ARLIS/ANZ & THE AUSTRALIAN VISUAL ARTS INFORMATION PROJECT
This paper is based on
bullet points presented at the Australian Visual Arts Information Forum, held
at the National Library of Australia, May 2004.
What are the factors
affecting information handling in today’s online world? What are the
implications for those involved in managing visual arts information? What role
can ARLIS/ANZ play in responding to the needs of those who use visual arts
Since we are at the stage
of skirting through the possibilities, this paper poses questions rather than
answers as a prelude to the process of sifting issues into a coherent and
When we talk about
improving the management of Australian visual arts information, are we talking
about visual arts information or just the small proportion of information
that’s in libraries? In other words, is it an Australian visual arts
information project or an Australian visual arts library project? They are
completely different propositions.
Precisely what do we mean
by the visual arts? Does it include all or just some of the following: fine
art, design (including industrial, product, fashion, graphic, packaging and
interior design), architecture (including town planning and landscape design),
applied arts relating to textiles, ceramics, metals, jewellery and furniture,
media (including film, television, broadcasting and animation), theoretical,
historical and philosophical studies, information management and museum
practices. Are all relevant interests represented at this forum? Do others
need to be considered?
How does the emerging world
of the creative arts, incorporating advertising and educational or leisure
software, fit into the picture? Does the project encompass the form
pictorial materials (such as sheet music covers, images of program covers,
and images of museum objects) as well as the subject visual arts?
Pre Internet, Post
Are there specific
considerations and challenges relating to the above information strata?
According to the University
of California Los Angeles’ report How Much Information 2003, 5.4
million terabytes (5 exabytes) of information are produced annually in the
form of paper, film, magnetic, and optical sources. About 92% is stored on
magnetic media, mostly on hard drives. Paper amounts to 0.01% of the total
output. About 85% of paper information is in the form of office documents.
About 18 exabytes flows through electronic channels.
How much of this
information is relevant to the visual arts? How much of it is relevant to
Australia? Are we interested in all forms of material or just some types? How
do answers to these questions influence decisions on scope, priorities and
Is managing today’s digital
information more important than spending money on digitising legacy material?
When we talk about digitisation, do we mean creating databases,
metadata, images or encoding text? Are we talking about photographs, text,
manuscripts, ephemera and audiovisual material or do we have in mind a focus
on some types over other types?
Does the work in the 1980s
on, say, ArtsDoc, have implications for the way we handle new digital
projects? Is the data still useful? Is it available? Can it be migrated?
How relevant is, say,
Fairfax’s extensive card index covering Australia’s history in the 20th
century? Is Fairfax still planning to digitise the index? To what extent does
it cover the visual arts? If it were to go ahead, how would it affect our
decisions on indexing and digitisation? Are possible public-private
partnerships out of the question?
Do differences in artforms
stimulate thoughts about requirements for managing visual arts information? Music librarians manage the primary musical object. Art
librarians, in the main, don’t. This suggests that relationships with other
players and systems in public and private environments may be of some
importance in developing strategies for visual arts information.
Art and art information outside libraries, archives and museums
Art and related information
is located in many government agencies, businesses and private collections. It
is sometimes difficult to track down art and information in their possession.
They are sometimes cavalier in their approach to the art works that decorate
their walls. Where does this material appear in our field of vision?
structural, syntax, semantic and workflow data models, sources, projects and
standards are applicable in handling visual arts information?
Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) has been given prominence as a
data model in this forum. The Getty standards and vocabularies, NISO’s
Z39.87 Technical Metadata for Digital Still Images and Metadata for Images in
XML, and the Visual Resources Association’s Core Categories jump
off the page. .
But what about other
vocabularies listed on the Taxonomy Warehouse? Does the work of the Library
of Congress’s Program for Cooperative Cataloguing Core Bibliographic Record
for Audiovisual Materials Task Group and the Research Libraries Group’s REACH
Element Set for Sharing Description of Museum Objects deserve cursory or
Is there any merit in
considering NISO’s Information Services and Use: Metrics and Statistics for
Libraries and Information Providers: Data Dictionary as a framework for a
more systematic capture of data pertaining to Australian art libraries? Do the
OAI-PHM Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting and emerging
standards for learning objects have relevance? What about Australian
Government Locator Service (AGLS), Encoded Archival Description (EAD), Text
Encoding Initiative (TEI). Resource Description Framework (RDF) and Web
Ontology Language (OWL)? To what extent is the records management standard
ISO 15489 applicable to the management of visual arts information resources?
