SCRATCHING THE SURFACE
Arts information management in Australia: the role of special interest groups?
by Paul Bentley
issues for us
has been done so?
Where to from here?
Are arts library and museum special
interest groups loose networks of professionals? Are they businesses that
influence the way arts information is created, captured, presented and used?
Do they make the most of their potential?
The original proposal
To stir the pot, I proposed, in October last year, a
merger of Australian arts library and museum special interest groups - the
International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation
Centres [IAML Australia], the Arts Libraries Society/Australia and New Zealand
[ARLISANZ] and Museum Australia’s Performing Arts Special Interest Group [PASIG].
on potential benefits for each group, I suggested several options: a
national merger of all three groups; state mergers of all or some
groups; collaborations on
projects and activities [eg joint publications, listservs, conferences].
original proposal was published in ARLISANZ
Journal March 1999. An abbreviated version was published in the February
1999 issue of Intermezzo.
reaction has been difficult to gauge. All groups have expressed interest in
considering the proposal. Two of the groups - ARLISANZ and PASIG – have
recently undertaken strategic planning exercises to clarify roles and
articulate directions. On the other hand, a cautious note has been voiced in
the ARLISANZ 1998 general meeting minutes: “if we were to be part of a
larger society, we would lose the infrastructure to organise our own
is an issues paper. It doesn’t make assumptions or draw conclusions. It has
been written to report on developments, provoke further thinking
and encourage wider participation in the exercise.
exercise is no longer a ’merger proposal’. Exploring the issues is more
important than an anticipated outcome. There may be several outcomes. The
benefits may be major or minor.
proposal emerged from a speculative paper called Virtually Yours: IAML in
the 21st Century, which I prepared for IAML’s 1998
conference. In conducting research for the paper, I visited strategic
documents of each group, historical material such as Music in Australia:
its needs and prospects and minutes of the now defunct Music Reference
Group [see force field list appendix 1].
suggestions to IAML were: improve business planning; increase membership;
create better links with the big players; be more clever with money; make
better use of the knowledge and skill of the members. Thinking about IAML led
me to speculate on the relevance of these suggestions to other special
An association with all
Sue Boaden and Peter Wagner, I formed the Museums Arts and Humanities Group in
1975. Our magnum opus, the first national seminar on arts information in
Australia, held in conjunction with the ALAA conference at Hobart in 1977, led
to the disbandment of MAHG and the formation of ARLISANZ. I’ve been a member
of IAML Australia since 1974, three years after it was established. I was a
founding member of PASIG, which was established in 1992. More recently, I
became a member of the Visual Arts and Crafts Special Interest Group of
Museums Australia, when its was formed in 1999. And I’m a member of the
National Association of Visual Artists, among other bodies.
multi-disciplinary connections have stimulated me to reflect on historical
currents, observe similarities and differences and speculate on possible
attempting to identify and address anomalies created by the dispersal of the
Dennis Wolanski Library, I became more aware of kindred organisations,
experiences and energies that exist outside each group. Would all parties
benefit from more effective dovetailing of interests? Would users and
audiences benefit from this consolidation?
Wolanski Foundation, which grew out of these enquiries, was formed to
facilitate management, presentation and appreciation of the performing arts
through research, publishing and philanthropic initiatives. Our research
interests include records management and documentation, knowledge management,
media information, information markets, and library, archive and museum
services. Driven by the spirit of enquiry.
others in the profession, I’ve wrestled recently with the concepts of
virtual organisations, knowledge management and other forces in the arts and
information industries. What trends are relevant to arts information and
curatorial professional groups?
information industry, including bodies representing libraries, archives and
museums are scrutinizing their roles, relationships and effectiveness. There
has been a blurring of roles and increased dialogue between the three sectors
and with other information industry sectors such as the records management
industry. The 1998 IFLA conference and a recent seminar conducted by the Getty
Information Institute are but two examples of this trend. Can sectoral
integration be too far away?
