education

Performance management of an archival kind: the NIDA Archives

About NIDA

The National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) is Australia’s leading centre for education and training in the performing arts across the full range of dramatic disciplines including acting, costume, design, directing, musical theatre, properties, technical theatre, stage management and writing. NIDA began teaching in 1959 and is Australia’s first professional dramatic arts training institute. It continues to deliver primarily practice-led training methods, staging over 15 public productions per year to showcase student work. Alumni include actors Mel Gibson and Cate Blanchett, designers Catherine Martin and Deborah Riley and many others who have made their name locally in the theatre and internationally on screen.

Photograph of 1975 NIDA Acting Class

Acting Class, 1975, featuring Mel Gibson (left). Photo by George Pashuk, © NIDA 1977

A collection of cultural significance

The unique collection of material held by the NIDA Archives was independently assessed in 2015 to be of national cultural significance. The assessment highlighted select record series within the archives, with areas of exceptional significance being the photography set and costume designs for NIDA, and records of the Jane Street Theatre and the Old Tote Theatre Company. Corporate records and material related to theatrical pedagogy were also assessed to have high significance.

Photo of a theatre set model

Set Model for Jane Street Theatre production ‘Don’s Party’, 1972. Photo by Julia Mant, © NIDA 2013

Establishing a formal program for NIDA’s records and archives

NIDA is proud of its history and place in the Australian post-WWII cultural landscape. In 2005, an archives program and repository were established as part of the lead up to NIDA’s 50th Birthday celebrations in 2009. The program objectives at that time were an oral history project, consolidating the paper-based archives (which up until that point were stored in various internal and external locations) and developing a costume collection.

The establishment of a formal program was not the first attempt at managing the archives. The NIDA Library, established in 1980, had collected performance-related items such as production audiovisual recordings, prompt copies and a range of publications including the annual reports and newsletters. In 1984, students from the then Graduate Diploma of Archives Administration at the University of NSW described NIDA’s archival holdings as a student-led project. From there in 1988-89, NIDA employed a former arts administrator but non-archivist to arrange and describe the NIDA and Old Tote Theatre Company records, which he did with much enthusiasm, although unfortunately creating a unique system of arrangement which did not translate to improved access and management.

In late 2019, during NIDA’s 60th Anniversary year, the NIDA Archives returned to NIDA’s main campus in Kensington NSW having spent close to 15 years off-site in a large warehouse. With a centralised office and purpose-built repository, the move is the latest reinvention of the archival collection. The return back to the main campus is an opportunity to consolidate and establish a professionally run, in-house archives according to the archival principle that records which have value as authentic evidence of administrative, corporate, cultural and intellectual activity are made, kept and used.

Concurrently in 2005, the records management program was established with the introduction of an electronic document and records management system (EDRMS) to replace what had been a relatively well-organised paper-based file series run by the administration arm. The EDRMS implementation had some initial success but with limited resources and changing organisational structures, a decision was made to combine the records program and the archives program in 2010.

The decision to employ a Corporate Archives and Records Manager and combine the two programs provided NIDA with a great opportunity to ensure the current information management and recordkeeping practices support the long-term preservation of NIDA’s business, legal and historical records — in all formats. The unit now supports three systems: the records management system (Content Manager 9.2), the digital asset management system (Fotoware), and the archives control system. A suite of policies and procedures have been developed to support the business, legal and historical requirements including an in-house disposal authority which sets out the retention periods for classes of records.

The dichotomy of NIDA’s records

NIDA’s primary functions are education and arts. For recordkeeping practice, this dichotomy requires different demands. NIDA is a not-for-profit non-government organisation (public company limited by guarantee) and therefore not subject to either Australian state or federal government archival legislation — it chooses to have an archive. It is, however, subject to a range of legislative requirements to demonstrate good recordkeeping and retain records in accordance with various educational, employment, financial, privacy, work, health and safety, and building code regulations.

However, NIDA was also designed along the lines of a theatre company and its core pedagogical principle is practice-led teaching. Many of NIDA’s key archival records (including those highlighted in the 2015 Significance Assessment) stem from the repertoire of productions, showcases, exhibitions and presentations by students. This includes the extensive analogue and digital photographic holdings that are managed and accessed via the digital asset management system. In this regard, there can be an expectation that the Archives might hold only the staples of the theatrical historical record: programs, press cuttings, photos, prompts and production records. The business archives lack that star quality.

