LIBRARIES, ARCHIVES AND MUSEUMS IN AN ONLINE ENVIRONMENT: A SENATE INQUIRY
originally published in Online
Currents July/August 2004 and reprinted with kind permission of the
publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd.
senate inquiry into the role of libraries in the online environment gnawed at
the question of national leadership, but left solutions to others.
Some of the contexts for leadership were explored in reviews of the
inquiry report in the January/February and May issues of Online Currents
seemed, at the time, that further examination of the subject would benefit
from findings of the feasibility study leading to the establishment of the
Collections Council of Australia (CCA) and from the Routes to Knowledge
report by the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) in the UK.
The decision not to publish the CCA feasibility study and delays in the
publication of the Routes of Knowledge report, anticipated in January
2004, hint at underlying difficulties in leading libraries, archives and
task of the Senate Inquiry committee was made difficult by the lack of current
data on some issues. The
committee, for example, tried to find out whether library funding was trending
upwards, downwards or remaining in line with inflation.
Much evidence it received was anecdotal, but at least, the report said,
“it reflected the perceptions of managers concerned.”
is a somewhat alarming comment on the profession. It is, as John Houghton
observes in Economics of Scholarly Communication, an information
profession with very little information about itself: “all too often
judgements are made, rather than decisions, because of a lack of
instinct and predilection often drive action in the absence of hard data.
there’s a need for better data, though, what do we measure and how do we do
and Hawkins, in The Economic Value of Public Libraries in the UK, point
to the difficulties of measuring the work of organisations with multiple
educational, informational, cultural and recreational objectives.
It is “necessarily a complex task and no simple formula can be
expected to cover the whole.”
use of library statistics has been on the professional agenda for at least
four decades, culminating in the National Information Standards
Organisation’s Information Services and Use: Metrics and Statistics for
Libraries and Information Providers: Data Dictionary.
Although the standard is not comprehensive in scope, it provides a
framework of common elements pertaining to libraries of various types and
responds to a NISO forum on the subject, held in February 2001, on the
critical need for systematic data collection and methodologies to support
research and analysis on the performance and effectiveness of libraries in the
libraries are able to draw on some public library, archive and museum data
produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL)
produces regular statistics on university libraries.
Assumptions can be made from statistics produced by overseas bodies ,
such as the Association of Research Libraries and occasional reports by OCLC.
And there is a large body of international and local research on
particular issues such as library users, often incorporate quantitative and
Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) has sensed the
importance of the issue.
1998, it published The Value of Libraries and Library Professionals to
Australia’s Top 100 Companies, which concluded, that negative
perceptions of the value of corporate libraries were influenced by, among
other things, lack of uniform metrics. ALIA’s
publication, Library Industry Statistics in Australia (Averill
Edwards, 2000) recommended a
central database of statistical information.
Its Scoping Paper on Information on the Australian Library and
Information Sector (Alison Batterham, 2001) identified sectors in which
there were statistical gaps and lack of information.
recently, Ian McCallum and Sherrey Quinn, in Valuing Libraries (Australian
Library Journal February 2004), surveying the literature of the past decade,
echo NISO and Edwards in calling for the systematic collection of data which
can be compared nationally.
Nimon, in School Libraries in Australia, highlighting the absence of
nation-wide data on school libraries, tells us about the difficulties of
collecting such statistics when bureaucracies are churning, and relationships
between national and state government authorities keep on changing.
The complexity of the school environment also makes it difficult to
handle the variables of library quality.
information industry is an elusive concept. Libraries are scattered across all
industries, but are widely perceived as being part of the cultural sector.
Libraries, archives and museums are not prominent in Australia’s measures of
a knowledge based economy and society. Information handling in most
organisations does not involve libraries.
Traditional library roles are morphing into new information
aims to promote research that “underpins innovation and fosters a research
culture in the provision of library and information services.”
A research project that warrants priority, despite the complexity of
the task, is the creation of a reliable body of statistics to provide answers
on running the business of ALIA, running libraries and developing the
interests of the workforce - rather than a nebulous search for innovation and
the promotion of a research culture, an objective which is of doubtful value
to many working in libraries and other parts of the information industry.
attitude of librarians has attracted criticism in a number of recent reports.