Is it worth taking a look at the now defunct LAUREN project on digital
clipping archives? Much will depend, of course, on the scope and details of
To what extent is it
important to differentiate business, educational and cultural needs and
obligations as the basis of information planning? What sources are available
to help identify requirements?
The Australia Council’s
Planning for the Future includes sections dealing with challenges,
opportunities and options for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander arts,
Community Cultural Development, new Media Arts and Visual Arts and Crafts.
The Creative Industries Cluster Study Stage One Report, by the National
Office of the Information Economy. assesses industry data, structure,
geography, linkages, and content production drivers, barriers and failures.
Various state ministries for the arts have produced policies and
strategies for government programs. To what extent does our agenda need
to match artistic, knowledge, financial, societal and infrastructure needs
expressed in these sources?
Numerous reports have been
published on the special needs of information users in the arts and
humanities. These include Researchers’ Use of Libraries and Information
Sources, Libraries in the Information Infrastructure for the Humanities
in Australia and Scholarly Work in the Humanities and the Evolving
Information Environment, among others. The British Library has tabulated
ways of increasing its value to particular industries, including the creative
industries, in Measuring Our Value.
Past visual arts
information projects have sometimes got off the ground simply because people
wanted to do them. Some have failed because insufficient attention was paid to
identifying users and the strength of their interests. Since these interests
will, in large part, determine strategy, in what detail do we need to
categorise types of users, types of needs and likely demand? Is demand
Some recent reports give
emphasis to the commercial opportunities of the educational market. Two
studies funded by the Mellon Foundation explore the market realities and
opportunities for digitising US art museum collections. Do we need to review
these sources and their recommendations as a context for our project?
CHALLENGES FOR LIBRARIES
Changing information management practices
The proliferation of
digital resources and the development of online habits are generating new
information management laws and guidelines in government agencies and
businesses. In some enterprises they are generating new structures, synergies,
and systems. Indicative of this trend are the Information Management Capacity
Diagnosis Tool produced by the National Archive of Canada/National Library of
Canada and policies and guidelines produced the Australian Government
Information Management Office and New South Wales Office of Information and
Communications Technology. Recent record management audits point to a gap
between theory and practice. Concerns have been expressed about the way
information in non-government environments is managed and captured.
The recent OCLC 2003
Environmental Scan predicts a future in which libraries are likely to have
tighter budgets and smaller workforces. It says they will
continue to be bound by government and university budgeting priorities and
uncertain economic conditions. The challenges, it says, will be to integrate
traditional and emerging formats, balance resource allocations and build new
information management processes and formats. For libraries, it is not simply
a question of shifting to a new set or type of materials, but rather of
building a much more complex world of published content, open Web content,
institutional content and special collections. .
Involving different types of libraries
The Museums Libraries and
Archives Council in its Wider Information and Library Issues Project (WILIP)
report considers issues affecting national and public libraries, higher
education, further education and school libraries, corporate, research
institute, voluntary sector, and cultural heritage libraries, among other
types. The report reminds us that the ‘visual art library’ is not an
amorphous concept. Although there is a large area of common ground in many art
libraries, there are variant issues influenced by different organisational
Involving archives and museums
The European Commission’s
Digicult Report underscores the fact that today’s information projects will
involve partnerships between libraries, archives and museums. This is well
demonstrated in some Australian projects involving the National Library of
Australia. The visual arts is one subject field which necessitates firm
relationships between the three sectors. What needs to be done to develop
these relationships for the visual arts information project?
Involving other stakeholders
The Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure
Preservation Program is one report that exhorts us to define and embrace
public and private sector interests in response to the changing environment.
In a section on transforming roles, it calls for active management of files
from the beginning and decisions about preservation at the time of creation—“a
huge shift in the relationship between preservation and access that is little
recognized and less understood”. It speculates on incentives that need to be
provided to musicians, writers, choreographers, architects, photographers and
others to assume the burden of preservation.
Within organisations, the need for librarians to form more effective
relationships with other information creators, handlers and users of
information is more pressing than ever.
