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Barriers and Opportunities to Collaboration in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3196 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Barriers and Opportunities to Collaboration in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums: A Discussion on Trends in Convergence

Authorities (Matthews and Warren 2005; Lorcan 2000; Robbinson 2012) recognise that differences exist between galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs). As a consequence of technological advances, perceived commonalities in search engines have contributed to converging GLAMs (Matthews and Warren 2005, p. 2). Discussion has arisen about the viability of the convergence of GLAM institutions.

To ensure a foundation for discussion, this paper will offer a brief investigation of the definitions of three different cross-institutional trends: collaboration, convergence and co-operation. To provide focus, this paper will examine three barriers to collaboration. First, the problem of maintaining a cross-institutional split in GLAM collaborations will be investigated and technological similarities will be addressed through a discussion of the viability of single points of access (SPE) used in GLAM institutions in Germany. This paper will consider ethics as the second barrier to collaboration in GLAMs, focusing on the viability of the ‘top-down management strategy’. This investigation will include a brief exploration of the National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātaurangao Aotearoa (Duff et al. 2005, p. 9). The second barriers to collaboration in GLAM institutions will be analysed in relation to cultural difference and the concept of ‘organizations as tribes’ (Deal and Kennedy 1983, p. 501).

The final barrier to collaboration will be addressed through an investigation of issues in institutional silos relating to ingrained practices. This discussion will determine the viability of improving GLAMs through recognizing shared standards.

The discussion on barriers to collaboration will conclude with an analysis of the Europeana data model (EDM) and its application in GLAM institutions in Europe.

This will be followed by an examination of opportunities for collaboration, with an investigation into a ‘cross-institution cultural-heritage platform’ (Davis and Howard 2013, p. 3). National Libraries Australia (NLA) will be investigated, along with the use of Trove. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the benefits of collaboration, addressing the implementation of SPE and its feasibility as a national database in GLAM institutions.

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Klimaszewski (2015, p. 352) discusses the definition of collaboration and its association with the term convergence, observing that many authors (Allen 2002; Dupont 2007; Duff et al. 2013, as cited in Klimaszewski 2015, pp. 353) suggest that both terms are interchangeable. Klimaszewski (2015, p. 353) states that ‘this is potentially problematic, because each term implies a different end: collaboration means people working together, while convergence implies a physical or theoretical coming together’. Islam and Mohd (2012, p. 2) use the term cooperation and collaboration synonymously in relation to managing collections.  

Authorities (Dupont 2007; Marcum 2014; Wythe 2007, as cited in Matthews and Warren 2018, p. 2) recognise the different functions of GLAMs in the community and understand the separate roles that each organisation plays. To elucidate the library is viewed as a space for education in which to access information, as opposed to the museum, which is regarded as a community space used for recreation and fun.

This contrast is elaborated by Katre (2011, as cited in Klimaszewski 2015, p. 355), who suggests that maintaining a successful cross-institutional split and efficiently managing collaboration between institutions relies on the strategy of recognising technological similarities.

Klimaszewski (2015, p. 355) agrees and states:

‘such an approach implies a more deliberate and realistic path toward change that might be more palatable to practitioners, one that stands in contrast to the rhetoric of outsiders that has the tendency to highlight the transformative powers of digitization’.

The application of technology for recognising similarities can be observed in GLAM institutions in Germany, which previously relied on a ‘merged multi-institutional database’ (MMID) to access digital content. The MMID was updated to enable users to access information via a SPE. This provided users with dynamic access to different branches of GLAM institutions throughout the country.

Arguments concerning barriers to collaboration relate to ethical concerns about models of business management (Cannon 2013, as cited in Matthews and Warren 2018, p. 3). Duff et al. (2005, p. 8) refer to management issues at the National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātaurangao Aotearoa, which was affected by the decision to link its reference services with Archives New Zealand. Duff et al. (2005 p. 9) suggest that management issues arose when digital and preservation services were merged, observing that issues resulted from the ‘top-down management model’—a business strategy determined by a hierarchical system whereby all decisions are made by upper management, who pass directives to members of staff along the chain of authority. Interviews conducted by academics at the National Library of New Zealand determined that library staff felt that the collaboration process was very restricted and that they could not perform basic tasks such as collection or disposition without first obtaining consent from higher management (Duff et al. 2005, p. 9).

Authorities (Matthews and Warren 2005, p. 1; Lorcan 2000, p. 1; Robbinson 2012, p.1) argue culture impacts how institutions function and suggest this is an additional barrier to collaboration.  Deal and Kennedy (1983, p. 500-501) suggest that institutions are controlled by cultural rules, such as traditions, beliefs and values as opposed to ‘goal directed, rational and mechanistic’ factors. Deal and Kennedy (1983, p. 501) present the concept of ‘organizations as tribes’ and state that ‘people commonly accept that any human society will evolve a culture, a set of common assumptions, beliefs, artifacts, and language patterns that are passed from generation to generation ’.