1994, Museum Australia was formed after an amalgamation of the Council of
Australian Museums Association, the Art Museums Association of Australia, the
Museums Association of Australia and the Museum Education Association of
Australian Library and Information Association is redrawing its boundaries and
is looking at three new business models – a business-as-usual model, an
add-on model [ALIA collaborating with other industry bodies] and an
information professional and services model [a merger with other industry
United Kingdom, a report initiated by the Department of Culture, Media and
Sport has recommended the creation of a new single national strategic body for
museums, libraries and archives to replace the Museums and Galleries
Commission and the Library and Information Commission.
integration has coincided with the emergence of new disciplines. Financial,
human resource and information technology professionals are reinventing the
information game, staking out ground previously worked by librarians,
archivists and museum professionals.
Joint venture and
need to create business mechanisms on top of less stringent networking
arrangements has led to significant joint venture organisations and consortia
in the arts and information industries, driven by technology, the benefits of
pooling funds to pursue mutual interests, and the limited scope for
productivity gains in labour-intensive organisations.
Britain, the Arts & Humanities Data Service [AHDS] and its various
sections - the Performing Arts Data Services, Visual Arts Data Service,
Archaeology Data Service, and History Data Service - was created to identify
and promote shared standards, develop integrated approaches to resource
discovery, publish good practice guides and facilitate partnerships between
scholarly, commercial and non-profit interests. A Resources Discovery Network
has been established as a consortium by Kings College London (through ADHS)
and the University of Bath (through the Office for Library and Information
Networking, UKOLN) with support from the University of Hull to enrich
learning, research and cultural engagement through the development of a RDN
Centre and connected hubs. Academic organisations. Strong agendas.
Australia, the Council of Australian University Libraries [CAUL] is developing
strategies for joint development and cooperative networking including major
subject discipline gateways, national benchmarks, a co-operative national
digital store, negotiation of improved licensing, and strategic partnerships
to enhance access to knowledge. The National Networked Facility for Research
into Australian Music is a joint project of Australian National University,
Monash University, the Australian Music Centre, La Trobe University, the
National Library of Australia and ScreenSound Australia. The latter two
organisations, with Ausdance, are partners in the Keep Dancing Project. A
consortium representing the National Institute for Dramatic Art, Sydney Opera
House, Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet and the University of Wollongong
produced Stage Struck CD ROM, one of ten similar projects facilitated
by the Australian Government. Cross-sectoral, multi-institutional business
partnerships making better use of resources, creating more value for those
virtual organisation has arrived – as a concept within organisations and as
a mechanism for linking organisations with kindred interests. An alleged shift
from hierarchical to matrix organisational structures has unveiled new modus
practice of knowledge management has placed the spotlight on people. Although
the discipline is still treated with caution, the value of knowledge-sharing
having been promoted in a period of increased worker insecurity, an inkling of
its value can be appreciated by looking at the way the Music Library
Association, for example, points people to members with particular interests,
knowledge and skills and the way George Washington University, to give another
example, makes its human capital more visible through web pages devoted to
each staff member.
industry special interest groups are already virtual organisations. To what
extent, though, does the electronic age create opportunities for new
structures, new systems and new relationships to produce more stimulating ways
of working with greater impact on the industry we serve?
THE ISSUES FOR US?
this point it is worth pausing to ask whether all the issues have been
identified and whether the right questions are being asked. Here’s my list:
many members are there? What are their expectations, needs, interests? What
are their organisational affiliations? What is the relative importance of
institutional and personal membership? What is the potential for increased
membership? How can personal knowledge of members be more effectively
Management. What are the roles, plans, services, products and activities of each
group? What are the overlaps and gaps in subject interests, functions and
intentions? What is the organisational framework of each group? How do they
communicate? How do they make decisions? Are there alternative management
mechanisms that should be considered by each group? Are there potential gains
from better coordination? How much money is collected? What happens to it? Is
there scope for more income and bigger spending?
Relationships. What links are
maintained with other professional bodies and institutions? What links are
Do the groups achieve what
they set out to do? Are there gaps between
rhetoric and action? What causes the gaps? Benchmarking, although apparently
on the wane as a management tool, provides a system for measuring
effectiveness. What are the features of best practice in professional interest
groups? Which organisations should we compare ourselves with? My tentative
list includes the Music Library Association, Law Society of NSW, Knowledge
Management Consortium Australia and the Association of Information Industry
HAS BEEN DONE SO FAR?
