Significance International Report

In 2013 the (then) Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education commissioned an independent review of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). This was triggered by the 2012 Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People that recommended a review of AIATSIS to examine its future strategic direction, its role and functions, governance structures and levels of resourcing with a view to strengthening its capacity to preserve and disseminate Indigenous knowledge and support Indigenous research.

In response to this recommendation, AIATSIS commissioned expert reports using industry leaders and stakeholders across the range of functions, in parallel with the independent Review commissioned by the Department, to provide further detailed evidence to support the development of future strategic directions. AIATSIS recognises that the collection is integral to every aspect of the organisation’s work and therefore wishes to ensure that the collection is managed at the optimum level and with optimum benefit for all stakeholders and clients of AIATSIS. For that reason, AIATSIS commissioned this Collection Management Review and the parallel Significance Assessment.

In 2014 Significance International conducted a series of independent assessments in relation to the collections held by the AIATSIS. This work included consideration of the collection significance to cultural heritage, a risk assessment and a collection management review. The Significance International report presented a review and statement on the collection development, management, preservation and access practices undertaken at AIATSIS, and an assessment of what is optimally required to manage a collection like that held at AIATSIS. Significance International made a number of recommendations arising from: the Collection Management Report, the Significance Assessment, the Options Analysis and the Collection Risk Assessment.

The Significance International Report identified material risks to a key component of AIATSIS’ legislative mandate, being the protection of the nationally significant collection.

The review found that:

  • The optimal resourcing level to develop, manage, maintain, preserve and provide discoverability of, and access to a collection of the size and complexity of that held at AIATSIS requires a substantial increase of human resources and a proportional increase in the annual budgets for operating and capital expenditure.
  • The infrastructure required to undertake critical collection functions is highly dependent on technology solutions that AIATSIS plans to acquire. Another requirement is for resources to enable the maintenance of analogue technology for playback of a vast diversity of audiovisual formats so they may be digitised for preservation and potential access. The increasing responsibility to acquire ‘born digital’ material has not yet been fully planned by AIATSIS; there might be ways of progressing this collaboratively.
  • Best practice in the management and preservation of large collections depends on compliance, conformance and performance. AIATSIS aims to meet a large number of international and national standards. Limitations of staffing mean, however, that AIATSIS is currently performing at sub-optimal level overall.
  • The future pathway for improved discoverability and accessibility of collection materials involves online solutions that require increased specialist staff to catalogue, create finding aids, and manage the active engagement of users.

This report identifies three Options for the future management of the AIATSIS collection. The status quo (Option A) is regarded as unviable and unsustainable. Option B proposes an enhanced service at the current location while Option C proposes ‘optimum’ in a new location.

Last reviewed: 3 May 2019