will strengthen the groups’ influence
and effectiveness in dealing with a range of issues.
4 Financial management
ARLIS/ANZ is the only group with a written financial plan.
IAML Australia is linked to an international
parent body and sends 80% of its Australian membership fees to the parent
body. PASIG is a special interest group of Museums Australia (financial
arrangement to be clarified). ARLISANZ is affiliated with the Art Libraries
Society in the USA and of ARLIS UK, but retains all its membership fees in
Models for imaginative financial management can be found in organisations
like the Cardiff Arts Marketing Consortia, ARLIS/ANZ, Australian Sound
Recording Association, Music Library Association, capital budgets in most
companies and in body corporate sinking funds.
More imaginative financial management strategies involving pooled finances,
retention of membership fees in Australia, new institutional membership fee
structures and sponsor supplementation will improve capacity to achieve
Limited funds for conferences, travel and accommodation within institutions
and limited time make it difficult for multi-discipline members to
participate in the activities all groups
ARLIS/ANZ holds a national conference each year, sometimes linked to the
biennial ALIA conference. PASIG holds meetings every 6 months including one
annual meeting held in conjunction with the Museums Australia Conference.
IAML holds biennial conferences that usually do not coincide with the
conference of a peak body.
There are numerous peak body and specialised
conferences which offer relevant contextual information to arts information
professionals – eg ALIA, Museums Australia, Australian Society of
Archivists, Records Management of Australia, Theatre History Conference,
AusWeb, and Information Online and On Disc.
Annual arts information conferences linked to contextual conferences on a
rotating basis will provide opportunities for more effective use of
conference and travel budgets by individual members, better exposure to
relevant contextual information and increased networking opportunities.
Intellectual output in the form of publications varies in quality and
quantity. All groups struggle to locate articles and news for their journals
and newsletters. IAML produces the annual journal Continuo and a newsletter
Intermezzo (3 times a year). ARLIS/ANZ publishes ARLISANZ News twice yearly.
PASIG does not produce a journal or newsletter, but recently contributed to
a special issue on the performing arts in Museum National.
There is a high level of common interest in management and technical issues.
The distillation of generic information management trends and issues is
relevant to all. The way an art library handles a problem can often be
relevant to the way a music library handles a problem.
A combined journal and/or newsletter would more effectively harness limited
capability, provide a larger source of potential articles and reduce
production costs. In considering this issue, the distinction between news
and scholarly articles and the potential use of the internet for
distributing one or both types of information should be taken into account.
7 Websites and listservs
All groups have web sites or are about to launch them. The ARLIS/ANZ site is
the most advanced. IAML and PASIG presented prototypes to members in October
1998 and will launch their sites very soon. ARLIS/ANZ is the only
organisation with an Australian listserv which is used for information
distribution and group thinking, although other groups use e-mail.
A combined site and listserv would be more efficient and effective use of
limited funds and energies and improve exposure to contextual and
Special interest groups and affiliated institutions or associations have
initiated notable projects in the past, usually in conjunction with
supplementary funding by bodies like the Australia Council and the
Department of Communications and the Arts. Examples include IAML’s Union
Catalogue of Orchestral Performance Material and the Keep Dancing Project, a
collaboration of the National Library of Australia, the National Film and
Sound Archive and Ausdance.
The digital age is increasing the opportunities for collaboration – not only
between groups, libraries and museums but also with information suppliers
and users. Projects associated with the Arts and Humanities Data Service and
the Library and Information Technology Centre in the UK are among many
examples of new dynamism in an old game.
The prospects for collaborative projects will be
strengthened by more streamlined management of arts information and
Scope, aims and strategies. Compile a
table showing the scope of each group, common interests and differences.
Membership. Compile a matrix of the
membership of each group showing subject overlaps, geographical
attributes and other dynamics.
Finances. Compile tables showing the
income and expenditure of each group and options for managing funds in
the future, linked to possible supplementary funding bodies.
Benchmarking. Identify quality
strategic and operational characteristics of other associations such as
the Music Library Association.
Final proposal. In the light of
consolidated information and the views of members in each group, prepare
a final, shorter, simpler proposal.
Bentley, Paul. Acting on a new stage:
performing arts information management in New South Wales - dynamic
solutions for a collaborative future. Report for the Wolanski
Foundation, October, 1998.
Bentley, Paul. Virtually Yours: IAML in the
21st Century. Paper presented at IAML (Australia) Conference. Sydney,
October 1998. To be published in Continuo November 1998.
Convergence in the digital age: challenges
for libraries, museums and archives. Seminar held in conjunction with
the IFLA general conference, 13-14 August 1998. <http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/infla/IV/ifla64/64pre.htm>
and e-mail correspondence with convener, Johan van de Walle.