The objectives of this performance audit were to provide assurance that there were effective measures in place to safeguard the national collections and that institutions had processes in place to provide access to them. The ANAO also examined the extent to which the national cultural institutions have implemented the eleven recommendations from the previous report, Safeguarding Our National Collections (Audit Report No.8 1998-99).



1. Five cultural institutions were included in this performance audit. Four of these, the National Library of Australia (Library), the National Museum of Australia (Museum), the National Gallery of Australia (Gallery) and the Australian War Memorial (Memorial) are corporate entities, governed by their respective councils and are subject to the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. The fifth is the National Archives of Australia (Archives), which is an Executive Agency under the Public Service Act, 1999. The Archives is situated within the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts portfolio and is subject to the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. It receives advice from the National Archives of Australia Advisory Council.

2. As at 30 June 2004 the five cultural institutions had combined total revenues, including Commonwealth Government revenue, of $276 million in 2003–04 and the collections were valued at approximately $6 billion in total.

3. Each institution has duties under their respective acts to maintain and develop their collections. In the case of the Archives, that institution must look to the preservation of existing and future archival records. Thus each institution's collections are growing year after year, creating particular pressures on storage facilities, which have to be managed within available resources. Processes are ongoing to identify new acquisitions and to de-accession unwanted collection items. In many respects the ‘present' has to be collected for the future as well. For example, the Memorial has commissioned war artists to document Australia's recent military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

4. The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) has a coordination role for cultural institutions within its portfolio.

Audit Objectives

5. The objectives of this performance audit were to provide assurance that there were effective measures in place to safeguard the national collections and that institutions had processes in place to provide access to them. The ANAO also examined the extent to which the national cultural institutions have implemented the eleven recommendations from the previous report, Safeguarding Our National Collections (Audit Report No.8 1998–99).

Key findings

Strategic Planning (Chapter 2)

6. To support the management of safe and accessible national collections, an institution requires a sound corporate framework, consisting of strategies targeted at both its corporate operations and its collection management. The ANAO examined corporate documentation covering strategic direction, risk management, business continuity planning and collection development.

7. All of the cultural institutions included in this audit demonstrated that they had sound corporate planning documentation, either through strategic plans, corporate plans or documents setting out medium term goals. These documents analysed the strategic directions and identified the challenges facing the institutions in their current and future environments.

8. Risk management practices had been employed to varying degrees within the cultural institutions at both the corporate and business level. Some risk management documentation was considered by the ANAO to be of a high standard.

9. All cultural institutions had collection-specific disaster plans. Since the Safeguarding Our National Collections (Audit Report No.8 1998–99) the ANAO has published the Better Practice Guide, Business Continuity Management, Keeping the Wheels in Motion, January, 2000, which applies to the corporate and information technology (IT) related issues for disaster preparedness and business continuity. The ANAO observed during the current audit that a shortcoming for some cultural institutions was documenting a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) that encompassed the corporate side of their business and addressed key elements of the Better Practice Guide such as determining the maximum acceptable outage for key systems and service delivery elements and documenting business impact analyses.

10. The Museum, Memorial and the Library have detailed collection development plans, which contain analysis of the institutions' current collections and identified priorities and gaps in their collections. The Memorial advised that it does not make its plan public for prudential reasons. The Archives does not need or have a collection development or acquisition policy in the manner of other cultural institutions as its collecting priorities are spelled out in the Act.

11. The Gallery's collection development policy is stated in the Into the Millennium, 1999–2001 1, which was published in 1998. It is further expanded in the Strategic Plan. The ANAO noted that some assessments of individual collections had been discussed with the Gallery Council as a supplement to the Strategic Plan.

12. The ANAO recommended that the Gallery consider documenting a more focussed collection development policy.

13. The Library builds its collection through ‘legal deposit', purchase and gift. ‘Legal deposit' is a term given to the legislative requirement in s201 of the Copyright Act, 1968, whereby Australian publishers are required to send their published works to the Library. The ANAO suggested that the Library could do more to raise awareness of ‘legal deposit' requirements to encourage even greater compliance with the Act.

