State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 62 Spring 1998

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The Picture Collection: Where to from here?

This issue of The La Trobe Journal provides an opportunity to look at the Picture Collection and to assess the changes in service, emphasis and collecting in the past 10 years. Two previous assessments have taken place. The first was in 1985 when the first Collection Development Policy was being written, and it became clear that the content and emphasis of the collection had not been formally changed since 1929. In 1989, the staff mounted an exhibition, ‘Pictures in an Institution’, in which we showed examples of the works collected vigorously since 1984. This was well received in most quarters, but not all. The late Dietrich Borchardt, when invited to view the exhibition before a rather grand Library Association function held in the Queen's Hall, complained loudly to anyone who would listen: ‘I do not understand what this exhibition is about!’ Sadly, the accompanying leaflet, which attempted to explain to the public why the Library collected pictures, made little impact.
The most significant developments in the collection have been in the growth of the collection and the delivery of images using information technology. There has been a growth in commissioning, which Michael Galimany outlines in his article. As post-1969 photographs are copyright in perpetuity unless they are published, it is important for the Library to own copyright in as many instances as possible, since tracking copyright owners 50 years from now will be difficult if not impossible. It also provides the Library with examples of the work of local photographers. Another development, stemming from the ‘Heidelberg School Picnic’, an exhibition which John Clarke curated in 1985, has been the growth of the cartoon collection. Most of the donations have been solicited, and it says much for the generosity of these artists that they or their families donate collections year after year. The architectural drawings collection has also grown to such an extent that there is now no longer any space to accommodate drawings on-site. Collection of architectural drawings is a mostly defensive undertaking, in order to prevent their destruction or dispersal. This is not ideal or systematic and a solution for the 21st century needs to be found. So too does the best method of re-formatting drawings so that they too can be delivered on and off-site using modern technology.
The development of the image database, initially through the generosity of the Sidney Myer Trust, has been the most significant advance in the 1990s. The database is now in excess of 150,000 and grows daily. Yet it still covers only a sixth of the collection, and we will always be dealing with backlogs. We now have, after a prolonged contest, both hardware and software in the collection to enable us to digitise small images as part of the housekeeping process. New images can be made available via the Internet and intranet shortly after accessioning and cataloguing.
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Exhibitions are important for the collection, but we have nowhere to show works at present. The Stawell Gallery, in which we hoped to hang major oil paintings and display association items from 1999, has been delayed. Works on paper form the greater part of the Picture Collection, yet the only internal space available to show them is the Queen's Hall. This is a serious drawback to making original material accessible to the viewing public. Although we make external loans to regional and interstate galleries and museums, there is nothing to reflect this activity within the Library itself.
It is often said that libraries and librarians feel more comfortable with the past than the present or the future. Before 1984, this was reflected in acquisition policy and practice. At the end of the twentieth century, we must examine Victoria and its people in a project which will reflect and document the appearance of the landscape, built environment and people. We are developing a collecting, commissioning and exhibition project based upon families in urban and rural Victoria, which will take us into the new millennium, in much the same way as ‘Building a Country’ did in the 1980s.
Christine Downer