Photo of NIDA performance 1979

NIDA 3rd year student production, ‘The Beggar’s Opera’, 1979. Photo by George Pashuk, © NIDA 1979

Photo of NIDA Performance 2019

NIDA production ‘pool (no water)’, 2019. Photo by Patrick Boland, © NIDA 2019

The challenge ahead

Fifteen years since the inception of the archives and records programs at NIDA, the challenge ahead is one shared by many archivists and record managers: how to ensure the long-term preservation of NIDA’s digital archives? In certain respects, NIDA is in a good position with a strong, systems focus across its workplace. Almost all current process and output is digital in format and very little paper-based records are created or maintained as physical records. The challenge is translating the unstructured and creative into full and accurate records stored in identifiable locations with the appropriate metadata and digital preservation paths mapped out. Issues include clearly setting out the difference between an electronic records management system and the digital archives; understanding the retention and access requirements around business system datasets as new systems are introduced; preservation file formats; and decommissioned email accounts, and engagement by records creators and users in the program. A combined records management and archives role assists with this challenge as we can support the digital records creation stage through to digital archival retention and preservation.

NIDA has evolved over the past 60 years and will continue to do so. As such the NIDA Archives and Records Program will continue its recent objective of building trust and flexibility into system design while maintaining key archival principles — responding as much as directing.

Banner image credit: NIDA production ‘Ah Tuzenbach. A Melancholic Cabaret’, 2018. Photo by Patrick Boland, © NIDA 2018.

 

“Access to information is the heart of any sustainable development effort, and it is therefore imperative that relevant stakeholders invest more in library development in African communities”: Interview with Damilare Oyedele, of Library Aid Africa

We are speaking with Damilare Oyedele, co-founder of Library Aid Africa, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to championing the need for school and community libraries in Africa as a vehicle for sustainable development and a better quality of life for all.

(Archivoz) What was your inspiration for Library Aid Africa?

(D.O.) As a young boy in my community, I did not have access to a library as the schools I attended never had one. As a matter of fact, I never knew anything called “library.” This denied me access to literature, the ability to use information independently, my reading culture was poor and I could not communicate fluently. This presented me with numerous challenges as I failed the national examination twice consecutively due to my poor reading skills.

My first real encounter with a library came upon my admission into an institution of higher learning to study Library and Information Science. I soon cultivated the habit of studying in the confines of a library, and I began to explore the merits a library had to offer. It was an amazing experience for me because, for the first time in my life, I had independent access to information and other intellectual property. This inspired me to create a platform that would facilitate equitable access to information for all.

My journey began at the age of 19, when I was still in school. I took it as my personal responsibility to do something about the dearth of libraries in Nigeria, with a view to expanding this vision to other African countries. I started by writing articles for various Nigerian daily newspapers, and after that I went into broadcasting with the same vision to use television to educate people about the importance of libraries.  Fortunately for me, I was granted an audience via a television series named “Library and You.” It featured documentaries and interviews with authors, librarians, and publishers discussing feasible solutions for resuscitation of libraries. This series lasted for three consecutive quarters in 2016.

I came to realize that the problems Africa faces have to do with the lack of or inadequate access to information. Information and knowledge empowers the mind of every individual. I realised that community engagement and initiatives are sacrosanct. This led to the establishment of Library Aid Africa (formerly known as ‘Library and You’), a not-for-profit organization with the mission to revamp libraries in Africa to increase their societal impact. The organization focuses on access to information through pragmatic initiatives, designed to create awareness and resuscitate libraries in schools and communities.

(Archivoz) How many countries participate in Library Aid Africa, and which ones are they?

(D.O.) Library Aid Africa operates from Nigeria, with partners and volunteer presence in over 10 African countries: Ghana, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Togo, Republic of Benin, Mali, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Liberia, and Rwanda. Over the years, we have been able to build committed partners and volunteers in various African regions who share the same vision with us. Our vision is to resuscitate libraries in schools and communities.

(Archivoz) You have underlined the importance of a grassroots effort. Why is this so important?

(D.O.) We realised that grassroots efforts in rural areas and within communities are essential, as these communities needs development in many dimensions: literacy development, quality education, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, sustainable cities and communities, and gender equality, among many others. To achieve these, informed literate citizens are essential. Why? An informed mind is empowered, with the knowledge and skills to make informed choices that improve quality of life and contribute meaningfully to the decision-making processes of government. We also seek to mobilize citizens to drive advocacy for library development in their local communities, targeting community integration and promotion of local content and thereby realizing access to information for all.

