“The rate of change in the digital era is constant and ongoing…” Interview with Simon Smith, National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Established in 1984, the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) is Australia’s premier audiovisual archive, holding more than 3 million works, including films, sound recordings, television and radio programs in a variety of formats.

Archivoz’s Evanthia Samaras met with Simon Smith, an audiovisual archivist with 20 years’ experience at the NFSA to learn about their broadcast collection.

(Archivoz) To start, can you please describe your role at the NFSA?

Simon Smith (SS) I’m a Senior Curatorial Officer of Television within the Broadcast Team. My main role at present is managing contemporary television deliverables. If you’re wondering what deliverables are… because there’s no legal deposit fulfillment for these materials in Australia… we work with government screen agencies to ensure that when a filmmaker, producer or a production company obtains government funding, upon completion, they have to deliver a master and documentation (press kit, images, scripts, music cue sheet, available behind-the-scenes extras, etc.) of their latest television series production to the NFSA. I’d say, perhaps half of my working week is dealing with television deliverables.

I also liaise with the independent television production company sector, companies like Fremantle Australia, Endemol Shine Australia and Screentime, to negotiate the NFSA acquiring their back catalogue titles. I also deal with reactive requests—such as when a producer is cleaning out their vaults or when collectors and industry want to donate their collections. There are also requirements to research, write blogs, provide input into preservation queues, assist in curating online exhibitions, develop screening events and undertake publicity when we are promoting aspects of our collection.

It’s a diverse role, and with my interest in modern history and in our incredible collection, one I continually enjoy.

(Archivoz) What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?

(SS) So, there’s an ‘Analogue Avalanche’ and then we’ve also got the ‘Digital Deluge’.

For the last five to eight years, there’s been a real push for the production sector to offer us their magnetic tape holdings. Many production company collections have been residing in long term storage, and for some of their backlog titles, decisions are being made as to whether they need be retained. Thankfully, with our existing relationships with the sector, companies will frequently check in with us first as to whether we hold their works before potentially disposing of materials. So, we’ve been receiving lots of analogue collections in recent times.

We are also receiving quite a lot of material now, which is born digital. I think every archive in the world is struggling with the issue of: how do we deal with this digital deluge? There’s just so much coming in. One hard drive could have 1000s of TV episodes. We had an example recently with community broadcaster Channel 31, which sent through one hard drive with 1400 episodes, covering about 40 series. If that had been an analogue collection, it would have been, you know, pallets of material. The rate of change in the digital era is constant and ongoing.

(Archivoz) What would be the characteristics you feel distinguishes Australian broadcasting material from other overseas television content?

(SS) Australia historically has been more aligned with free-to-air television, whereas America has had cable for decades. Cable television allows a bit more niche programming where it targets particular markets, whereas I think free-to-air television in Australia, particularly the commercial networks have always tried to find the biggest audience. They’ve had to be broadest in appeal, broadest in scope. You could say they have to be somewhat risk averse by necessity. Australian commercial television was maybe riskier in the 70s when you had shows like ‘Number 96′ and ‘The Norman Gunston Show’, that sort of pushed the boundaries a bit more.

But with all the new competing media companies and emerging foreign-owned platforms about to enter the Australian market, the idea of a distinguishable Australian broadcasting identity becomes even more difficult to define.

Left: Malcolm Thompson and Suzanne Church in ‘Number 96‘. Source: NFSA. Right: John Farnham performs ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ on an episode of ‘The Norman Gunston Show‘ (1979). Source: NFSA.

(Archivoz) Now I’d like to turn to another side of your broadcast collection. Could you please explain your news and current affairs collection? Including how you acquire this material?

(SS) Our News and Current Affairs Program, which we call ‘Newscaf’ celebrated its 30th anniversary last year. Since 1988, the aim has been to acquire news bulletins somewhere in the country every week. The NFSA integrates stations around the country on a roster to ensure even coverage. Where there is a big event in a particular region, we endeavour to roster a local station, so we have a record of the coverage of that event. So, for example, the first week of January, could be Channel 10 Brisbane, then the second week could be Nine News Canberra, and so on. The Newscaf team will reach out to the stations in advance to make sure they are available to deliver material to the archive. Basically, there’s relationship management going on with the networks all the time.

