Institutional and emergent collections

In the last few days of our trip, as we walked all over Surabaya, I was thinking about the all libraries we had visited over those two weeks. I realised I was intuitively drawn to some of the collections more than others. Reflecting on this, I came to think about the collections in two categories: collections built to an institutional mission, and collections that emerge of their users interests and activities.

The Frontyard library was inherited from our Australia Council for the Arts.

It’s almost entirely made up of works they decided to collect and keep over the years. We’ve only made a few relatively small alterations so far:

  • We’re adding a few bits and pieces, mostly works that emerge from peoples’ residencies at Frontyard. I’ve also added in a small bag of books and ephemera that we picked up on this research trip from libraries in Java.
  • We removed duplicates and uninteresting books, to save space, when the main collection was catalogued (at Benjamin’s discretion I believe).

So, for the vast majority of works in the Frontyard library, decisions to include and keep them were not made by the people who use and maintain it today. These decisions were made by our Australia Council staff (I’m interested to track down any documentation about how those decisions were made).

The Frontyard Library was ‘removed’ from its original context, and we’re now trying to understand its potential uses in this new context. (I think it would be useful to understand the shift more. I don’t know much about the life of the library when it lived with the Australia Council. What worked about it? What didn’t? Who contributed to it? Who used it? How did they use it?)

The libraries we visited in Java, on the other hand, are all largely growing in place, being collected by the people who are there using and tending them. Some of their collections have shifted physical location, but mostly haven’t had such a drastic context shift as the Frontyard library’s.

I believe the initial Indonesian Visual Arts Archive (IVAA) collection was extracted from Cemeti, in Yogyakarta—but has grown a lot over the following ten years. I don’t know how much of the collection comes from that initial transfer.

The IVAA collection reminded me most of Frontyard’s collection. I felt the character of an institutional mission.

The Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem library largely comes from the ruangrupa collection, built up over the years as members of the collective acquired books.

I understand that the Kunci library is also built from the personal collections of their members. Our guide at Kunci told us that he’s put books into their collection, and expects to leave them if he ever moves out of town or leaves the group.

C2O in Surabaya started as Kathleen’s design library, and built up in collaboration with its users over years.

The Saki library is built from donations from friends of the kampung, and seemed to be growing in tight collaboration with the people who use it.

These collections are built our of the interests of the members.

It seems to me that some of these collections, like Frontyard’s or the IVAA’s, are built up according to an institutional mission; others emerge from the interests of their users who are the collectors, like Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem’s, Kunci’s, Saki’s, and C2O’s. The Omar Lore library feels like it will fit with the latter bunch.

To be honest, I find the emergent/user built collections much more immediately engaging than the IVAA collection or the Frontyard library.

I think that’s because I probably have a close perspective to the artists, designers, activists, and researchers building those collections than the institutional perspective. I recognised many of the authors, who are authors I’m interested in, and the general type of book and areas of research matched up with those that interest me. Many of these books were written, designed, and published by people with similar interests again. It feels fitting that I’d be drawn to the familiar.

But I really don’t think that these collections that I was drawn to are any more useful or exciting that than IVAA’s or Frontyard’s. I think there is a challenge in making them feel a bit looser and more approachable. The emergent libraries generally had a less formal organisation scheme, which was easier to immediately understand. The libraries, like Frontyard’s (somewhat), that are organised by the Dewy system are probably much more useful for search and retrieval though. I’m not sure.

Institutional and emergent might not be the perfect terms for this. I think the key thing is how the decisions about the collection are made. As with the Frontyard library, these structures can change dramatically, and I’m sure there are also co-existing, differing systems for sub-collections.

I’m not sure what to make of this right now, but I thought I’d note these ideas down.

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