UK’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, in Towards
a Strategy for Workforce Development, talks of a ‘cultural malaise’ in the library sector.
Although it “is inhabited by more than averagely intelligent
and more than averagely articulate people” who are “committed to ideals of
public service, and believe passionately in the worth of their calling” it
has a “cultural problem”: willpower is lacking, inertia rules, and,
surprisingly, there is positive hostility to learning.
The report says this malaise has arisen because people have become
demoralised after years of funding cuts, accountability demands, and a failure
to attract the best and brightest into its ranks.
There has been “a tendency to pull the wagons into a circle, to
retreat into specialisms, to dwell in nostalgia, and at the very worst, to
ignore the way the world is changing, in the hope that it will all go away.”
Confronting this cultural malaise, the report says, is the biggest challenge
facing workforce development.
OCLC 2003 Environmental Scan goes further when it asserts that “the
library community is mostly in
denial about real issues and questions.”
It says librarians have made
retrieval and accuracy a god, ignoring the fact that users have become satisfied
with the quality, reliability and accuracy of the information they find on the
Web. It calls
for a change in the professional mindset.
is it a mindset that’s the problem? Does
the call for a shift in mindsets create misplaced expectations about the
capacity of librarians, and, for that matter, kindred professionals,
particularly in recordkeeping and archival domains, to change the way they
librarians, records managers and archivists run the business that employs
them. More often than not, they
occupy support roles in someone else’s business. Libraries
are a niche market rather than the primary market for commercial information
goods and services. Australian
library revenue amounts to less than one per cent of total information
industry turnover. Librarians and
records managers have limited opportunities to exercise leadership because of
their position as middle managers.
about a flawed mindset may be flawed diagnoses.
Australian senate urged the Cultural Ministers’ Council to reactivate a
working group to monitor, manage and report on library and information
matters, including the development of a national information policy, and it
urged stronger consultation between the National Office of the Information
Economy (NOIE, now the Office of the Information Economy or OIE) and the
National Library of Australia on matters of substance affecting the library
that all there is to it? Is a
national information policy desirable and possible?
Is structural change required? Or
is it simply a question of more collaboration, more tightly managed?
Australian library sector has unsuccessfully promoting the concept of an
Australian information policy for the past couple of decades.
In 1979, draft National
Information Policy Statements published by the Australian Advisory Council
on Bibliographic Services (AACOBS) - and a subsequent seminar on the subject -
were attempts to set libraries in a wider context.
national information policy currently flows from A Strategic Framework for
the Information Economy, Advancing Australia and related government
statements, developed by boards
representing politicians and bureaucrats on the Online Council, Ministerial
Council for the Information Economy and Cultural Ministers Council. An earlier National Policy Framework for Structural
Adjustment with the New Commonwealth of Information (1997), produced by a
now defunct Information Policy Advisory Council, and proposing major steps,
decision principles and roles for governments, industry leaders, associations,
consumer and community stakeholders, may
have ongoing relevance in developing a rounded national information policy
involving wider stakeholder representation.
in its Wider Information and Library Issues Project report (October
2003), considered the question of national information policy or strategy as a
context for action by archives, libraries and museums in the United Kingdom,
noting conflicting views on the subject.
“There are those that believe a national information strategy or
policy is needed, while there are others who prefer a policy or strategic
framework that links strategies in each of the sub-domains, regions, home
countries or subject arenas.” MLA
decided to ignore the word play and to develop a framework linking related
strategies in the sub-domains, regions, home countries and subject areas.
Progress on this front is yet to emerge.
responses on libraries in isolation may be possible, but are no longer
desirable. Leadership of library,
archival and museum sectors increasingly involves more government control.
February, the Cultural Ministers Council established the Collections Council
of Australia to play a role in
developing long term strategies to address issues facing collections;
undertake industry support, and implement initiatives to address cross
the curious absence of the Collections Council’s feasibility study outlining
the rationale for its establishment, we can perhaps take a glance at reports
on the library, archival and museum domains by MLA in the early stages of
clarifying its purpose. There was
some evidence, it said, of cross-domain linking between archives and
libraries, but not between all three domains.
In the archival world, there
were many overlapping sources of information and the quality or
appropriateness of such information was not always clear.