14. The previous audit report, Safeguarding Our National Collections (Audit Report No.8 1998–99) contained eleven recommendations, which covered areas such as acquisitions, collection management, security over the collection, counter disaster preparedness and performance management. Table 1.1 lists these recommendations and their implementation status. The ANAO concluded that, overall, the cultural institutions had made substantial progress in implementing these recommendations.

15. The cultural institutions had also documented analyses of their collections; their collection development needs, and had charted their future directions and challenges. Appropriate mechanisms were in place to acquire the collections. Continued adoption of risk management practices and business continuity planning should address minor shortcomings.

Collection Management (Chapter 3)

16. This chapter discusses aspects of collection management, in particular the accessioning and de-accessioning (disposal) of the collection, collection management systems and conservation issues. It also discusses to what degree cultural institutions have progressed the implementation of recommendations from the previous audit.

17. The Museum's and Gallery's respective councils formally accept items into the collection, the details of which are entered into the Council meeting minutes. The Memorial acquires items for the collection according to its Strategic Plan, which has been endorsed by its Council. The Library uses the same approach.

18. At the Gallery objects over $30 000 must be approved by its Council before they are purchased and this method provides oversight of individual purchases. The Museum acquires collection items through gift or purchase and these are then considered for accessioning into the Museum's collection by its Council.

19. The ANAO found that there was a backlog of up to two years in the accessioning of items at the Museum and that the listing of items accessioned into the collection provided in the Annual Report did not reflect items acquired by the Museum in a financial year. The Museum has agreed to streamline this process.

20. Part of good collection management entails examining the collection for items that are no longer suitable for the collection, either through lack of relevancy or because its condition has deteriorated. All of the institutions included in the audit had de-accessioning policies. The degree to which these policies were adhered to varied.

21. The Gallery had in its custody items that were part of the Commonwealth Collection, acquired during the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1990s the Gallery sought the transfer of a large selection of items, which were transferred by Deed of Gift, signed by the Minister. However, a proportion of the Commonwealth Collection was not gifted to the Gallery. The Gallery has been custodians of these items for 30 years. Attempts have been made in the past to dispose or de-accession these objects without much success. The Gallery advised that it has some work to do in assessing the items in the Commonwealth collection. However, the Gallery has indicated that the Melanesian/Polynesian/Micronesian collection has been the most difficult issue to address. This is due to the nature of the collection and the specialised expertise needed to determine the provenance or cultural significance of individual items before consideration can be given to transferring or disposing of them.

22. Collection Management Systems (CMS) are a key mechanism for cultural institutions to catalogue and control their collections as well as providing for a repository for information about the collection. These are in essence databases, which contain records about the collections. Some proprietary CMS used by museums and galleries have facilities, which enable the databases to be searched via the Internet and for digital images of the collection to be viewed by on line users.

23. Except at the Library, the ANAO found that improvements could be made to the IT security risk assessments that underpinned institutions' Information Technology Security Plans (ITSPs), which governed the security requirements for the CMS and the networks they resided in.

24. When items in the collections have deteriorated or need work to preserve their condition, cultural institutions undertake conservation work. Within conservation practice there are specialised areas of expertise, such as paintings, paper, wood, metal and other materials.

25. In line with a recommendation from the previous audit report, all institutions had increased their conservation resources and documented their conservation needs in conservation plans. A shortage of trained conservation staff, however, may occur due to the cessation in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) of tertiary courses in the conservation field. Discussions with the cultural institutions revealed that this situation was known to them and was being managed through negotiations for training with other institutions and on-the-job training.

26. At the Gallery, a heavy lending and travelling exhibition program tends to dictate where conservation priorities are placed. In order to overcome this, the Gallery has undertaken an assessment of the collection and identified conservation priorities. The ANAO noted that the Gallery must ensure that internal funding is allocated to undertake this assessment-based approach to conservation.

27. Overall, the ANAO considers that the cultural institutions had adequately addressed issues raised in the previous audit. The ANAO found that the Museum had some work to do in streamlining its accessioning processes and to ensure that its collection management system is populated with information about the collection as a whole.

