Visiting the Indonesian Visual Arts Archive

We visited the Indonesian Visual Arts Archive (IVAA) in Yogyakarta on Monday (2017-12-11). We just had time to do a brief interview with Melissa, Santosa, and another staff member (sorry! I missed that name :S).

It’s a big, open space with high ceilings, specifically designed for this collection. There’s a glass dividing window between the semi-open library space and the staff and archive areas. This library, and also the Omah Lor library we visited, are open to the breeze. They worry about the humidity affecting the books, and there slight stains and mould in some of the books I looked at. Melissa said dust and dirt is a bigger problem—partly from people’s hands, partly from dust blowing into the space.

There’s pros and cons to a purpose built space. The Kunci library that we visited today is a more domestic space. This feels a bit more familiar and relaxed that the IVAA library—to me.

Here’s my notes on the IVAA library:

IVAA has two distinct sections: the library and the archive.

The library contains books, event catalogues, and some similar ephemera; the archive roughly contains photos of art works and events, more ephemera, videos, sound recordings, and other multi-media records.

IVAA has built but it’s library collections over ten years. Melissa said that the books come from donations from other institutions and personal collections, often when people are getting rid of books. I wonder if publishers also submit new books? IVAA check if they already have the book and enter in the new works. I wonder what happens to the books they can’t take? I suspect they aren’t throwing them in the bin. Melissa said that these donations are very irregular in frequency: they’ll have a trickle for a long time, then a torrent.

They are running out of space for books on in their existing shelving, and are thinking about adding more.

IVAA has a ephemera collection, including event literature and exhibition catalogues, that the university art libraries don’t have. They have built up this collection by sending staff document events by collecting material, taking photos, videos, and recordings.

What if you built an independent ephemera archive in Sydney and used it as a platform for skills and ideas sharing? Is that emerging at Frontyard? I’ve very tickled by ideas for projects combining a service, collaboration, and learning.

They get roughly 2–5 visitors a day on average. These people are generally local students and local and international artists, researchers, curators who come for their unique collection.

Santi? helps people execute effective searches of the library and archive, and they also have staff who help retrieve records from the archive. I’d like to see this process in action, to see how an expert retriever operates.

They have a shop where they sell books: their own publications and publications from Indonesian arts groups and projects. We went back yesterday and I bought a ‘collage’ book of stories about Surabaya.

The space we were sitting in, a lower floor area, is also a workshop space. I didn’t catch what kind of workshops they are holding. The workshops can’t be too loud because their neighbours aren’t sheltered from the sound—there’s a large opening in the building next to this space.

Yesterday, Friday, we went back and I chatted to one of the staff. She told me that they theme their operations for a few months at a time. Recently they had a street art theme. During these periods they focus their digitising efforts, workshops, and other programs around the topic and promote it to the public.

Library networks

IVAA uses SLiMS for it’s library management software. They used some other software previously, but some time in the last 3 years they moved to SLiMS when the government (Provincial? National?) was promoting it and providing some support and training for libraries to adopt SLiMS (but not funding). Why did the national government do this? Was it so that they could get an overview of the collections via the APIs?.

As I understood our conversation, when the government was promoting SLiMS, they also set up a network of Yogyakarta libraries. They had some means of group communication and regular meetups. The conveners of this group trained the network in using SLiMS, and gave out some awards for best practice—IVAA got one. Santosa said the network was for sharing knowledge and experience, but that it was also a social thing.

The last meetup was in 2011.

Why was this setup and why did it not continue?. Santi(?) seemed to think it was a good thing while it lasted.

They also had a website that included a searchable aggrigated catalogue of the libraries in the network. Melissa said this was useful to IVAA because they could lookup who had a book, go get it, photocopy it and add it to their own collection. Photocopying entire books is fairly common in Indonesia according to Ali and Sam—I’ve seen some hard-cover bound photocopied books in the collections we’ve visited. I asked if they had some special rapid book photocopier, and Ali said ‘nope it’s all manual’. It’s quite time consuming and is enabled by labour being so cheap here. You drop a book off at a copy shop and come back later to collect.

While is no longer online (is this definitely the correct URL?), there is a network of Yogyakarta librarys at It seems to be all for university and public institution libraries. None of the small communinty or arts libraries we’ve been visiting are listed.


Melissa didn’t have too much time on Monday because they were preparing to travel to Jakarta the next day. The national art gallery is going to take over the hosting of their locally, custom built archive management software. They’re also going to start using it for their own archives, which they now have a responsibility to maintain under some new legislation. The IVAA team is head up to supervise the transfer and train the gallery staff in using their system.

IVAA has developed and maintained their own archive software over the years, working with local individual software developers to create something specific to their needs. I asked if they’d considered using open source software for their archive, as they are for the library. Melissa said that just didn’t come up when they were going through the process.

They’ve actually rebuilt and migrated their archive management software three times over the years, as the developers who built them left town. I find this pretty interesting. Was this a positive process where they got to reflect and iterate, or did they feel like they were rebuilding the same thing again and again? Why did they decide to rebuild rather than develop the existing software? Did they have to rebuild when the developer left because there was ongoing required maintenance, or did they continue with what they had until they needed new features? How did they make these decisions—do they have technology expertise in-house, or are these decisions more driven by the developers? Now that the national gallery are taking over hosting, will they also take over development? Is this software open source?.

It seems very sensibly that the national gallery would look to use a working system developed by an independent archive, rather than contract some “enterprise” software vendor. In my experience with government institutions, I’ve never heard of this happening.

Unfortunately, when they arrived the gallery didn’t have all the hardware ready.

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