ALIA Blog: exploring the nation’s capital

New to the ALIA team in 2023 - Kylie Fiddy (Chief Operating Officer), Sam McCrohan (Finance Officer), Zola Maddison (Director of Events & Training), and Emily Wilson (Regional Engagement Manager) spent a ‘GLAM day-out' in Canberra - team building and visiting key cultural heritage organisations on the lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. Here they had opportunity to explore, learn and establish connections with sector colleagues.  

Images above L to R: In the NGA Research Library & Archives - (L to R) Kylie Fiddy, Jack Ennis Butler, Zola Maddison and Sam McCrohan; Dropping by Blue Poles at the NGA – Emily Wilson.

The ALIA GLAM day out was a fabulous opportunity to see "behind the scenes" and gain some insight into the valuable and varied work of librarians.  Being from a non-library profession, my only previous contact with libraries was through school and public libraries, so it was fascinating to discover that places like the National Gallery have their own library.  I was particularly moved by the stories our hosts at AIATSIS relayed in the challenges they face with ensuring materials are shared with the appropriate cultural permissions and sensitivities.  Their obvious passion for their work showed through.  The staff art exhibition at AIATSIS was also a highlight - such a talented bunch who were so generous with sharing their stories behind the artworks.  The day ended on a high being shown around the new Great Southern Land exhibition at the National Museum by one of the curators.  Such a privilege. I have a greater understanding now of the diversity of ALIA members and the work they do  - Kylie Fiddy     

ALIA’s GLAM Day Out was my first opportunity to connect with Australia’s library community. With all of seven days under my belt at ALIA, and only one year since moving to Australia, I was struck by the generosity, dedication, and extremely high calibre of professionalism with every colleague we met - Zola Maddison  

I have been at ALIA for just over 6 weeks and as I don’t have a background in library services, the GLAM day that Emily organised was very insightful. It was very interesting to see all the work that goes on behind the scenes - Sam McCrohan

Beginning in the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) Research Library & Archives, our group was met by Jack Ennis Butler who guided us through highlights of this collection. We saw materials that support exhibition and programs, at the NGA and elsewhere (such as copies of Interview Magazine which had been loaned by the Art Gallery of South Australia for their recent Andy Warhol and Photography exhibition), and materials that document the history and development of the visual arts, both nationally and internationally. Not only did this library have a wonderful collection and great employees, it had a terrific view of Parliament House from its third story window.

Images above L to R: At the NLA’s Main Reading Room entrance  (L to R) Zola Maddison Sam McCrohan, Kylie Fiddy and Aileen Weir; Entering the NLA (L to R) – Emily Wilson, Zola Maddison, Kylie Fiddy and Sam McCrohan.

The next stop was the National Library of Australia (NLA) where ALIA Fellow and Director Trove Partnerships, Aileen Weir gave a tour of the reading rooms (which still feature some of the library’s heritage furniture, along with some wonderful art pieces such as BOAB100) and basement stacks. We were introduced to Aileen’s NLA colleagues along the way. Next, the NLA events and public programs team spent time showing us library spaces which might be utilised for ALIA events such as the Greening Libraries Conference

Images above L to R: Looking at RBEF A581.29/S2 – South Australia illustrated from the AIATSIS collection - Zola Maddison and Kylie Fiddy; The bunya forest inside the Great Southern Land gallery at NMA – (L to R) Jono Lineen, Kylie Fiddy and Sam McCrohan.

From Parkes, we headed to the Acton Peninsula, to visit the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in its Maraga building. We were welcomed by Anthony McLaughlin, Jay Dominick, Natasha Best, Charles Nelson, Lisa Marcussen, Tamarind Meara, Rebecca Shields, and Dr Caroline Hughes.

We viewed a variety of collection items such as language dictionaries, a Sorry Book and the picture book  luwa tara luwa waypa. We learned about the After 200 Years photographic project and were guided through the artworks on display, which had all been created by AIATSIS employees inspired by the 2023 NAIDOC Week ‘For Our Elders’ theme. Three of the artists took time to share the stories behind their work. 

The last stop of the day was the National Muesum of Australia (NMA), where Craig Middleton (friend of ALIA since his New Librarians’ Symposium Keynote back in 2019) arranged for his colleague Jono Lineen to take us on a Curator’s tour of the recently opened Great Southern Land exhibition. This new gallery features more than 2000 objects, and multi-sensory experiences to illustrate how the continent has changed over time and how these changes can guide us through future challenges.

Touring the gallery with us was Naomi Nellie, the NMA’s Library and Information Services Manager, who told us stories about steering clear of the exhibition’s saltwater crocodile when it was stored at her work and pointed out the books from her library that have gone on display.   


History, heritage, identity and collective memory; along with a cultural understanding of our past and our present were all themes of the day. Reflecting on the visits, Zola Maddison has the following insights:   

The personal is professional. We are often expected to keep a clear line between personal and professional. Don’t get too emotional; don’t bring your personal life to work. But, more and more, employers and employees are recognising the value of being able to bring one’s whole self to work. From the simple, such as seeing a colleague comfort their child during an online meeting, to the profound, such as holding space and empathy for staff feelings on National Sorry Day, we are both personal and professional. During our tour, this notion was further expanded for me as I recognised the deeply personal in the artifacts we, as GLAM professionals, care for and make available. At AIATSIS, I was told this blurring of lines is intentional; sharing their personal stories reminds our patrons of the human connection to every item in our collection.

Information is agnostic to form. At the National Museum of Australia, a half-melted telephone booth tells story of the Black Summer bushfires; a collection of card catalogues, microfiche and floppy disc readers, and an iMac Blueberry at the National Library speaks to our technological evolution as much as the information stored in their files; a handmade box in the form of an invitation at the National Gallery of Australia provides another layer to the history of an Andy Warhol exhibit. Information – wisdom – is passed to us through books and documents, but it’s also passed through objects, stories, photographs and art; our collections and our communities are enriched when we provide access to information in all forms.

Connections matter. A lot. This morning, I happened across a statement from a librarian friend in the U.S. reminding us that, at our core, our field is about Truth and Memory. During our day out, every interaction, every colleague I met, I felt a shared sense of responsibility towards truth and memory that binds us together; a shared commitment to exposing truths and narratives previously excluded. Our connections to our colleagues are vital to improving our ability to do this work well. But equally important are our connection to our communities. They are both consumers and providers of information, and their input and engagement strengthens our work. At AIATSIS, community input everywhere – from metadata contributions to images in their database to their collection and preservation policies. In a field striving towards Truth and Memory, our communities are integral to our ability to share knowledge with integrity and authenticity.


The GLAM day out highlighted the importance of cultural and collecting institutions and their role supporting research, education and social interest. These visits allowed us to build knowledge, connections and relationships – thanks to all who met with us.  

Emily Wilson  
ALIA Regional Engagement Manager