PULLING THINGS TOGETHER
In developing collaborative
mechanisms for the management of visual art information, what are some of the
issues and lessons on collaboration for possible application in our domain?
Types of initiatives
We’ve called for “a
project” but what sort of project do we have in mind? Should we give some
scrutiny to fee-based, content-based and consortial membership arrangements?
Are we looking at a research-based project with the potential for attracting
research funding? Is it desirable to test the wind with a well-defined pilot,
test-bed or proof-of-concept project? Are we looking at income from a single
source or something to be sustained from multiple sources of income? Is it to
be centred on a gateway or portal or do we need to look at a range of other
outputs? The need for directories, databases and digitisation has been
assumed. Are there other outputs that have been overlooked?
Learning from past and present endeavours
The work of the Australian
Subject Gateways Forum, PictureAustralia, Australia Dancing, MusicAustralia,
AusStage and the State Library of New South Wales Jean Garling Project have
all produced documented and undocumented lessons. Internationally, ADAM,
Artifact and the Arts and Humanities Data Service deserve special attention.
Is there anything to learn
from ARLIS/UK & Ireland’s survey of visual arts information in 1991 and Visual
Arts Library and Information Plan (VALIP)? What has been the impact of their
effort? Will their experience be ours? Has our initial audit adequately
covered issues relating to scope, gaps, redundancy, effort, spending and
priorities? Has it, for example, been too circumspect in capturing data on
visual arts records and archival material?
Is there anything to be
garnered from other local surveys such as Key Needs of Collecting
Institutions in the Heritage Sector and the Department of
Communications Information Technology and the Arts’ Arts e-Commerce Survey?
Making good decisions
Have we noted concerns
about the sustainability of many projects as noted in Diane Zorich’s A
Survey of Digital Cultural Heritage Initiatives and Their Sustainability
Concerns? (Council on Library and Information Resources, 2003). In
evaluating projects by numerous enterprises such as the Art Libraries Society,
Art Museum Image Consortium, Association of Moving Image Archives, Center for
Arts and Culture, College Art Association, Consortium for the Interchange of
Museum Information, Getty Research Institute, H-Net, Institute for Advanced
Technology in the Humanities and Visual Resources Association, she notes muddy
missions, internal tensions, increasing competition, uncertain market needs,
international issues, funding problems and other difficulties. She makes a
number of recommendations for marketing and training, integration and culling,
and better communication between digital cultural heritage initiatives,
funding agencies and their constituencies. Better business planning is a key
Simple and complex solutions
Projects can be either
simple or complex. GE Gorman, in his writings on collaboration and
digitisation, says there is more smoke than fire when it comes to
collaborative digital library projects. “Information organisations cannot
survive without substantive change in terms of resource sharing, not least
because they are faced with increasingly robust networks and partnerships
among information creators, packages, vendors and distributors. In order to
compete, and to provide the best service possible, libraries and library
consortia must become serious about deep resource sharing.” In
Collaboration and Cooperation, he pleads for a more holistic approach to
cooperation, involving interests outside libraries. But if resources and
partnerships have not been assembled to match the scale of the task, the
Digicult Report reminds us that projects need not be complex. There are
options for matching solutions with capability and resources.
Sources of funding
Depending on the nature of
the project, funding could conceivably come from the usual suspects such as
the government agencies DCITA, DEST, DIST, CCA, ARC and the Australia Council,
from educational bodies such as ARIIC, and from numerous private sources such
as philanthropic foundations, corporate sponsors and individuals.
The Dictionary of
Australian Artists Online has already emerged as a possible parent project or
one where dovetailing is required. Other projects deserving some scrutiny
include the Design Gateway, a pilot project by the Powerhouse Museum in
partnership with UTS and Sydney University, and Queensland College of Art’s
Artists of Australia Project, based on Max Germaine’s publication Artists and
Galleries of Australia.
A long list of
organisations and initiatives of potential interest to ARLIS.ANZ has been
compiled as a resource in preparing its business plan. These include, for
example, the National Association for the Visual Arts, Australian e-Humanities
Network, IAML, Museum Australia’s Art Craft Design Special Interest Group, and
the Museum and Galleries Foundation’s Visual Arts Reference Committee, among
many others. Content providers include RMIT, Discovery Media and Fairfax.
Distributors include auction houses and commercial galleries. To what
extent are all of these of potential value to the project?
