National Library’s collections face ‘significant future risks’ without funding for storage

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday February 23, 2021

(AAP Image/Alan Porritt)

An audit report on the management of collections held by the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) has praised the organisations’ management practices, but highlights issues with long-term storage.

The report, released by the Australian National Audit Office on Monday, noted that the entities’ collections are worth a combined $1.6 billion.

While past ANAO audits in 1998, 2005 and 2018 have found “shortcomings” in the acquisition, conservation and security of collections, the office’s latest report has described the entities’ collection management practices and strategic frameworks as “largely effective”.

Both organisations effectively store their collections, the report said. However, with the library’s current leasing arrangements set to end in 2025, the audit office has encouraged it to come up with a long-term storage solution that accommodates its growing physical collection.

In their response to the audit, Library Council chair Dr Brett Mason and director-general Dr Marie-Louise Ayres warned that funding would be needed to secure such storage.

“Until we have a path forward for funding storage for current collections and anticipated growth, there are significant future risks in relation to management of the Library’s future collections,” they said.

Meanwhile, the NFSA has “combined its long term storage planning with the need for enhanced digital capability and a building that is fit-for-purpose as a headquarters and storage facility”, ANAO found.

The report noted both organisations have effective oversight arrangements in place. However, it said the timing of appointments to the NFSA board should be improved, as there were recently four acting members on the board, and the chair and deputy chair are both in their final terms.

“Board succession planning should be improved to avoid the loss of institutional memory and reduce the number of acting positions to support continuity,” it said.

The NFSA was found to have effective preservation procedures, the ANAO found. The library, on the other hand, hasn’t integrated the recording of preservation work with its collection management system. It has also had two draft preservation policies since 2009 — neither of which have been finalised.

Both entities are required to manage their heritage-listed buildings in line with national environmental laws. While the library is currently compliant, the NFSA has not updated its 2009 heritage management plan, which must be completed every five years. The NFSA expects to present the plan to the Australian Heritage Council for approval in March.

The two organisations’ security frameworks are up to scratch, and they have “sound processes to reduce the risk of unauthorised building and IT systems access”, the audit found. The library’s current library management system, however, is not. Known as Voyager, the system has “limited functionality which has necessitated work-arounds and manual processes”, and was implemented in 2003.

“Voyager does not have the functionality to store or integrate preservation and exhibition information to ensure a complete record of an item’s history,” the report said.

“The Library advised that Voyager is approaching the end of its useful life and have commenced consideration of a replacement system.”

The NFSA, meanwhile, uses a commercial audio-visual collection system called Mediaflex and its internal Data Integrity and Analytics team to manage its collection.

The ANAO has made four recommendations, including for both entities to develop deselection plans, and for the NFSA to establish a process that tackles overdue loans.

“There is no systematic follow up of overdue loans resulting in some items being overdue for many years with no documented follow-up,” the report said.

The library should also incorporate lessons learned from recent experiences, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Summer bushfires, into its Business Continuity Plan, the report recommended.

All recommendations were accepted.


Read more: National Library’s $250,000 underpayment of staff is a warning to all public employers, Fair Work Ombudsman says


 

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