Carina Clement talks to CAN about the benefits and challenges of cross-pollination within the new Albury City LibraryMuseum facility. As the Cultural Programs Team Leader, she has been working with the team to fine tune the convergence process — from collection policy and education right through to professional development and infrastructure. This is an edited transcript of an interview made at the LibraryMuseum in late April. Ms Clement’s slides from a presentation are also embedded into this article for those wanting to learn more.
When we first started the plan for the building, it was always going to be a co-located library and museum. Then we were asked what facilities we could share — what synergies are there between libraries and museums? So I think we started looking at what models were out there and state libraries were certainly one of those models, in that they have collections that are not just books and electronic resources, they have objects, artefacts, photographs and maps, etcetera.
Albury City LibraryMuseum
They had that whole range of resources. They have exhibition spaces. They curate exhibitions so that was done in one of their models. In the local government area, in Australia the Parramatta Heritage Centre, was another of our models in that it’s a museum, a community art space, a local studies space and they have integrated interest information. They have integrated staffing so that was one of the places we looked at.
Puke Ariki, Taranaki in New Zealand was probably the model we followed most closely, and that opened in I think 2003. Like us, they have been on a long convergence journey and have continually changed structures and services. It is a library, a museum, touring space, tourist information and has two restaurants. It’s in New Plymouth, North Island in New Zealand. It’s brought enormous economic revitalisation to the waterfront. We’ve had some apartment blocks built across the road that I think probably having this cultural facility here, there was a more of an impetus to build those buildings.
So when we started our research we were looking at what models were out there. We were also asking ourselves what were the synergies between libraries and museum. Collection management was certainly the first area that we looked at. At that time we had a museum manager, a library manager, and an art gallery manager. The museum manager accepted a range of objects and documents into her collection, and the Library Local Studies collected documents, maps and photographs. So we thought, well, wouldn’t it make sense that we dealt with the local studies in the museum collection as one so that we’re not double collecting.
We’re actually dealing with it as one collection where there may be secondary sources, like a map. We don’t have to decide, oh, no, does that belong in the local studies collection, or does that belong in the museum collection. Well, no, it belongs in the Albury City Heritage Collection.
When we were looking at the design or the thought for this building, we started thinking how it could become that hub of library and museum convergence. If you’re a serious researcher, you could get a book off the shelf and also be able to look up the catalogue. To do that, obviously everything needed to be on one catalogue. Then we started thinking, well, what about the gallery collection.
At that stage we didn’t actually own our library catalogue. We were part of a regional library service. We’re no longer. So we didn’t actually own that library data. So we couldn’t at that stage move towards one consolidated database. We had to look at building a search engine, at that stage, across three separate databases: the library catalogue, the museum catalogue and the art gallery catalogue.
The first step was because we owned the data for both the gallery and the museum we were able to merge that data into the database. We put in a grant and were able to develop a search engine that operated across LIBERO, which is a library catalogue, then the other two.
We employed a collection manager Jim McCain to manage the process. He dealt with some of the entrenched issues associated with the different fields used in galleries, libraries and museums. He was able to develop the search engine to search the fields across the two databases. Now that we own our library data, we can look at one consolidated database.
We started working under a converged management structure in 2006. We’ve had three staff structures since then. So every two years we change our staff structure, 2006, 2008, and we just changed it a couple of weeks ago, 2010. And we learn as we go along.
Outreach and Public Programs
We have an educationalist. She’s got an education and visual arts background. She has four staff under her who had some specialties in museum, library, and visual arts so they’re able to work across all program areas. Whilst they have specialties in particular areas, they have flexibility that they can take a tour of school kids to the art gallery even if their specialty is library. We’re able to package programs to incorporate all of our venues and we’ll have one staff member to take that tour.
Audience development probably was another major thrust and why we went towards convergence quite aggressively. We really thought that it was very much about providing new opportunities for audience.
In this facility we wanted our traditional library users to come in and not just use our library, but find out about museums. They may not be museum attendees, so when we developed the design brief for the building, we made sure that there were spaces where exhibitions could occur. So it’s really important that we have those wide spaces where we can have some exhibitions and we can flow and bleed some of those areas into each other.
We’re still working out through areas on how to flow a bit better. We have had signage, and we’ve taken it away, and we need to put it back. It works well, that audience development by stealth almost. But we could do it better. Certainly the attendance for this building has been grand for a regional center. We have about 20,000 visitors a month, which is pretty good for a regional center, compared to the old museum, which had 9,000 a year.
In terms of things that haven’t worked well, you’re working without those established boundaries and alongside people with professional knowledge. We came to convergence and popped people into positions they didn’t necessarily have the skills and background for. So we moved immediately from having, as I said before, having a library manager, a museum manager and a gallery manager, to having an operations team leader and a programs team leader.
So we moved from three service or facility management positions to two that were across the library, museum and gallery. An operations manager was responsible for collections management, customer service and information management. And my role as programs team leader was responsible for exhibitions, programs and outreach and collection development, so we split out collections.
People floundered. There wasn’t enough change management support. We started implementing the structure at the same time that we moved into this facility. It was all a bit stressful. There were elements of the structure that weren’t working. There wasn’t enough focus given to collection management. Michelle and I, as library trained people, have gained museum qualifications in the last three years and we have a number of other staff also undertaking museum studies at different levels, which is great. Skill development is really important.
There was a demand for programming, and so we put our energy and effort into that. We probably didn’t put our energy so much into curating our own exhibitions or into developing our own collections. There were some staff who probably, from some of the professional areas we had on board, who didn’t buy convergence at all. And I think that and they seemed threatened. If you don’t like change, you leave, or you become very, very, very bitter and you get forced to leave.
Anyway, we changed in our models a few times. Since we’ve put much more focus on collection management. We realise in some areas that that professionalism, that professional knowledge is really important. And so now in our most recent incarnation, which is only a month or so old, we’ve gone back to specialists who manage visual arts, libraries and our heritage collection.
So we have acknowledged that but we still have the convergence. We realise that probably you need someone to be responsible for facility, not responsible for certain functions in the facility, so that facility management.
You need someone ultimately responsible for the library museum and the gallery. We didn’t have that previously. We had someone responsible for the bits of the library museum and bits of the gallery. But there is still converged programming and converged exhibitions within the collections area.
We received quite a lot of industry flak, particularly from the visual arts area. I’ll say that. There was a real feeling because we didn’t have a director of the gallery or a position named a curator, that we had downgraded the gallery. I think that in the library museum industry looked at us with interest. Not as aggressively as the visual arts sector did.
CAN interviewed Carina Clement at the Albury City LibraryMuseum on the 28th of April 2010.