Galleries, libraries, archives, museums and records: an introduction to Australian GLAM/R (part two)

Welcome to part two of the conversation about GLAM/R (galleries, libraries, archives, museums and recordkeeping institutions) in Australia. For those just joining us, GLAM/R is an acronym which has made its way into the vernacular of professionals from galleries, libraries, archives, museums and even recordkeeping institutions to refer to this collective of cultural centres.  In part one we invited professionals from across the Australian GLAM/R sector to share their thoughts on what the term means to them.

Acknowledging that the practical implications of the acronym are not yet fully understood, part two reveals the respondents’ desire and need for the concept of GLAM/R to have a stronger, lasting and more meaningful impact on the communities they serve if it is to survive. Do we, as members of this sector, throw away the myth of neutrality; do we become social activists advocating for diversity, inclusion and “safe” spaces for our staff and the public? Our professionals weigh in on what the future may hold.

Please note, responses have been adjusted or emphasised where necessary to ensure clarity.

Respondents’ views are their own, not those of their institutions.

ARCHIVOZ: What benefits and/or challenges do you see to fostering collaboration between GLAM/R institutions?

GLAMR holds an inherent tension as a concept. Even within each of the professions in the acronym there are divisions between type or sector. Insisting that we are more similar than we are is problematic – but [there] are benefits to working together in terms of lobbying and political clout, but this also can be problematic. For example the Australian War Memorial has received an obscene increase in funding at the same time most other national ‘GLAMR’ institutions are experiencing funding and resources crises due to years of budget cuts. Conceiving ourselves as “all part of one GLAMR family” pressures professional organisations like ALIA [Australian Libraries and Information Organisation] to politely congratulate the government for boosting funding to the sector, rather than expressing dismay (or something stronger) at the way funds are being allocated.

– Member Services manager, Academic Library Cooperative

Sometimes, we have blinders on that make it difficult to see the things we have in common. This may be because of the histories of our institutions, or the histories of our professions. Or, it may be because it’s difficult to share openly when capitalism forces us to compete with each other. We all feel at risk, personally, and on behalf of the funds of our institutions. One less dollar for the gallery may mean one more dollar for the museum.

– Subject Librarian, Academic Library

Some of the benefits I see – knowledge networks, peer learning, establishing new standards and protocols, sharing costs for PD and conferences, bringing bold ideas from each sector together. The challenges come down to prioritisation, the ongoing issue of institutions being driven by different agendas and goals, starkly different understandings of our collections and roles as custodians, uneven budget allocations (museums tend to fare better than libraries for example), expectations placed on Indigenous staff in these sectors tends to increase when we are involved with more peak bodies and inter-institutional meetings.

– Manager of an Indigenous Branch, State Library

The greatest challenge our sector faces at the moment is neoliberalism. We need to get much better at identifying the political-economic ideologies that sit behind current policy decisions that seek to privatise information and public services. What we can identify, we can understand, and from there, we are able to respond meaningfully to [any] calls for change.

– Library Learning and Teaching Coordinator, Academic Library

I think we have a lot to learn from each other in how we approach the processing of our collections. I think linked data is something that could really come into play in a positive way if GLAMR institutions collaborate.

– Library Technician, State Library Victoria

For me the benefits of fostering collaboration between GLAMR institutions are in pooling resources, sharing expertise and making connections between collections, which might not otherwise be made without close working relationships. Challenges I see in collaboration between GLAMR institutions is when ego and territoriality overcome the needs of a project. What I have observed is that people working with collections, for example, sometimes become gatekeepers to the collections they manage, making access to some collections difficult.

– Team Leader, Public Library

There are benefits in connecting up professions and knowledge domains … [b]ut there are also challenges overcoming the fear of some that their roles or professional identities are under threat, and care needs to be taken to ensure our necessary differences are not thrown out along with some of the unnecessary divisions.

– Archivist, Museums Victoria/ Archives and Museums

ARCHIVOZ: What would you like to see in the future for GLAM/R?

I hope in the future, GLAMR institutions will recognise First Nations people as the owners of their own culture and therefore seen as controllers of the cultural heritage in GLAMR collections that pertain to their culture. I hope [they] will allow for historical pluralism in their collections by capturing First Nations perspectives, voices and stories. Also, GLAMR institutions need to respect First Nations stories and present them as the same as collections about First Nations people, culture and history created by Europeans.

– Project officer, Libraries, archives and museums

The GLAMR sector needs to be a lot more diverse and proactively inclusive to create safer spaces for our communities and for staff. In order to do so, it needs to realise that the myth of our neutrality perpetuates the status quo of discrimination and oppression.

– Arts, humanities and social sciences teaching and learning liaison librarian, Academic Libraries/Higher Education

[A] greater focus on, or resources for, local history and language/culture centres in Australia – they are often left out of the big conversations.

– Manager of an Indigenous Branch, State Library

Creative ways of working with mixed collections, the development of more relational ways of working, documenting, and providing access to collections right across GLAMR, and the use of innovative technologies to move away from a focus on digitisation and dissemination of ‘collection items’ toward more networked, interconnected ways of working.

– Archivist, Historian, and Collections Consultant, Academic Research

I think it is important that GLAMR workers make a stand on important political issues. We are not neutral. We can make a difference by supporting important causes within our communities. I would argue that GLAMR workers employed in the public service need more freedom built into their employment contracts to make political statements. I would like to see more political and social activism in the GLAMR sector in the future.

– Archivist, Museums Victoria/ Archives and Museums

I would like to see not trickles, but great flows of people transferring into roles ACROSS our sector. This cross-fertilisation of people in our workforces would build capacity, inject new ideas, and foster greater collaboration. We could make this happen by re-writing position descriptions and overhauling traditional recruitment and selection practices.

– Library Learning and Teaching Coordinator, Academic Library

I would like us to accept shared responsibility of framing our actions and decisions by centering First Nation voices… [and] to stop rehashing the benefits of collaboration in GLAMR and just get to work.

– Library Technician, State Library Victoria

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