Protecting the indispensable: Australian libraries campaign to safeguard library, archive roles in broadcasting organisation
22 August 2022
Librarians and archivists bring a unique set of skills and values which have a major positive impact on the organisations in which they work. However, we need to mobilise to ensure that those taking decisions understand this, as has been the case recently in Australia.
While no library should ever take the support it receives for granted, there is a particular risk in many organisations that library and archive services are seen as providing opportunities to make painless cuts. This is far from the case however, with both short-term and long-term harm to operations coming from lay-offs and reduced investment.
Libraries in Australia have been forced to make this point following the depressing announcement from the Australian Broadcasting Organisation that it planned to cut large numbers of staff from its library and archives.
We talked to Trish Hepworth, Director, Policy and Education at the Australian Library and Information Association, to find out more about what has been done.
IFLA: What is the situation with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) at the moment?
Trish: On Wednesday 8 June, news leaked that Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, was cutting 58 librarian and archive positions. Even with the ABC’s proposed creation of new “content navigator” positions it appears there will be a net loss of 34 specialist staff, or 1,200 hours of specialist work each week.
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) are seriously concerned about the impact that this move will have on the future of the ABC archives, the quality of ABC journalism and programming. This decision shows the lack of respect and understanding for the expert skills of librarians and archivists, and we are calling on the ABC to reconsider its decision.
What will the impact of the cuts be on the ABC archives?
The archives are internationally significant, containing footage from around the world including key historical footage from the Pacific region that is not found anywhere else. The loss of expert library and archive staff with expertise in digital collection management and digital preservation risks the future access of Australians and the world to the content in the archives.
The ABC turns 90 this year, and to mark the 90th birthday, the ABC has been showcasing the rich content in the ABC archives, historic events, interviews, snapshots of daily life and entertainment. The irony of ABC’s decision to cut archives staff at this time is not lost on us.
How would the loss of these positions impact public interest journalism and public debate?
You only have to look at the frustration and apprehension that journalists and producers have expressed on social media to see the impact of these cuts, and the value that their colleagues place on the work of librarians and archivists. As the UK-based Heritage Collections Advisory Group stated in response to news of the cuts “Specialist collections, knowledge and research – and the expert librarians and archivists that curate and manage them – are vital to the credibility of any organisation that seeks to provide balanced, accurate and impartial information to the public.”
What action has ALIA taken?
As soon as we heard the news, ALIA was publicly advocating, with a media release and joint statement with the ASA. A few days later ALIA Director Policy and Education Trish Hepworth and I met with ABC Managing Director, David Anderson and Director of News, Justin Stevens to raise our concerns.
We are continuing to raise awareness about the negative consequences of this decision and advocate for change. With the ASA we launched an Open Letter to the ABC which thousands of individuals and organisations signed.
Is anyone else advocating for change?
We’ve been overwhelmed by the support shown in Australia and internationally. In addition to signing our open letter to the ABC a number of organisations have put out statements of support calling for the cuts to stop, academics have written about the dangers, journalists and presenters have expressed concern and the union has organised thousands of letters to be sent to the Chair of the ABC Board Ita Buttrose.
We’ve also seen an outpouring of appreciation and support for the librarians and archivists from people who have worked with them over the years, including current ABC staff. Charlie Pickering, a well-known Australian media identity tweeted
“The Weekly, Tomorrow Tonight and Hard Quiz all work very closely with ABC librarians and archivists and we would often be lost without them. The ABC archives are such a significant resource and record of Australian culture and the work these folks do is vitally important.”
One of Australia’s leading investigative journalists Louise Milligan tweeted
“speaking personally, ABC archives and the specialist knowledge our archivists have of them are precious historical resources, enriching our stories endlessly. I value these professionals and their work.”
Do you have any recommendations for colleagues in other countries?
We would love the support of our colleagues in all countries. If you are able to make a statement of support for the attention of the ABC Board, we will show the ABC that the serious concerns about this proposal are felt internationally. If you want to share a statement or to discuss other action please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.