Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The proposed Australian National Cultural Policy 2012: an overview for GLAM’s (galleries, libraries, archives, museums).

After a slow start the forthcoming National Cultural Policy is now becoming a talking point.  If you work in Australian GLAM’s (galleries, libraries, archives and museums), particularly in the digital field, then you should know what it means for us and be able to talk knowledgably about suggestions we have given for its content, wording and development.
I have summarised below the key points.

What is it?
The National Cultural Policy is being developed by the Hon. Simon Crean, Minister for the Arts. It will ‘reflect the important role that arts and creativity play in the daily lives of all Australians, and will help to integrate arts and cultural policy within our broader and social economic goals’ for the next 10 years.  In layman’s terms this is thought to mean an opportunity to review both the funding and activities of arts and cultural heritage institutions. The Australian Government states that it provides core funding of more than $740 million annually directly on arts and culture activity through a suite of funding programs and support mechanisms. This includes in 2011-2012: $570 million for cultural institutions and agencies; $92 million for support programs for arts and culture projects; and $22 million support for non-profit organisations providing professional artists’ training. An outcome of the National Cultural Policy could be that funding may be cut, or extra funding given for new activities e.g. digital.  It is 20 years since there was a Cultural Policy in Australia.

Who is it for?
It is for Australia.  It’s aimed at any Australian organisations that have anything to do with arts or culture.  The definition of ‘Arts’ and ‘Culture’ is broad.  Therefore the policy will apply to a broad ranging and large group that is currently fragmented and not operating as a single sector, or managed under a single ministry. For example a sub group of this sector is ‘cultural heritage institutions’, and within this sub group is libraries.  The term ‘GLAM’ has not been mentioned in the National Cultural Policy but the GLAM sector are taking an active involvement in the development of the Policy. 

How is it being developed?
At the end of August 2011 a National Cultural PolicyDiscussion Paper was released to the public. The discussion paper tabled four proposed goals and the strategies to achieve them. Minister Simon Crean invited any organisations that felt the proposed policy would affect them to respond to the discussion paper. Individual responses from the public were also sought. Organisations had to act quickly since there were only eleven weeks before submissions closed in October 2011. Over 200 organisations responded and in January 2012 the responses were made public on the National Cultural Policy website. Most of the submissions give interesting examples of how organisations are meeting the four proposed goals, and also make comment on the proposed goals and strategies. Some organisations suggest additional goals and strategies.

When will it come into force?
The Minister stated in January 2012 that the National Cultural Policy will be developed and come into effect this year (2012).

Is it a good thing?
The submissions to the minister from the GLAM’s are overwhelming in favour of the development of a National Cultural Policy and see it as a good thing. It is hoped that a coherent national policy would provide leverage, focus and funding for agreed national priorities such as digitising Australian cultural heritage, making the content accessible, digitally preserving it, supporting education and enhancing the economy. It would also affirm the importance of cultural institutions in the development of a creative, confident and culturally literate Australia. The policy could have an enabling role, creating effective links between different areas of government such as cultural heritage, education, intellectual property and broadband infrastructure.

What did GLAM’s say in their submissions?
GLAM’s have taken this request for feedback as an opportunity to highlight the burning issues in the sector. Many of these issues are common across GLAM’s and are to do with collecting, preserving and delivering digital content, whilst continuing with traditional activities. I have collated, summarised and para-phrased responses from 12 GLAM’s below. These are: the National Library of Australia (NLA), National State and Territory Libraries of Australia (NSLA), Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), National Archives of Australia (NAA), Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU),  Council of Australian University Libraries (CAUL), Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), the National Museum of Australia (NMA), the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

