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By Paul Bentley
October 1998


Governance and decision-making
Liaison and lobbying
Financial management
Websites and listservs

Next steps?


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 approaches.

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 1980s.

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.


1 Representation

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 level.

  • A more rationale approach for representing and dovetailing multi-discipline subject interests [eg the performing arts]. 

  • 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 1970s.

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 Australia.
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 group objectives.

5 Conferences

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.

6 Publications

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 multi-discipline issues.

8 Projects

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 curatorial interests.


  • 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.

  • Vote.


  • 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. <> and e-mail correspondence with convener, Johan van de Walle. 



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