Deal and Kennedy (1983, p. 501) suggest that individual organisations develop unique identities that are influenced by cultural norms with individuals belonging to distinguishable tribes; thus, it is theorised that a set of rules and belief systems will inevitably determine the core principles and values of GLAM institutions. Matthews and Warren (2018, p. 5) argue that barriers to collaboration can only be overcome when organisations understand and respect opposing differences in cultural values; they state that GLAM institutions must have a:

‘willingness to break from traditional practices and to innovate; the ability to pool resources to accomplish complex tasks and the degree to which organizations are already embedded in a set of exchange relationships, and are thus independent (Matthews and Warren 2018, p. 5)’.

A final barrier relates to institutional silos and issues can occur when different systems of GLAM institutions converge. This is because complexities arise out of opposing disciplines (Duff et al. 2005, p. 18). Research suggests that GLAM institutions experience barriers when incorporating practices that conflict with traditional processes inherent to each individual organisation. Duff et al. (2005, p. 23) elaborate on the different practices affected by this issue and state that ‘converging different systems and metadata schemes developed for describing library, archives and museum objects, respectively, were also identified as problematic’.

Of primary concern are the core values associated with each independent organisation (Warren and Matthews 2018). Authorities (Duff et al. 2005, p. 23; Warren and Matthews 2018, p. 2) agree that staff place their worth in the knowledge they develop and that issues such as poor morale arise when attempting to change or undermine the professional language adopted throughout a career. Changing the terminology used to collaborate among colleagues can result in confusion, particularly in the library and museum sectors where organisations rely on the descriptive standards relevant to developing individual collections.

Warren and Matthews (2018, p. 2) argue for the need to implement a set of shared standards, a strategy that can be observed in the development of Europeana, a database that features ‘over 2,200 museums’ libraries, archives and audiovisual collections’ (Purday 2012, p. 1). Europeana is a primary database for GLAM institutions and includes an estimated 20 million digitised books, manuscripts and paintings, which it provides to 33 countries in Europe. The EDM creates a shared standard for holding and collection and each item is given a descriptive term based on its material and structure.

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Searches can be refined according to descriptions of objects; for example, Purday (2012, p. 6) observes that a search in the Europeana portal for Julius Caesar can provide an accurate summary of information based on the item descriptor and users can search for items by relevance, such as books, sculpture or historical coins. Research (Purday 2012, p. 6-7)  suggest that the EDM allows improved collaboration between GLAM institutions.

Davis and Howard (2013, p. 3) examine further opportunities for collaboration, suggesting that there are many positive aspects offered by GLAM institutions to the public, one of the most prominent of which provides the function of a ‘cross-institution cultural-heritage platform’. Davis and Howard (2013, p. 3) observe how individual institutions, such as galleries, libraries, archives and museums, rely on technology for digital collections, stating that ‘all GLAM institutions collect: art, records, documents and objects’. Authorities (Katre 2011, as cited in Klimaszewski 2015, p. 355) agree that to recognise opportunities for collaboration it is necessary to understand that GLAM institutions share similarities.

Klimaszewski (2015, pp. 358) disagrees and argues that libraries have alternate standards, such as naming descriptors that differ from those used in archives, museums and galleries, which creates problems. This issue is best summarised by the following quote from Robinson (2012bas cited in Warren and Matthews 2018, p. 2): ‘libraries are characterized as listing and

describing every item in their collection unlike museums that have traditionally eschewed naming standards, making it problematic to identify common holding across institutions’.

However Davis and Howard (2013, p. 3) assert that these institutions each collect—despite differences in terminology—and promote the idea of linking the institutions and opportunities for collaboration via the cultural-heritage division, an online space dedicated to digital collections and online archives. Davis and Howard (2013, p. 3) argue for the benefits of using technology to provide solutions to collaboration barriers in GLAM institutions, suggesting that collaboration between cultural-heritage divisions could enhance national conceptions of Australian identity.

Davis and Howard (2013, p. 7) state that GLAM sectors present numerous opportunities for future collaboration. The NLA refers to a primary goal in developing GLAM strategies, claiming that it is necessary ‘to encourage the use of emerging technologies’.

Authorities (Davis and Howard  2013, p. 7) examine the application of Trove and its relevance to the future of GLAM institutions. Trove is an Australian online database and search engine moderated by the NLA and partnered with collecting and research organisations, libraries, museums, galleries, universities, archives and data repositories across Australasia (NLA, 2019).

This partnership includes the National and State Libraries Australasia and features an estimated 1,100 digital assets in its collection, which includes academic journals, book collections and digitised newspapers. Davis and Howard (2013, p. 7) suggest that Trove is a successful step toward the implementation of an online GLAM database.