In the museum world, there was no
common understanding, a high
level of uncertainty about a range of issues, and tension about the different
needs of large institutions and small, independent and volunteer-run museums.
Libraries, it concluded, needed to resolve their own problems before
they could sensibly begin to work in cross-domain mode.
Leadership, it asserted, “will only work if
MLA and its key partners can carry the profession with them.”
Unrealistic expectations may have been created about MLA’s capacity,
especially over the pace of progress. “Some
goals will take years to reach and there will undoubtedly be setbacks along
the way. The profession will need
perseverance and determination to work its way through them.”
senate inquiry applauded librarians as exemplars for cooperation across jurisdictional
But some other commentators
have been less enthusiastic about the quality of library cooperation. GE
Gorman, for example, says there has been more smoke than fire.
In examining a three-tier model for collaboration developed by the
Research Support Libraries Program in the UK, he said there had been a failure
to achieve anything like truly meaningful collaboration. “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
need for more astute business approaches is underscored in, among other
reports, Diane Zoric’s A
Survey of Digital Cultural Heritage Initiatives and Their Sustainability
Concerns, which highlights the pervasive lack
of business plans, the use of unproven business models, increasing competition
and overlapping agendas among digital cultural heritage programs.
Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure
Preservation Program raises questions about responsibilities and finances in
its report about transforming roles. Managing information for long term
preservation “calls for active management of files from the beginning - a
huge shift in the relationship between preservation and access that is little
recognised and less understood.” Rapid change makes it difficult to develop
viable business models. New
models and incentives need to be created to encourage
publishers, distributors and aggregators to handle shifting
libraries with other parts of the economy is difficult enough.
Connecting libraries with other libraries – beyond existing
arrangements - is also no easy matter.
senate inquiry focused its attention on public libraries.
When MLA took this approach in its Framework for the Future
(February 2003), it was nudged into the Wider Information and Library
Issues Project (WILIP, October 2003) to assess the potential of a broader
network of libraries in the production and distribution of public information.
After surveying librarians and others working in twelve types of
libraries, it found that, although there is diversity within the sector, there
is a surprising amount of unanimity about challenges and direction.
Based on the thoughts of those surveyed, it recommended a
more joined-up approach through a policy framework linking information
strategies in each industry sector. Routes
to Knowledge, when published, is expected to develop the theme.
library cooperation has been the meat in the sandwich of most reports from the
1935 Munn-Pitt report onwards.
Eric Wainwright in a recent article (Australian Library Journal,
February 2004) recalls noteworthy attempts by librarians to consolidate their
resources through the 1988 Australian Libraries Summit and Towards Federation
2001 activities. Warren
Horton’s words at the summit launch continue to resonate: “I believe we
must immediately develop a mechanism for involving all professional bodies,
major stakeholders and the library community in a vigorous and structural
identification of the difficulties and opportunities confronting us.”
concludes that the summit and its aftermath had positive and negative impacts.
It consolidated the National Library of Australia’s position as a
leader and facilitator of cross-sectoral national library development.
It set much of the agenda for improving access to material of
Australian origin. It strongly
influenced access developments in related cultural sectors.
And it established a process for co-ordinated action - careful analysis
of the issues, bringing together major stakeholders, and public acceptance by
assigned stakeholders of responsibility for agreed actions. However, he said that the process had had little impact on
the formal structure or mechanisms of the Australian library system, little
impact on government, minimal impact on the structure and functioning of the
Australian document supply system and did not allow effective consideration of
the problems of particular client groups in obtaining the information they
need. “The process fell short
of identifying practical actions of a political or community oriented nature
which might result in greater resources for achieving some of the outcomes
the conclusion of the summit, Warren Horton said that “The test of our
effectiveness will now be how well (issues are) taken up by LAA, ACLIS, ASLA
and other bodies and libraries…and how well we sell (them) to the key
decision makers in the Australian community.' The names may have changed, but
the test may be the same.
associations, the Council of State Libraries (CASL) and the Council of
Australian University Librarians (CAUL), are central cogs in the development
of library resources. As
Wainwright notes, “both CAUL and CASL had become stronger, better-supported
bodies over the (past) decade, exerting influence on government funding bodies
and working to improve input into policy issues by university academics and
development, attendant tensions and fluctuation synergies are traced in Kate
Irvine’s Cooperation and
Influence. CASL was established to counter the ‘unwieldy structure’
of AACOBS, later the Australian Council of Library and Information Services (ACLIS).