(Archivoz) Could you please explain NFSA’s Deadline 2025 campaign?

(SS) Deadline 2025 was launched in 2015. It’s about raising awareness and funding so that magnetic media formats held in archives are digitised in the near future—before they become lost forever. Film has a lot longer shelf life than magnetic media. Tapes are just not designed to sit on shelves for hundreds of years; the format simply won’t sustain itself like that.

Excerpt from ‘Deadline 2025‘ Discussion Paper (2015). Source: NFSA

(Archivoz) What are your favourite items in the collection?

(SS) My favourite items tend to relate to my particular areas of interest: music, music television and sport. For example, in the last year, I was working with a collector to find an episode of a show called Boomeride. It was an ambitious 1965 music TV show made here in Melbourne, which no one remembers and only ran for 13 episodes. I had heard that Olivia Newton-John was in one of the episodes, though she was not guest-listed in program guides, and of the two episodes we held in the collection, she wasn’t in either. So, I contacted this local collector known to have the Olivia episode, and after some negotiation, he generously provided us with the surviving 16mm tele-recorded film copy. It’s a significant find and a recent favourite, because it’s one of the earliest surviving live performances by Olivia—with songs that no one has ever heard before. Olivia herself was also really happy when she was told about it!

Olivia Newton-John on ‘Boomeride‘ (1965). Source: NFSA, © PAKKTEL.

(Archivoz) Is there anything that’s been kind of strange or unusual in the collection that you’ve encountered in your many years here?

(SS) It’s not TV-related, but we’ve got a little flip book from 1897 that has images from the Melbourne Cup. We digitised each tiny individual image and stabilised it into a videoclip, which ran for three seconds. But what we found out, when we compared the flip book footage to our original film of the 1897 Melbourne Cup—they didn’t match! They were different horses! It turns out, the film in our collection we thought was the 1897 Melbourne Cup, was actually a different race!

Stabalised video of the Melbourne Cup Flip Book. Source: NFSA.



Special thanks to Simon for sharing such great insights and archival knowledge with Archivoz and our readers.

For more information about the National Film and Sound Archive, please visit their website. Also see their online articles, of which Simon is a regular contributor.


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

There is a clear intersection and cross over in the work of cultural institutions like galleries, libraries, archives, museums and even recordkeeping institutions. Over the last decade in Australia, an acronym has made its way into the sectors’ vernacular to refer to this collective of cultural centres: GLAM/R. Integrating the use of GLAM/R into practice and publication has occurred alongside the coordination of localised and national efforts to establish regular industry meetings and events to provide networking opportunities. Active groups like newCardigan and GLAM Peak meet in major cities across Australia to encourage this networking and open up conversations about what it may look like in practice for these sectors to work more closely together.

However, the practical implications of the acronym are not yet fully understood – from the way collaboration can aid the different aims of collection institutions in terms of funding or service provision to the risk of failing to interrogate Western collecting practices that exclude the voices and perspectives of First Nations or Indigenous peoples.

On behalf of Archivoz, Kate Monypenny and Leonee Ariel Derr asked professionals from across the sector what GLAM/R is, what it means to them and what they hope for its future. Across two articles we explore their thoughts on these topics.

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 is your understanding of the origins of GLAM/R in Australia?

I hope there isn’t one understanding of GLAMR, and whatever understandings that do exist have a dynamic quality to them. Our people, processes, and practices are ever-changing – and this is a very good thing.

– Library Learning and Teaching Coordinator, Academic Library

It seems to have gathered steam in the [last decade]. I would guess that its increasing usage relates to the tightening funding environment of these allied professions, and the desire to join forces – strength in numbers.