General comments on the Policy:
  • GLAM’s don’t consider themselves to be ‘core arts’ like music, and performing arts and would like the role and definition of GLAM’s/collecting institutions/libraries to be explicitly stated and recognised separately in the policy.
  • The definition of ‘culture’ should be wider than it currently is.  It is much broader than just ‘the arts’.
  • The Policy emphasises ‘the arts’ and the ‘creative industries’ and does not have an equal balance with ‘culture’.
  • Strategies and funding for GLAM’s to deal with ‘digital’ are absent.
  • Recognise the transformative impact that digitising content has on access, research, participation and creation of new knowledge in the policy.
  • Arts, cultural heritage and creativity are not under a single ministry but spread across agencies. The policy should detail a co-ordinated, cross-portfolio government approach that is comprehensive and encourages collaborations and partnerships between contributing agencies. Future reporting on the activities and performance of the Australian arts and cultural sector should likewise be presented in a unified, whole of government fashion.
  • The policy should make explicit reference to the national curriculum, particularly English, History and the Creative Arts.
  • There is an intrinsic worth to cultural heritage for us and future generations.  Measuring economic return and commercial value may be helpful but the continuing existence of cultural heritage should not depend on this.
  • It is the right time to develop a National Cultural Policy.
  • It is an ambitious plan to develop it effectively within the next few months.
  • Museums are core to protecting and supporting Indigenous Culture.
  • Culture plays an important role in strengthening ties between nations. For example touring exhibitions and partnerships with international organisations helps to build ‘soft’ diplomacy ties between nations.
  • Cultural literacy which incorporates historical literacy, an understanding of history and traditions, ideas and their origins should be an important dimension of a cultural policy.
  • We endorse and are committed to inclusion of all Australians in our programs and services. This means both indigenous communities AND varied cultural groups.
  • Acknowledgement should be made of the thousands of volunteers/contributors/participants who help cultural heritage institutions with their strategies.
  • We endorse the principle of culture for lifelong learning (from the cradle to the grave).
  • The Australian War Memorial Museum and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies should be referred to in the policy since they are key GLAM’s and are not mentioned.
  • What resources will be used to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of the National Cultural Policy?
  • Will the establishment of a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre as proposed at the 2020 summit be approved and how will this fit into the strategy?
  • The government may need to better co-ordinate information about its arts and culture funding, re-align funding, and grant increased funding to support the goals of the new policy whilst at the same time providing adequate funding for cultural heritage institutions to meet their current mandatory legal requirements as specified in relevant Acts.