28. The ANAO made recommendations in relation to collection management systems and the security of information contained in them.

29. With demands on storage, de-accessioning and disposal of unwanted items is increasingly important, in particular to the Gallery in relation to the Commonwealth Collections. The ANAO recommended that the Gallery develop a project plan to address the disposition of the remaining Commonwealth Collections in its custody.

Storage and Security (Chapter 4)

30. This chapter discusses preventative conservation issues relating to the housing and storage of the collection, physical access to collection and administration areas including the collection management systems, and comments on stocktake processes.

31. An essential part of maintaining a safe and accessible collection is the provision of appropriate storage facilities and security over the collection. As collections are developed and held for long periods of time, adequate planning is needed to ensure that optimal storage conditions are maintained to prolong the life of the collection.

32. Appropriate security protects collections from accidental or intentional destruction or theft and can apply both to storage and display. Good control over the collections means that an item can be found at any given time.

33. The Archives and the Gallery have demonstrated that better practice preventative conservation can be achieved. The Memorial, too, has achieved a high standard, notwithstanding an isolated problem with humidity, which is scheduled to be addressed.

34. The ANAO noted that the Museum reported in its annual report that its collection is kept ‘at or above appropriate museum standards'. The ANAO observed, however, that its storage facilities do not provide a level of temperature and humidity control that the other cultural institutions employ to ensure the preservation of the collection. The Museum advised that it cares for the collection to the best of its ability within the constraints of its rented storage facilities.

35. As each institution employed slightly different parameters for environmental conditions, stating them as a measure rather than ‘appropriate standards' would provide a clearer picture of what the actual parameters are.

36. Facilities management is crucial to the protection of the collections, in particular, for environmental controls, cleaning and building and equipment repairs. Better practice demonstrated during the audit showed that performance indicators for key repair tasks are a good way to ensure that standards are maintained.

37. Security for the collections relates to the display and storage as well as to objects travelling for loan or exhibition. All of the cultural institutions employed appropriate measures to their permanent displays. Additional security reviews had been undertaken recently, as well as internal audit reviews in some institutions. Fire alarm monitoring was also taking place.

38. The ANAO tested the management of access cards, which allow staff and contractors access to premises and storage areas. The test revealed that cessation procedures and processes for departing staff to ensure the return of cards and terminate network and database access needed attention.

39. The ANAO noted some issues with control over access to the collection in storage areas at the Gallery and in reading rooms the Archives and to a lesser extent at the Library.

40. Collection items on display at the one time represent only a small percentage of an institution's holdings. For example, the Museum has approximately 2 per cent of its collection on display at any one time. Storage of the collection is a major issue across all the cultural institutions. As these institutions have an imperative to collect, their collections are growing. Although storage facilities are a crucial issue across all cultural institutions the ANAO noted that the Museum had major issues with its storage facilities. All institutions, except the Museum, had plans or building projects in progress to address their individual storage needs. The ANAO recommended that the Museum pursue the development of strategies to address its storage concerns.

41. Stocktakes are a means to test the system of control over collections. These are usually carried out by sample selection. Stocktake procedures should include guidance of what steps to take when too many items relative to the sample cannot be found during stocktake. The ANAO found that the Memorial had a better practice system of stocktake, including guidance on how to deal with a high error rate. Its regime of stocktake was rigorous and included documenting the condition of items in storage as a matter of course.

Accessibility (Chapter 5)

42. This chapter discusses aspects of accessibility, such as digitisation, travelling exhibitions, targeted programs such as educational programs, visitor surveys, websites and access issues, including copyright.

43. As well as collecting and forming a national collection, under their governing acts, cultural institutions must make their collection accessible through exhibitions or other means.

44. Digitisation is the process of making images of objects and documents. These images can be used in electronic format and in multi-media packages to serve as a substitute for the real object. Making a digital copy of an object allows it to viewed many times, sometimes with much greater detail than when on display, without damage to the object itself. Web usage is increasing and is a major means of access to the collections and information about the collections.