– Rare Books Curator, State Library of Victoria

[T]he acronym and associated peak bodies and work were intended to bring together museum and archival institutions – recognising the commonality in much of the work of these institutions. It helps us to avoid the silo effect which has in my view led to the deep divide between museums, galleries and archives.

– Manager of an Indigenous Branch, State Library

[Within the acronym] A [and] R to me and for many First Nations people is founded on surveillance… [and is] how we have entered into those spaces and collections…or through intellectual nullius- the act of someone recording [another’s]…language, culture and science to claim discovery and ownership. Same with M, it is conceived for me about creating narratives about First Nations people.

– Project Officer, Libraries, archives and museums

It…reminds us that institutions that may be thought of as having quite different collections, aspirations and modes of operation… share a very fundamental common purpose…to collect, preserve and provide open access to our cultural heritage. Ideally… it’s [also] about providing access in a way that is appealing, democratic, allows for reuse and reinterpretation, and helps us to form and continually re-evaluate our identity as a nation.

– National and State Libraries Australia (NSLA) Executive officer, Library Sector

ARCHIVOZ: What does GLAM/R mean to you?
[It is] a recognition that we all work in the cultural information sector. Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Records (although sometimes you can use Research here too) are all areas which might be considered cultural repositories or organisations.

– Team Leader, Public Library

GLAMR attempts to find and develop connections, build partnerships, and identify common goals and opportunities between galleries, libraries, archives, museums and Record Keeping professionals and institutions. It is also a handy shorthand for “collecting institutions”, perceived as having separate goals but many common purposes and related practices.

– Member Services manager, Academic Library Cooperative

Separate professionalisation has value, but the process has also caused great damage to collections and collected knowledge. GLAMR can provide a space in which to discuss and think through these things.

– Archivist, Historian, and Collections Consultant, Academic Research

I think I represent what ‘GLAMR’ looks like on an individual level: I’m an historian, curator and librarian with tertiary qualifications in each, and I have worked at the National Gallery of Victoria, State Library Victoria […] various academic libraries […] and worked as a curatorial volunteer at the Melbourne Museum. The fact that one person is drawn to all these fields is evidence that there are indeed meaningful connections between them all.

– Rare Books Curator, State Library Victoria

As a professional in the health sector I feel a bit disconnected from the GLAMR sector as there is not a lot of opportunity to directly collaborate. However, a huge amount of the work we do requires drawing on the resources of other GLAMR organisations – particularly other health Libraries –  to be able to support high quality patient care.

– Digital Content Librarian, Austin Health Sciences Library

It’s a great community to be part of with excellent GLAMRous pun potential. It is extremely important to have spaces where we can come together to share, learn from and harness our unique skills and knowledge, acknowledge and reflect on common challenges, collectively workshop possible solutions, and advocate for each other in the large bureaucracies we are so often part of.

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

ARCHIVOZ: Have you experienced any personal benefit from your engagement with the GLAM/R sector?

I could not do my job without sharing queries with the museum, archives and records teams at my institution. Where the library ends, the archive begins. Where the art library ends, the museum takes over.

– Subject librarian, Academic Library

[It] has helped build knowledge networks and encouraged staff to move between different institutions. For me these relationships are key to leveraging the work of many of us in telling contested stories and working to decolonise much of our collections, and a bigger picture approach to these issues is the fastest way to overcome them.

– Manager of an Indigenous Branch, State Library

[The] GLAMR sector… led me to the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives [ALGA]…During challenging political times, I [found] comfort and solidarity in these LGBTIQ+ archives and with ALGA’s community of volunteers. It has been great to be part of a community led by LGBTIQ+ people dedicated to preserving and facilitating access to LGBTIQ+ histories, particularly at times when I’ve struggled to be heard and not felt entirely supported in mainstream GLAMR organisations.

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

[GLAM/R benefits us because] [w]ithout history, without memory, what are we? Who are we? Imagining our absence is a powerful way to understand our presence – and the multiplex benefits created from our sustained, collective being.

– Library Learning and Teaching Coordinator, Academic Library

Read part two of our series on Australian GLAMR here.

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