Comments on existing goals and strategies:
  • None of the goals acknowledge the ongoing collection, management, description, storage, delivery and preservation of Australia’s cultural heritage collections. New technologies and digital do not remove the need for continued funding for traditional activities. Dealing with the ‘digital deluge’ requires additional funding. 
  • Cultural institutions should be referred to in the strategies.
  • There is no reference to how the government will work with culturally proficient indigenous organisations such as AIATSIS to protect and support indigenous culture.
  • AIATSIS is willing to take a lead role in advising other cultural institutions about protocols and priorities for indigenous collections, including digital repatriation of materials.
  • A high priority should be given for the rollout of the NBN to indigenous remote communities to help support digital repatriation and access to indigenous collections.
  • Use of ‘emerging technologies’ is happening naturally by the public and may not need government support. 
  • Goal 4: increasing and strengthening the capacity of the arts to contribute to our society and economy is two different goals rolled into one. One is about valuing the contributions of the community and the other is about strengthening commercial practice and involving the private sector. 
Suggested new goals and strategies:
  • Assured ongoing access to cultural collections in digital and physical form.
  • An online cultural collections strategy that would give priority to digitisation and digital preservation of national content. (This would be linked to the National Broadband Initiative).
  • A national audit is undertaken immediately of indigenous collections at risk of permanent loss and a 10-20 year plan developed for their preservation and digitisation.
  • Co-ordinated digitisation approach with shared funding pool, facilities, storage.
  • Scale up the capability to create, manage and deliver digital content.
  • A national, comprehensive, systematic, large scale digitisation program (as suggested by several different government reports and reviews).
  • Increased annual budgets for institutions for digitisation and digital infrastructure (NLA requests extra $70 million, ABC states it would need significant funding to digitise audiovisual, NFSA states it requires extra funding to be able to fulfil its current mandate, not taking into account new goals in the policy, CPSU states there is a current funding crisis in GLAM’s and traditional core activities are being dropped in favour of new activities like digitisation for which no extra funding has been given, AIATSIS requires funding for digitisation).
  • Adapt copyright legislation to enable cultural heritage institutions to make more content more accessible to the public (e.g. to enable more digitisation without restrictions). 
  • A national initiative to make a core set of online databases resources available to all Australian Schools via an existing model managed by the NLA. 
  • Strategy to support software development and maintenance, and services that use this e.g. national delivery services such as Trove and Pandora, software with cultural protocol based access control for digital repatriation such as Mukurtu and Ara Irititja.
  • Establish a goal of public participation that includes social engagement and value.
  • To collect Australian born digital and audio-visual content (i.e. legislate mandatory legal deposit for born digital items and audio-visual items), and fund the infrastructure required.
  • Preserve our ‘born’ digital content and have a strategy for digital preservation.
  • A strategy and framework to decide which of our digital heritage holds real value and needs to be managed and preserved long-term.
  • To identify which agencies are required to preserve which items of digital heritage.
  • Harness the value of Australian collecting institutions by supporting direct funding of Australian cultural institutions through projects with Government agencies responsible for international aid and diplomacy (e.g. helping re-establish culture heritage in Timor-Leste).
  • A strategy for the extension of the Federal Government’s Return of Indigenous Cultural Property (RICP).
  • Establishment of a regular forum for dialogue between Australia’s national cultural institutions.
  • Establishment of an effective national representative body for the creative arts and cultural heritage to facilitate the implementation of this policy and the goals and strategies within it.
  • Strategies to facilitate greater levels of partnership between cultural and creative institutions in order to make the most effective use of limited resources. 
  • Strategies to facilitate greater levels of partnership between similar institutions internationally, which would enable and encourage digital sharing, repatriation, touring exhibitions, skills exchange and cultural tourism. 
  • Strategies to support the development of career pathways for creative Australians and cultural heritage/arts specialists between agencies. 
  • Strategies to develop professional training programs in Australia to up skill and train people in managing and preserving digital and physical cultural heritage. 
What does the Minister think so far?
We know that Simon Crean has been impressed by the level of response. He is particularly interested to find out how the institutions that have made submissions can work more collaboratively together to make a greater collective impact and also to support the National Cultural Policy when it comes into effect.  
This is an interesting question for the GLAM sector.  From reading the GLAM responses it is clear that most institutions did not get together formally or informally to make their initial submissions, or endorse the submissions of others they do collaboratively work with. This may of course have been due to lack of time, not just the thought to do so. Some institutions, notably the ABC and NFSA have well developed and longstanding collaborations with other institutions to achieve their goals. Other institutions work largely on their own and have no formal national networks or bodies to help them, for example museums. Some GLAM’s work within their own sub sectors to achieve their goals.  Libraries are a particularly good example of this.  There is a well developed library network and partnership system for all libraries in Australia via NSLA. Australian libraries have a long and successful history or working collaboratively together and this is highly regarded internationally. Few other countries have such an equivalent. But Australian libraries generally do not work collaboratively across the GLAM (or ‘cultural sector’) as a matter of course.  There is no established framework or mindset to do this. Australia lags behind some other countries who have well established GLAM representational, lobby, advocate and funding groups.
Although Australia is a vast country most of the national cultural heritage institutions are located within walking distance of each other in Canberra, and directly opposite Parliament so in theory regular meet ups to share and exchange information; more collaborative working and shared facilities should be entirely possible. As I come to work I pass within four minutes the Australian War Memorial Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, The National Archives, and the Museum of Australian Democracy before arriving at the National Library of Australia car-park. On the other side of the lake is the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Museum of Australia and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Quite an impressive collection of GLAM’s in a small area.

When working in the GLAM sector you quickly realise that the lines are very blurred between what institutions do and collect. For example the National Library holds large collections of objects and artworks as well as books, the Australian War Memorial Museum holds a large collection of archives as well as objects, the National Art Gallery has an impressive library as well as artworks and so it goes on.  Libraries and archives want exhibition spaces as good as those found in museums and galleries. GLAM’s all have digitisation facilities and need a whole lot of money to digitise and deliver their physical collections, which are largely ‘hidden’ in disparate storage facilities with no centralised storage planned.
Despite this lack of cohesion across GLAM’s the National Library of Australia has achieved some notable and significant outcomes that benefit GLAM’s and the Australian public. Trove is the most recent and well know example. Trove helps the public find and discover Australian information that is collected by Australian arts and cultural heritage institutions in the broadest sense. Most libraries in Australia contribute their records to Trove, and increasingly archives, museums, and galleries are contributing, as well as other institutions such as the ABC. Trove is highly regarded in the international cultural heritage field and there is no existing equivalent in the world.  If the National Cultural Policy supported initiatives such as Trove it would be a good thing. It may ensure continuity and longevity of valuable programs and services and foster more collaborative working. 