Looking outside the box
We frequently draw
inspiration from projects unrelated to our sphere of interest. I’ve noted
useful modus operandi and systems for voluntary effort, government
sponsorship, private partnerships and geographically dispersed interests in
the form of the Librarian’s Internet Index, Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, Management Edge, and Australian Agriculture and Natural Resources
Online (AANRO), among others. What’s on your sheet?
TWO FINAL QUESTIONS
What does the visual arts information project need?
The following issues seem
to be the key elements of developing a strategy for managing a national visual
arts information project.
A broad vision.
It is highly desirable that we express a broad vision rather than simply
point ourselves up a familiar path. The interests of businesses, government
organisations, academia and libraries need to be considered. Fruitful
partnerships with a range of diverse stakeholders around a common purpose
can help sustain projects whereas ones that focus on narrow sectoral
interests can run into difficulties.
plan. We can only eat an elephant one bite at a
time. In selecting the bits of a broad vision that are achievable, we need a
written plan that defines the scope of the project, considers the demand for
the services that are contemplated, ranks needs against available resources,
one that considers such issues as information quality, significance,
urgency, redundancies, gaps and efficiencies, and one that takes into
account associated capabilities. Major initiatives need serious money, but
much can be accomplished by clarity of purpose and will. We can ill afford
to repeat past failures.
involvement. Real action is driven by the
interests of institutions, but individuals can be important catalysts and
players. The National Library of Australia is a critically important factor
in making real progress.
Subject gateways or portals have demonstrated their worth as important
stimulants for forging relationships, mapping territories, identifying
strengths and weaknesses, and generating action. Developing a project,
centred on either a subject gateway or a more sophisticated portal can be
either simple or complex, depending on the commitments and capacity of those
What could ARLIS/ANZ contribute?
ARLIS/ANZ was established
in 1975. Its membership grew to 155 members in 1999, before dropping to 100
institutions and individuals in 2003, when it consisted of tertiary libraries
and librarians (38%, including 27 university and 16 training schools),
national, state and public libraries and librarians (19%, including 22
national and state library memberships), museums and galleries (19%m including
8 museum and 14 gallery memberships), and other members (12%).
The society is currently
preparing a business plan to look at trends, prospects and future options at
the September 2004 conference. It would be possible to advance preliminary
thoughts on its performance, scope and purpose, operations and limitations,
strategies and prospects, but it is desirable that we defer such assessments
until more work has been done.
There are positive signs
about the future. Membership bounced back in 2004 to 125 members. But its
limited capability - so far as a visual art information project is concerned –
is likely to revolve around the following:
infrastructure. Members have partial control over
facilities, technology, content and services in member institutions. They
are often subject to the overriding interests and agendas of parent
influence. Individual members offer a variety of
experiences in the visual arts, libraries and other information services.
Although institutional interests are of primary importance, knowledge
networks and communities of practice can add value to projects dominated by
institutional interests. Some members occupy middle management positions in
organisations important to the project. They are well placed to encourage
commitments by parent organisations and kindred information domains within
organisation. ARLIS/ANZ has a presence in each
state, a website, an e-list, publications and events that could serve to
marshal interests and coordinate various aspects of the project. In the
short term, it could (a) make VAIP one of its strategies, (b) use the next
ARLIS/ANZ conference to help develop the visual arts information proposal,
(c) develop working groups on particular issues (d) use its website,
arlisanz-l and other information channels to help promote & coordinate the
project, and (e) review its commitment level in light of ongoing
For an amplification of
some of the above contexts, see the author’s views expressed in the following
articles, all of which are also available on the Wolanski Foundation website.
Culture Seeks e-Business Direction: Impressions of the OzeCulture
Conference, Melbourne, June 2001 (Online Currents,
Resources for Research in the Humanities: the Computing Arts Conference,
Sydney, September 2001. (Online Currents, December
Australian e-Culture: the Ozeculture Conference 2002,
(Online Currents, October 2002).
Australia (Online Currents, October 2003)
the Online Environment, Part 1: Contexts (Online
Currents, January/February 2004)
the Online Environment, Part 2: Challenges (Online
Currents, May 2004)
Libraries, Archives and Museums in an Online Environment: a Senate Inquiry
Postscript (Online Currents, July/August 2004)