Educating cultural heritage information professionals for Australia's galleries, libraries, archives and museums | Australian Policy Online

This research explored the skills, knowledge and qualities, and professional education needs, of information professionals in galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) in Australia. These cultural heritage institutions have always had a role in allowing us to experience, explore and interpret our world by enabling people to engage with information in multiple forms through their mutual core functions of acquiring, organising, storing, providing access to and preserving information.

With the advent of the digital environment, the role of the information professional has grown, but so too have the opportunities for making the collections of Australia’s cultural heritage institutions available, including the increased ability for collaboration and convergence between institutions. The need to educate information professionals who can operate across these blurred cultural heritage boundaries is becoming paramount if we are to maximize the use of our rich collections of cultural heritage information.

This research identified similarities in skills, knowledge and qualities using the Grounded Delphi method, a relatively new methodological extension of the Delphi method. It integrates aspects of Grounded Theory – particularly with respect to the data analysis - with the Delphi method, a group communication tool and a means to achieve consensus. The process consisted of three rounds of data collection: this first was exploratory focus groups, followed by two rounds of online questionnaires. In keeping with Delphi procedures, an ‘a priori’ consensus level was set at 75%. Of the 74 questions that participants had to answer, 57 reached consensus.

The findings revealed that although full convergence of galleries, libraries, archives and museums is unlikely, many of the skills, knowledge and qualities would be required across all four GLAM sectors. However, some skills may require a ‘change of focus’ in the digital environment. Key findings included the need to ‘understand why we do what we do’; ‘understand the broad purpose of our role’; ‘the need to better articulate the profession’s existence and its role in social capacity building’; and the need for broader, more generalist skills, but without losing any specialist capacity. The findings provide the first empirically based guidelines around what needs to be included in an educational framework for information professionals who will work in the emerging GLAM environment. A further recommendation is to consider establishing an undergraduate degree where the broader, cross-disciplinary skills and knowledge are taught in an Information Management/ Informatics focussed program.

As the first study of GLAM education requirements in Australia and the wider Asia-Pacific region to take a holistic approach by engaging information professionals across all four types of cultural heritage institutions, this thesis makes a significant contribution to the GLAM research field and to information education generally.