Statements of purpose for
each group have been collected and, as a starting point in comparing the
roles, are published as appendix 2. Taking into account further information
about the activities of each group, the statements need to be simplified so
that the patterns, overlaps and gaps are easier to see.
2. Membership database
A database has been compiled of the 250 members in
the three groups. This highlights how little is known about members. The
process of drawing assumptions about individuals is laborious and error-prone.
Individuals have riches beyond their current institutional affiliations. The
invisible depths are potentially of greater significance than the contact
details at the top of membership forms. New pictures could illuminate patterns
and test assumptions.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
Traditional forms of group
decision-making tend to reinforce rather than challenge existing beliefs and
opinions. I therefore propose the following steps:
Conduct a survey to
collect the following information:
of membership (institutional
of organisation affiliation (national/state
archive/library/ museum; municipal; tertiary; other).
Functional interests (archival,
performing arts/theatre, music, dance, film, visual arts, exhibition and
information management tools & techniques)
Needs, expectations, ideas.
provides us with the tools and opportunity to experiment with new, inexpensive
ways to collect, distill and interpret such information. A tentative, draft
survey is published as appendix 3 as a starting point. Special interest group
web sites – such as the ARLISANZ site or even the Wolanski Foundation -
could be used to host the survey. Testing the process is, in some ways, more
interesting than the results of the survey.
an options paper, incorporating survey results and information on
finances and other management issues. Publish this paper on group Web sites
and in publications. Invite comment.
5. Focus and decide
Prepare a decision paper summarising issues
and options, taking into account both structured and unstructured responses
expressed through listservs, meetings and other forums.
Decide. September 2000 was initially floated as a
possible date for a joint conference of interested groups. However, everything
does not hinge on a big meeting, one decision, one date. Several decisions may
need to be made. The decisions may vary from state to state. Decisions are not
final. The process is ongoing.
the Arts Information in Australia Seminar in 1977, billed as “the first
seminar held anywhere in the world to deal with information for the arts as a
whole rather than with information for a specific art form”, the consensus
was that the visual arts, theatre, music and film/radio/television are
different disciplines with different histories and practices requiring
different approaches. Thor Wood, Chief Librarian at the New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts, in particular, cautioned against a single
body trying to tackle too many subjects.
of subject interests was right then. Is it right now? In the electronic age,
has partitioning become less important?
was interesting about the 1977 conference was the range of participants, the
balance of librarians and non-librarians, the perspectives of the
non-librarians and ideas that challenged predictable views.
Should we organise – annually or once every decade - joint meetings
and projects that provide the stage for unexpected collisions of thought - not
only between art forms, but also between librarians, archivists, museum
professionals, records managers, information technology professionals,
knowledge managers, publishers, arts administrators, practitioners and
Consider Burk and Horton’s map and the modified
version of Eastman’s organisation chart [appendix 4]. Do current structures
and demands on time stymie potential? Should we, once again, turn the eyes to
the horizon – re-examine contexts and construct new policy and strategic
frameworks for arts information industry special interest groups?
Should we devise new modes of operation to reduce duplicate effort,
martial limited resources and maximise impact?
Information in Australia: seminar proceedings, Hobart, Tasmania, 1-2 September
1977; edited by Sue Boaden. Sydney: Museums Arts and Humanities Group for the
Library Association of Australia, 1979.
· Bentley, Paul. Virtually yours: IAML in the 21st
century – more of the same or something completely different? Continuo 1998.
· Burk, Cornelius and Horton, Forest. Infomap: a
complete guide to discovering corporate information resources. Pretence Hall,
· Lipnack, Jessica & Stamps, Jeffrey. Virtual
teams: reaching across space, time and organizations with technology. New
York: Wiley, 1997.
<Site to be launched in the near future >
Appendix 1: Music Reference Group Force Field Analysis
Appendix 2: SIGs goals and objectives
Appendix 3: Draft questionnaire
4: A new way or operating?