(Archivoz) Tell us about some of your current and ongoing projects. What is topmost on your action list right now?

(D.O.) One of our topmost concerns is how libraries drive progress across the SDGs and AU Agenda 2063. These sustainable development plans are essential for Africa’s development, and access to information must play an important role if we are to achieve their targets. To this end, we are working with our partners across Africa to drive advocacy, projects and initiatives that will facilitate equitable access to information for all. These projects center on creating local impacts through library set-up and management in African communities. An informed literate mind is empowered to contribute to the attainment of these sustainable development plans. Libraries are eminent beyond comparison in achieving this because they create platforms that provides equitable access to information for all in print and electronic media.

In the past, we have partnered with the National Library of Nigeria to organize a Social Media Library Advocacy Awareness Program, an online sensitization that focused on educating the online community on how libraries drive progress across the SDGs.

More recently, Worldreader, in collaboration with Library Aid Africa, launched its Inspire Us Collection, a collection of digital books leveraging mobile technology and literature to redefine gender stereotypes and boost women’s and girls’ empowerment and assertiveness. The collection, encompassing fiction and non-fiction, include stories that clearly articulate women as protagonists, change agents, and leaders of the future.

Of course I must also mention our #libraryselfie series. This is an online initiative designed to create awareness about the importance of libraries as spaces for reading and learning. We had #libraryselfie2018 last year in Nigeria and we just concluded #libraryselfie2019 across six African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. We have 18 winners across those six countries, who we will engage as library champions who will drive advocacy for improved library development and usage in their local communities.

(Archivoz) How many public libraries are there in Nigeria right now? How many would you like to see, if all goes according to your vision?

(D.O.) According to the IFLA World Library Map, there are 290 public libraries in Nigeria. A country with a population of over 200 million people! It is apparent that the number of public libraries in Nigeria is quite low, and the numbers are similar across other African countries where we operate. As an organisation, our top priority is to ensure citizens’ access to information. Part of our strategy is to engage relevant stakeholders in the educational and library sectors. Also, through citizen engagement, we plan to set up community centres that will serve as platforms where community members can study, access information both in print and electronic formats, and share experience and knowledge.

(Archivoz) The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a big part of the work you are doing, as is the African Union Agenda 2063. In what ways can the creation of school and public libraries forward these goals?

(D.O.) The Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 were designed to make the world we live in a better place for the current generation and generations to come. It is our collective responsibility as citizens to commit ourselves to achieving their targets. The role of libraries in achieving these goals cannot be overemphasized, be they school libraries or public. Why? It’s all about access to information.

For us to achieve the SDGs and Agenda 2063, we must commit to developing informed literate citizens. Libraries by nature carry the responsibility to provide equitable access to information for all. This information empowers people with the skills and knowledge needed to function and participate in creating a sustainable society, to drive progress towards achieving sustainable development, and to co-create sustainable solutions.

Partnerships and collaboration are two of our major thrusts. We work with credible partners across Africa towards achieving these goals. For example, we have the Library Impact Project. This project seeks to facilitate access to information in support of the Sustainable Development Goals and African Union Agenda 2063. It is scheduled for implementation in eight African countries, with the view to achieving 16 outputs in each. The project has three major focuses: access to information, increased skills and capacity building, and advocacy.

(Archivoz) Of all the SDGs, which ones do you most wish to address through the Library Aid Africa initiative?

(D.O.) As an organisation that focuses on equitable access to information for all, our work addresses all the SDGs and Agenda 2063. Access to information is imperative across all the goals. Quality education requires access to relevant information resources for learning and research. Zero poverty requires access to information that equips people with skills that enable productivity. Zero hunger requires access to information to educate farmers and citizens on crop types, seasons, weather forecasting, and new farming techniques and mechanisms. Gender equality demands access to information to empower young girls and women. Access to information is the heart of any sustainable development effort, and it is therefore imperative that relevant stakeholders invest more in library development in African communities.

(Archivoz) Where can our readers learn more about what you are doing?

(D.O.) You can learn more about what we do at Library Aid Africa on our future website and on our social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also contact us via email, at libraryaidafrica@gmail.com.

Header image: Library Aid Africa logo used by permission of Library Aid Africa and Damilare Oyedele.

 


Interview conducted by: Vance Woods