What do I think so far?
I think we need to think bigger. We need to think not only how we can work together in ‘culture’ but also in ‘the arts’ so that the National Cultural Policy is really effective. I acknowledge that I have only analysed and summarised the responses from ‘culture’ here and not the ‘arts and creative industries’. We can learn a lot from New Zealand who are well ahead of us in developing collaborative relationships, policies and strategies. For example the National Digital Heritage Archive, the Digital Content Strategy, and the National Digital Forum. Cultural institutions working together are a good thing for both the government and the people. I actively endorse, encourage and do this in my professional capacity as a digital heritage specialist.

Sculpture by Gloria Fletcher Thancoupie located between the National Gallery of Australia and the National Library of Australia. Photographed by myself. 'come together'.


  1. Hello Rose
    It is wonderful to read this post. I am student in the M. IT (LIS) at QUT and am currently doing a minor research project on GLAMs which is concentrating on past and current cultural policy in relation to four national collecting institutions (NGA, NLA, NAA, NMA). I'm in the fairly early stages but am interested both in the digitisation of collections, but also possibilities for collaboration among institutions. Is this something that you can see happening in the Australian scene in the near (or not so near) future?

  2. Hi Wendy
    I'm glad the post is of help to you in your library studies. Your question about whether the national collecting institutions will collaborate together on digitisation is a good one. I think it is unlikely they will do so unless government funding requires it, or they are manadated to do so. I say this because all these institutions have been digitising already for about 10-15 years and as far as I know have not collaborated to do it, either in sharing money, facilites, staff or equipment. Although Trove is widely viewed as the national digital discovery portal and has been widely acclaimed it also was not a collaborative project, but a NLA project, as was Picture Australia. I would also say your grouping of the institutions is interesting. The three institutions that have worked most closely together on the digitisation issue are NAA, NFSA and NLA who made an unsuccessful joint proposal to the government for extra funding for digital activities for their own institutions in 2009. I'm not sure why NMA and NGA were not involved in this proposal. Hope that helps.

  3. I would like to add a note to my blog post. Another submission which is of interest to the GLAM sector is that given by the Senator Kate Lundy called 'The Digital Culture Public Sphere'. I can't find the submission on the NCP website but it is available from Kate's own website http://www.katelundy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DCPS-Submission-to-NCP-FINAL.pdf

    Pages 85-106 are suggestions for and from the cultural heritage sector.

    The latest statements and news from Simon Crean is in the Australian 17 Jan 2012 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/culture-to-connect-the-dots/story-e6frg8n6-1226245839174 which states:
    "He has convened two committees: a reference group of more than 20 arts professionals to chew over cultural policy submissions, and a working group comprising the heads of national institutions to discuss broader issues."

  4. Thanks so much Rose. I have just read those two documents you pointed too and they make for very interesting reading. Among lots of other things the thing that I found fascinating (and not in a good way) is that the NGA did not appear to make a formal response to the Discussion Paper. I find this quite strange. Also the only policy document on digitising the NGA's collection I can find on their website is from 2006 which seems a long time ago considering the pace of change in the digital landscape. I found The Digital Culture Public Sphere really great in terms of articulating a possible vision for the future...as I did the submissions by the NLA, NFSA and NSLA to the Discussion Paper. Interesting times ahead it seems!

  5. nice opinion.. thanks for sharing...

  6. The cultural policy has been postponed due to lack of funds so will not be released in May as planned: http://www.smh.com.au/business/federal-budget/culture-arts-squeezed-from-budget-with-no-spare-change-20120502-1xzhi.html#ixzz1tl52p2oz

  7. The National Cultural Policy has now been released. See my blog post of 18 March 2013 describing the outcome for GLAM's.