Monday, 18 March 2013

The Australian National Cultural Policy 2013 released: an overview of ‘Creative Australia’ for GLAM’s (galleries, libraries, archives, museums).

After a much longer than anticipated wait Minister Simon Crean announced the release of the Australian National Cultural Policy on 13-3-13, the week of Canberra’s Centenary celebrations. The Policy named ‘Creative Australia’ is a weighty 150 pages, though happily has an online summary and search feature.

The question that Australian libraries, archives, museums and galleries will be asking is “Does the National Cultural Policy deliver all that we hoped it would for GLAM’s, and how far will it help or drive forward the challenges surrounding the digital agenda?” 

Back in January 2012 I wrote a post explaining what the purpose of the National Cultural Policy was intended to be, and summarised the feedback that the National Cultural Institutions had provided against the Draft Policy in October 2011. I also followed this post with another which explained in more detail the Digital Deluge Challenges that GLAM’s had raised in their feedback, with possible resolutions that they would like addressed in the National Cultural Policy.  It was widely hoped by National Cultural Institutions such as the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, and the National Film and Sound Archives that the Policy would provide extra or contestable funding to help with the challenges of digitising, collecting born digital, and delivering collections digitally, and the legislation that surrounded that. At that point Simon Crean had indicated the Policy would be released in March 2012 and would have considerable funding associated with it.  However due to constraints in Government funding the release was delayed since Crean said there was no point in releasing a policy which did not have the funding to back it up.  This further fuelled the expectations of the GLAM sector that the policy may release significant extra funding to them.

So does the National Cultural Policy help GLAM’s deal with the digital challenges?  The answer in a nutshell is “not really”. The Policy is much more focused on fostering the creation of new digital cultural and artistic content rather than collecting or curating it. However there are a few exceptions which I will highlight below.

As Crean had hinted the Policy comes with considerable funding - $235 million to be exact. However the lion’s share of this (over $75 million) goes to reforming the Australia Council. Crean says:

"The Australian Government will immediately implement structural reforms to the Australia Council. These are the most significant since its creation 40 years ago at a time when the arts were only beginning to realise their potential. I will be introducing new legislation into Parliament next week, which will be backed by an investment of $75.3 million in new funding for the Australia Council over four years. The Australia Council will be a more responsive funding body with a clear mandate to support and promote a vibrant and distinctively Australian creative arts practice, and have a new emphasis on independent peer-assessed grants to recognise and build artistic excellence.”

A summary breakdown of the funding as given in Crean’s press release is below:


The Policy has five goals and the funding is intended to be targeted to attain the goals.

Goal 1: Recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity.

Goal 2: Ensure that government support reflects the diversity of Australia and that all citizens, wherever they live, whatever their background or circumstances, have a right to shape our cultural identity and its expression.

Goal 3: Support excellence and the special role of artists and their creative collaborators as the source of original work and ideas, including telling Australian stories.

Goal 4: Strengthen the capacity of the cultural sector to contribute to national life, community wellbeing and the economy.

Goal 5: Ensure Australian creativity thrives here and abroad in the digitally enabled 21st century, by supporting innovation, the development of new creative content, knowledge and creative industries.

The relevant parts of the National Cultural Policy for GLAM are:

Digitising collections:

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) finally gets a good chunk of money. They’ve been given $12.8 million   for the digitisation of their indigenous collections. This potentially can go a long way if they set up mass digitisation processes such as the National Library did.  At the National Library $10 million digitised 50 million items. But if mass digitisation was not in place this money would likely only cover digitisation of up to 1 million paper items, less if it was AV.

Collecting born digital:

The Cultural Policy signals the intent of the Government to finally change the 1968 Copyright Act which would give the National Library of Australia the right to collect digital as well as hard copy published items.  This is known as legal deposit. Digital legal deposit would cover content on Australian websites as well as e-books and blogs.  The National Library has been campaigning for years without success to change legal deposit to include digital, so this statement of intent is a positive step forward.  There is still no timeframe around the legal change and it’s likely to take some time. The Australian Law Reform Commission is reviewing copyright exceptions for the digital environment. The copyright Inquiry is being led by Professor Jill McKeough. An issues paper was released in August 2012. A discussion paper is likely to be released later in 2013 with another call for responses from interested parties such as publishers, content developers and collecting institutions who commented last time round.