In 2000, CASL and CAUL discussed a proposal for a new body to represent
their combined interests, but the meeting decided their divergent requirements
limited mutual opportunities. The
interests of university libraries and their customers have been
advanced by the establishment in 2003 of the Australian Research Information
Infrastructure Committee (ARIIC) representing government,
academic, library and information technology professionals.
Papers by Neil McLean at the turn of the century serve as touchstones
in identifying issues of importance to research libraries and other types of
libraries, working in concert. Issues
continue to seek resolution.
attempts by the library sector to create political leverage through a single
professional body have not yet met with success.
has traditionally represented the interests of individual librarians through
information provision, networking opportunities, professional development and
accreditation. A 1997 review of the roles of ALIA and ACLIS, noting widespread
concerns that there were too many library bodies with overlapping agendas, and
confusion on the nature of representation, recommended that a single
association be created rather than a federation of library bodies.
ACLIS folded up in 1998 when the National Library withdrew support for
its national office.
meaningful macro information strategy can only be realistically determined by
those who hold purse strings, but those with the money have not been given
correct weight in the new ALIA structure.
The task of running the business of the association has been muddied by
notions of democracy that reinforce tribal instincts over business sense.
In the past decade, ALIA membership numbers have dropped dramatically,
a trend shared by some other professional associations, influenced by forces
that have been outside their control as well as factors that have been within
Australia, a federation or coalition of associations may be today’s interim
answer for a sector in transition.
after superficial consideration in the 1997 report, such a proposition
continues to be explored. In
February 2002, the National Library of Australia called a Peak Bodies Forum,
involving selected associations. A second meeting was held in November 2003.
Although, its momentum and effectiveness have not yet been clearly
established, it is a tentative step to fill the vacuum created by the demise
Peak Bodies Forum, in a modest way, echoes the National Forum for Information
Planning and Cooperation (NFIP) in the UK, formed in the late 1980s to monitor
the development of regional and subject-based library and information plans.
NFIP’s lack of profile can be attributed to its status as a
discussion forum rather than business enterprise, lack of funding, partial
representation, competitor cooperatives in the higher education sector, the
voluntary status of some members, and the limited capacity of some to make
other than vague commitments.
government bodies - such as the Collection Council of Australia - may
necessitate adjustments to existing roles and modus operandi of institutions
and associations in handling policy and services. The creation of the
government-funded Museums and Galleries Foundation New South Wales, for
example, has challenged the capacity and relevance of Museums Australia NSW
Branch, which had been responsible for many of the programs now run by the
the search for a grand vision tilting at windmills? Wainwright, in noting that the Australian library sector is
without a national body through which libraries can pool resources - to
influence government policy, develop strategy and encourage cross-sectoral
projects - says that “most of us have less belief both in grand visions and
the likelihood of broad consensus.” He
argues that the need for Summit-style gatherings has changed and the
information and communication fields are now so fast-moving that institutions
are having themselves to react more quickly.
It is less likely that national mechanisms built on consensus can
respond within the timescales needed for decision.
a matrix world, do structures matter any more?
The National Library plays a coordinating role on a number of levels.
ALIA is developing relations with kindred associations such as the
Australian Society of Archives, Records Management Association of Australia
and Museums Australia. There is
tentative mixing of information disciplines at ground level in knowledge
management groups rather than in library forums.
Deep collaboration, in an evolving digital world, may be a long way
is the leader. Philosopher kings
appear occasionally to cut through uncertainty, inertia and tribalism – as
did Lawrence of Arabia in directing the bedouins across the Nefud to Akaba.
Leadership by librarians and by those in kindred sectors is limited by
their positions as contributors to industry and corporate agendas.
Responses by the library world and cultural sector are dependent on
actions by major institutions and associations with control of institutional
spending. Better national
statistical data is needed to help libraries, archives and museums navigate
the shifting sands.
Libraries Archives & Museums in an Online Environment: Bibliography
in the Online Environment, Part 1: Contexts
in the Online Environment, Part 2: Challenges