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Heritage fears as ABC moves to close Adelaide sound library


The ABC’s interstate management wants to close the historic sound library in Adelaide only a short time after it completed an apparently expensive move of the collection from one part of the Collinswood HQ to another.

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Under a plan which has angered local ABC staff and concerned heritage advocates, the sound library’s collection – containing thousands of items of local and national significance – would be moved interstate and two local librarians sacked.

The most confusing aspect of the decision is that it comes soon after the library completed a move from the fifth floor of the Collinswood building to a refitted ground floor location – a move that local staff believe could have cost tens of thousands of dollars. InDaily understands the move was completed late last year.

Ironically, the plan to consolidate ABC sound libraries in Melbourne, and the closure of similar facilities in Perth, Adelaide and Hobart, is designed to trim the national broadcaster’s budget.

The ABC says the changes are not yet finalised, with staff consultation continuing.

“The proposed changes are about working most effectively and efficiently in the digital environment,” a spokesman told InDaily in an emailed statement.

“The recent introduction of the Digital Music Bank allows us to provide access to the entire collection digitally, and under this proposal we would move from multiple sound libraries to a single library based in Melbourne. Moving from physical to digital would enable these resources to be more easily accessed by content-makers when and where they needed them.

“Under this proposal the Sound Library collection would be centralised in Melbourne and librarians there would continue to provide expert knowledge to assist content makers around the country.”

The ABC did not respond to questions about why the library had been moved last year and its cost.

However, the ABC itself discussed the move, and the significance of the Adelaide collection, in a post on its own website in July 2017.

In that article, local library officer Andrew Johns revealed some of the treasures of the Adelaide collection, which goes beyond vinyl records and CDs. One of his favourites was a score annotated by Henry Krips, the former principal conductor of the South Australian Symphony Orchestra (now called the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra).

The future of that kind of local artefact has raised alarm bells for former ABC broadcaster Keith Conlon – one of South Australia’s most prominent advocates for preserving local history and heritage.

Conlon, who will take up an appointment as chair of the South Australian Heritage Council later this year, said he feared that the collection would become inaccessible once it had been moved to Melbourne.

He did not believe the entire collection would be digitised, nor that it would be made available in a form that would be accessible.

“If you can’t get hold of it then it isn’t there – it disappears,” he told InDaily. “We will lose touch with it.

“It includes a lot of South Australian music that would have been collected here and nowhere else. It’s hard to know – will you be able to get hold of an early recording of The Angels (for example)? I suspect the answer is ‘no’ – it’s going to be too hard.”

Another long-term former ABC presenter, John Kenneally, began his career as a music programmer at Collinswood, which gave him a deep understanding and appreciation of the sound library.

Kenneally, one half of the “Bald Brothers” breakfast team with Tony McCarthy that was on-air for a decade, believes a physical library has benefits for broadcasters that they can’t get from a digital collection.

It’s the physical artefact that appeals to Kenneally. When he joined the ABC in 1984, he sorted through many of the broadcaster’s then massive collection of LPs, which he estimated at about 60,000.

Many of those, he suspects, are long gone.

“I don’t want to say the sky’s falling in, but if I was still working there I would be very disappointed it was going,” Kenneally told InDaily.

“Having something online is not the same as having a resource like a library.

“There’s lot of wonderful heritage there going back to the 50s and even the late 40s that will disappear.”

He and McCarthy would “haunt” the Collinswood library when they were on air, looking for inspiration, searching for musical gems to bring their listeners.

“I suspect our ghosts are still there,” he said.

“It would give you ideas. It gave me an education.”

He compared the experience to that of online shopping versus visiting a physical store.

“For me, shopping online is great if you know what you’re looking for. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s not good.

“The physical resource is inspirational and educational.

“I suspect the new generation that are getting into vinyl would respect and value that, and understand that’s what we’re missing.”

As for the ABC, he hopes they do the right thing with the collection.

However, he adds: “It feels like they’re happy for no music programs to come out of Adelaide again.”

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