Crean has also stated:  "We will also work to develop a new legal deposit scheme for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia to collect and preserve Australian audio-visual material."

This is all good but raises some questions on the specific roles and potential overlap of functions of the National Archives of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive. The National Library has been collecting Government websites for some time now, but this is actually a core role of the National Archives.  The National Film and Sound Archives collect commercial and non-commercial AV content, whilst the National Archives collect material from Government broadcasters such as the ABC.  Interestingly although the National Library, and National Film and Sound Archive get several mentions in the policy the National Archives hardly does. This may be due to the much stronger, detailed responses the NLA and NFSA sent in to the draft policy.

Dealing with the Digital Deluge vs. Physical:

The Cultural collecting sector clearly stated that they were appreciative of the money given to them by Government each year to build, manage and maintain their collections.  The Policy states, as the draft policy did how much this is for 2012/2013:

  • National Archives of Australia $62.6 million
  • National Library of Australia $59.6 million
  • National Gallery of Australia $46.4 million
  • National Museum of Australia $42.9 million
  • National Film and Sound Archive $26.9 million
  • Australian National Maritime Museum $23.9 million
The Policy also states:

“The Australian Government remains committed to ensuring the National Collecting Institutions can continue to facilitate access to their collections and programs. The Government also remains committed to the digitisation of the collections to preserve them for future generations and provide access to a range of culturally significant material”.

However although the money sounds considerable much more is required to address the digital challenges.  The analogue/physical collections are not decreasing or requiring less management but the digital is exponentially increasing. Collecting institutions do not have the infrastructure they need to deal with it and make it accessible.  The Policy does not address this issue at all, though it acknowledges in the Appendices that collecting institutions raised it. 

The Policy actually helps to significantly increase the amount of digital cultural artefacts that will be created and therefore require collecting, particularly in audio-visual broadcasting. Large sums of money will target creation of more audio-visual content from Screen Australia and SBS. This will no doubt exacerbate the digital deluge problem for the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives and the National Library.

Searching and engaging with collections and content:

The Policy waxes lyrical about Trove the search and user engagement service developed by the National Library of Australia (co-incidentally that I managed from 2008-2012) even going as far as calling it a “golden moment for the cultural economy, as the historic obstacles of distance and the size of the local market disappear.” This is all very nice and good patting on the back stuff, but no money is provided to ensure that the ‘moment’ can be sustained and the collaborative service can continue or be developed. I’m not sure if the Minister was aware that the development work on the service all but ceased in 2011 when the National Library made a decision to divert its priorities elsewhere. 

National Collaboration and Networks:

An action in the policy is to “Establish a national network for museums and galleries to be managed in partnership between the National Museum of Australia and Museums Australia. The Network will work to share resources and improve access to collections across Australia, to assist industry, researchers and the public.”

I’m not quite sure what the intent of this is, whether is it a collaborative network between museums, a digital network, a shared discovery service like Trove, or simply a replacement for Collections Australia Network (CAN) ,which has had its funding entirely pulled on more than one occasion.

The expectation was that GLAM’s would be required to work more closely and collaboratively with each other to achieve their aims and pool resources, particularly for digitisation and digital discovery/access but this is not mentioned in the Policy.  There has not been a natural propensity for Australian GLAM’s to communicate, collaborate, or share openly in a formal or informal way before, so although it could be done without a policy, there was an expectation that a Policy would drive it.  Within each specific sector there are good networks, especially for libraries, but cross sector there is still some resistance to focusing on similarities rather than differences.


Only time will tell if the National Cultural Policy can be used as leverage to assist the work of GLAM’s, or whether it is just another document/file to be put in the ‘recycle bin’. Its intended life span is 10 years, and most of the initial funding covers a 3-4 year time period.  With a government election taking place this year and bets being placed on a change of government we will have to wait and see whether it can hold its own in the years ahead.