Wednesday 5 September 2018

The NFSA gives evidence at a Parliamentary Committee hearing about Digitisation and the cost pressures faced by the institution

Editor's Note: The Hansard extract below is from a hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories on 16 June

The Committee has the following Terms of Reference for one of its current inquiries.
Inquire into and report on the range of innovative strategies that Canberra’s national institutions are using to maintain viability and relevance to sustainably grow their profile, visitor numbers, and revenue, including:
1. creating a strong brand and online presence;
2. experimenting with new forms of public engagement and audience participation;
3. conducting outreach outside of Canberra;
4. cultivating private sector support;
5. developing other income streams; and
6. ensuring the appropriateness of governance structures; and
any other relevant matter the Committee wishes to examine, including the process for establishing new institutions.

For a general report on what the Committee is investigating you can go to this page on The online news site INSIDE STORY 

"Ms Brodtmann" is a ALP member of Parliament representing an ACT electorate. 

The question of digitisation of the national collections is not mentioned in the Terms of Reference but CEO Jan Muller took the opportunity to lay out the serious financial problems associated with the NFSA's ongoing tasks and the key challenge faced by the institution. 

Jan Muller
Mr Muller: These are institutions dealing with growing collections, as you say, and there is also, again, the digitisation of all the collections. 


Mr Muller: That means you need to be able to invest, and that is hard in times of efficiency dividends and decreasing budgets

Ms BRODTMANN: Good point. Mr Muller, what are some challenges? 

Mr Muller: Digitisation, as I said before, because our material is vulnerable, so we need to invest in digitisation. The other challenge will be our home. You were referring to architecture. We live in a beautiful building. There probably was an architecture crisis in the thirties, but it is, indeed, literally from 1934. It's never been built as an archive or a visitor destination; it's been built as the Australian Institute of Anatomy. It used to be a morgue, literally—which in a way is an archive as well, for dead bodies. Nevertheless, it's not fit for purpose. Given our challenges in the digital domain and our challenges in order to be visible and useful but also sustainable, we need a place where we can sustain our archives, especially digital archives, which are totally different from analog archiving. It comes with other obligations and challenges. It comes with other budgets, resources and skills. We need to be able to invest in that before it's too late. Coming with that is our new home. Our preferred new home should be a visitor destination, because we strongly believe that an archive should be as open as possible. People can get access to the archive not only by browsing through the collections via the internet but also by literally engaging with it in a physical place—in an exhibition, for example. So these are the challenges we're facing in the short and medium term. 

Ms BRODTMANN: What sort of impact is the decreasing budget having? 

Mr Muller: Pretty huge, actually. Financially we're healthy, thanks to our CFO. We face challenges in terms of our obligations in our KPIs and the goals that we've set. The fact that our budgets are decreasing means that we need to choose what to do. If we focus on digitisation—which is necessary, again, because it's urgent, and before it's too late we need to digitise our collections—it means that we can't do other things. 

CHAIR: What are those other things? 

Mr Muller: For example, for the film industry, we digitally restore old Australian films, cultural heritage, which costs a lot of money. That's something that we can't do at this moment, for example. Our film history, our film heritage, is vulnerable in that respect as well. So these are the things we need to choose. 
Another example is to reach out to our visitors and users by means of exhibitions. That will be difficult too. We will do an exhibition in August. We will open an exhibition on 10 August about Heath Ledger. That's another issue. Obviously there is not enough money to create our own exhibitions. I'm not saying that it's not possible to do it, because I think that's an important thing for today as well. We should do things in collaboration much more. So, to reach our goals and to be visible as an archive, we collaborate, in this case, with the Western Australian Museum in Perth and bring their exhibition to Canberra, to the other side of the country, in order to engage new audiences, younger people, with that exhibition, which makes sense. So there is a way to do it, but it's probably not ideal and, again, given the fact that we need to invest more and more in digitisation and also in digital preservation and the storage of these two assets, it will probably mean that all the other things will be hard to accomplish. 

1 comment:

  1. I'll just say, in the words now classic, to NFSA: Play The Aces. Show recognisably Australian film in a repertory pattern so that tourists and locals know what to look for. NFSA does not have to be a Media Studies outfit, it needs to make Australian films (and sound) accessible in a coherent way.


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