Davis and Howard (2013, pp. 5–9) argue for the importance of uniting GLAM through ‘digitization programmes’ that redefine the barriers of individual collections within galleries, libraries, archives and museums through applications than enable digital access. Research (Davis and Howard 2013, p. 7)  suggests that GLAM institutions are transitioning toward a central online collection that can be accessed through one primary search engine. Zorich, Waibel and Erway (2008, as cited in Davis and Howard 2013, p. 9) observe that ‘the ubiquity of online access inspires a vision of a single search across all collections, without regard for where the assets are housed or what institutional unit oversees them’. Authorities (Purday 2012, p. 1)   suggest a move toward a primary governing body, arguing that Australia is one country with the potential to realise this future vision. Davis and Howard (2013, p. 10) point to the Europeana database as an example of this concept and state:

‘What would be truly innovative, and position Australia as a peak participant in the GLAM movement, would be for a new cultural policy to initiate an overarching or pan-institutional cultural-heritage strategy for a digital network and search platform which would include the key collecting institutions in Australia’.

Research suggests that the support of emerging technologies and the cross-institutional unification of digital collections will ensure that GLAM institutions provide engaging and efficient services to all users (Purday 2012, p. 1).

The Wanneroo Library and Cultural Centre in Adelaide, Western Australia, was the first of four libraries in Australia to be considered a successful example of collaboration, converging a library, museum, art gallery and community history centre. The convergence between different institutions can be observed in the layout of the building. The Wanneroo Library has a reading room and IT lab located in the Cultural Centre of a two-story building with a museum, cafe and community centre on the first level. The library and art gallery can be accessed via the second level (Robinson 2011c, pp. 1–2).

The Wanneroo Council based the idea of a cross-institutional library as being a fun, engaging and educational community space (Robinson 2011, p. 5).  Warren and Matthews 2018, p. 1) suggests that ‘convergence can be viewed as a strategy for institutions to overcome shared economic, political, cultural and technological challenges’

This paper commenced with a discussion of three trends in convergence and determined that authorities consider convergence, collaboration and cooperation to be trends and use these terms interchangeably. It continued with an analysis of the three barriers to collaboration and their effects on GLAM institutions. This paper addressed the issue of maintaining a cross-institutional split. This paper referred to the issue of ethics in through an investigation of the ‘top down management model’ at the National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātaurangao Aotearoa. In addition. this paper discussed the EDM database and established the potential of a central database in GLAMS.

This paper addressed three benefits of collaboration by GLAM institutions through recognizing technological similarities and streamlining naming conventions and collaboration via the NLA and the Trove database. This paper concluded with a discussion on what is considered  to be a successful example of collaboration and examined the convergence of the Wanneroo Library and Cultural Centre in Adelaide, Western Australia.


  • Davis, W & Howard, K 2013, ‘Cultural policy and Australia’s national cultural heritage: issues and challenges in the GLAM landscape’, The Australian Library Journal, vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 15–26
  • Deal, T & Kennedy, A 1983, ‘Culture: A New Look Through Old Lenses’, The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 498–505.
  • Robinson, H 2014a, ‘Knowledge utopias: An epistemological perspective on the convergence of museums, libraries and archives’, Museum & Society, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 210–224
  • Robinson, L 2012b, ‘Converged memory institutions : combining public library and cultural resources to achieve an information and social commons’, Curtin University, School Of Media, Culture and Creative Arts, Department of Information Studies.
  • Robinson, L 2011c, ‘Library and Cultural Service Convergence: a Case Study of Wanneroo, Western Australia’, Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 160–166.
  • Klimaszewski, C 2015, ‘Lumping (and splitting) LAMs: The story of grouping libraries, archives, and museums’, Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, vol. 39, no. 3–4.
  • Purday, J 2012, ‘Europeana and its projects: Cooperation in the Cultural Heritage Sector’, viewed 7 May 2019,  https://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=Europeana+and+its+projects%3A+cooperation+in+the+cultural+heritage+sector.+&btnG=
  • Melling, M & Weaver, M 2012, ‘Collaboration in Libraries and Learning Environments’, Facet Publishing, London, viewed 7 May 2019,  ProQuest.
  • Islam, M & Mohd, R 2012, ‘Present Status of Library Cooperation, Networking, and Resource Sharing in Bangladesh: Web-based Library Cooperation for Access to World-wide Information’, Library Philosophy and Practice, viewed 7 May 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1897&context=libphilprac
  • National Archives of Australia  2019, Trove, https://trove.nla.gov.au/general/about
  • Walker, JC & Manjarrez, CA 2003, ‘Partnerships for Free Choice Learning: Public Libraries, Museums, and Public Broadcasters Working Together‘ Washington DC, Institute of Information Sciences, viewed 7 May 2019 https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED476110


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