45. All of the cultural institutions had digitisation programs, however, the ANAO considers that they needed to define how they will measure the outcomes of their respective digitisation programs, be it for preservation, conservation or accessibility.

Performance Management (Chapter 6)

46. This chapter discusses performance management in the cultural institutions as expressed through performance measurement and systems to capture information to support those measures. A sound management system provides for performance monitoring so that a corporate entity can identify areas of improvement and ensure that it is achieving its goals.

47. The ANAO found that reporting of performance among the institutions was varied. Although the Memorial had many indicators and few targets in their Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS), reporting in its Annual Report was clear and precise. The Archives reported quite clearly against their Service Charter obligations yet could be clearer and more targeted with other performance indicators. The Library presented its indicators clearly but did not report against its main Service Charter indicator, specifically, in its Annual Report.

48. There are areas for improvement in performance reporting, particularly in allowing comparisons across the institutions on some key performance measures. As the cultural institutions carry on different businesses a ‘one size fits all' approach to all performance measures is not considered practical. There are areas, however, where the activities of all the cultural institutions are similar and where comparable performance measures are possible. This would allow for benchmarking of some activities between the cultural institutions. Already there are some comparable measures such as visitor numbers to both the institutions and to their travelling exhibitions.

49. The ANAO suggested that it was timely for cultural institutions to re-examine performance reporting, share good practices and agree on some common performance measurements. Another driver for further development of performance information is the increased scrutiny of agencies' capacity to report at a whole-of-government level, particularly with respect to core business.

Audit conclusion

50. The ANAO found that cultural institutions had embraced the findings and recommendations of the previous audit and, on the whole, had implemented actions to address those recommendations.

51. Overall, the ANAO also concluded that there were effective measures in place to safeguard the national collections, although long-term storage to house the collections was a critical issue. In addition, cultural institutions had various approaches to enhance general knowledge about the national collections and for creating opportunities for the general public to experience and access them.

52. The ANAO identified areas for improvement at both the cultural institution level and cross-institution level. This report contains 14 recommendations directed at improved strategic planning and supporting documentation in the areas of risk management and collection management; strengthening IT policies and procedures, in particular revisiting security risk assessments with respect to collection management systems; enhancing procedures controlling physical access to the collections; strategies to manage future storage requirements for the collections; and collaboration on the development of performance measures to allow greater comparison in performance between institutions.

Responses to the audit


53. The National Library of Australia agrees with the six recommendations of the Safe and Accessible National Collections Performance Audit that relate to the work of the Library. The Library will implement these recommendations in the coming months. In some cases, for example Recommendation 8, work has already commenced on improvements to staff exit procedures.


54. The Archives is pleased to note that the ANAO has recognised the Archives' achievement of best practice in relation to facilities management and the provision of appropriate environmental conditions for its permanent collection.


55. The Museum is pleased to note that the ANAO's findings are largely positive concerning the National Museum of Australia, which is identified as having made substantial progress in implementing the recommendations of the previous audit report. The report also identifies areas of concern that correspond to those independently identified by the Museum. Efforts are already underway to remedy these.

56. The Museum is sure that the report will prove of great value in assisting the Museum in identifying priorities in its ongoing efforts to manage, and resource the collections in its care. The Museum largely accepts the findings and recommendations of the report.


57. The Gallery fully supports the thrust of the report and agrees with the report's recommendations.


58. The Australian War Memorial recognises the importance of the Safeguarding the National Collections audit and has been pleased to be a part of this process. We concur with the recommendations relevant to the Memorial.


59. There are a number of mechanisms by which DCITA and the portfolio collecting agencies work together to improve practices at a strategic level. The primary forum for agencies is the Heads of Collecting Institutions (HOCI). The ANAO report outlines storage, digitisation and conservation issues at an individual agency level. You may wish to note that DCITA and the portfolio collecting institutions are working collaboratively to address collections management issues and progress outcomes in a number of areas including storage, digitisation and conservation.


1 National Gallery of Australia, Into the Millennium, Corporate Plan, 1999-2001, NGA, Canberra, 1998