Cultural Advice: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that the ARI Remix Project contains images, voices or names of deceased persons in websites, photographs, film, audio recordings or printed materials.

“Minor transient documents of everyday life”

By Cassie Doyle

One Flat Exhibition Invite, Hollie, 1983

Having initiated the Ephemera Collection at the State Library of Queensland [SL] in the 1980s on Artist Run Initiatives [ARIs], or artist-runs as they are more commonly named today, I am thrilled at the rigorous, robust and enthusiastic collaboration that is clearly illustrated through the ARI REMIX PROJECT.


Of particular importance of course is Paul’s committed adherence and dedication to reconnecting everyone to relive a very exciting time in Brisbane’s cultural, social and indeed political history. I also look forward to Peter Anderson’s coming exhibition at the UQ Art Museum on April 2 this year, ephemeral traces; Brisbane’s artist-run scene in the 1980s and accompanying Public Programs reconnecting once again with everyone.


I remember this time very vividly. I had been establishing an Arts Collection and Laurel Dingle, my very close colleague was working on the Music Collection within SL. We were directed with these huge tasks by the then State Librarian, Lawrie Ryan, 1970-1988. I witnessed in the late ‘70s and 1980s, widespread interest in the arts generally and I inherently knew all effort had to be made to develop an Arts Collection of the maximum possible dimension and quality at SL then nearing completion at the Queensland Cultural Centre [QCC] in 1988.


The interest, appetite and concern of the general public to the arts generally had been shown to be remarkable and even unexpectedly large, often reflected in the media albeit very conservative at the time. Given the exposure to the public of the QCC and the role of SL within this context, I sensed the demands on the library would only expand and become more sophisticated. Unfortunately like the majority of government departments, particularly arts, we would face opposition, often within the organisation itself.


The then Deputy State Librarian was totally and vehemently opposed to the establishment of the Arts and Music Collections, to the extent a Public Review of the State Library of Queensland was initiated by the extremely conservative and reactionary Bjelke-Petersen government.

I wrote two lengthy submissions alongside Laurel’s contributions, as well as a very extensive Collection Development Policy. Fortunately the arts and music community responded passionately to the concept of these special collections within a general library. I thoroughly researched the role of an arts and special collections within a public library, always alluding to the differences and problems of the subject specialist within a public library.


In a special issue on arts librarianship at the time, Sarah Gibson highlighted the importance, needs and benefits of the subject specialist with the general library. She reflects: The development of a speciality within a profession results from new demands generated by a distinct clientele served by that profession. The requirements for specialized services presuppose the availability of resources to meet particular needs, although conversely those needs also lead to the creation of additional specialised resources [1]


WL Dane also strenuously encouraged art librarians to actively and enthusiastically seek out arts-related material to accommodate this growing interest: The public is enthusiastic about the arts and hungry for information in the field. Public librarians are keenly receptive to this trend and are aggressively providing new collections and services to accommodate this vast clientele which supports public libraries as part of our national heritage [2]


I was acutely aware of the diversity of arts- related materials from art reference resources, monographs, periodicals, exhibition and sales catalogues, indexing and abstracting tools to ephemera, slides, photographs, posters to audio-visual material. The list is endless. I was also fully conversant with traditional art library tools, but was very quickly made aware of the importance and immediacy to collect art ephemera across all mediums.


Traditional library resources such as Philip Pacey’s Art library manual: a guide to resources and practice, [London: Bowker, 1977], Lois Swan Jone’s Art research methods and resources: a guide to finding art information, [Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1984] and Etta Arntzen’s Guide to the literature of art history, [Chicago: American Library Association, 1980] were my bibles.

But it was the transient, illusive, colourful arts ephemera that became inherently important to me to actively seek, acquire, collect, record, house, but more importantly make accessible and preserve for all interested in this extremely important arts related material. The Collection Development Policy for the Arts Collection was based on The Standards for Art Libraries and Fine Art Collections, Art Libraries Society of North America, Occasional Papers, No. 2, 1983. Ephemera ranked very highly as axiomatic and integral to an arts collection of quality and scholarship.


Ephemera includes materials, sometimes thought to be disposable, which frequently provide the only source of information on specific events, individuals, organizations and institutions. These material may include gallery and museum notices, announcements, invitations, souvenirs, exhibitions checklists, newspaper and magazine clippings and manuscript or typewritten notes. Extensive files of correspondence [i.e. archives of an organization or papers of an individual] warrant specific treatment and should not be dispersed throughout an ephemera collection.[3]


The importance of collecting ephemera was as I have mentioned integral to the Collection Development Policy.
I saw it as critical primary source material which ‘can often be acquired cheaply, which will be vital data for future historians, and which is likely to inspire artists then as it does now. Collections of ephemera invariably attract donations, research and recognition. [3].

This serves as a reminder of the brilliant collections which were donated to the State Library’s Arts and Special Collections Unit in the 1980s – The James Hardie Library of Australian Fine Arts, , Marjorie Johnstone’s donation of the Johnstone Art Gallery Archive, accompanied by Len Davenport’s donation of her husband, Arthur Davenport’s photographic record of the Johnstone art gallery exhibitions, The Institute of Modern Art of which the first twenty years are held in the Australian Library of Art [ALA], and Urszula Szulakowska’s priceless donation of ephemera [Urszula Szulakowska Archive 1980s-1990s] collected for her timely publication Experimental art in Queensland, 1975-1995 : an introductory study.

The ARI Remix Project brings back just brilliant memories for me. Attending openings, talks, performances and me collecting every piece of paper, cardboard, material etc I could get my hands on. I often wondered what the artists thought of me. Who is this funny lady stealing our stuff! But everyone was very supportive and welcomed me in my crazy endeavours to document what they were doing. I so pleased I persevered.


Seeing all the ephemera again has just so taken me back – I think the colours as well. Red, black, yellow, purple. And the ingenuity of design and use of materials. I have so loved Brian Doherty’s explanation of printing techniques, especially from The Activities Centre, University of Queensland. Brilliant.


We were in the old William Street Library, known for its spectacular and vibrant tiled mosaic by Australian artist Lindsay Edward. Laurel and I were seated next to each other, with a window facing what was to become South Bank. Of course all we could see in the early ‘80s was old factories, derelict buildings etc. We were already on top of each other and it didn’t take long for our tiny space to be inundated with library catalogues, books, boxes, files etc. Other library staff would have to almost push us under our desks to pass by. It was hilarious.


It wasn’t long before I realised the urgency and immediacy to collect ephemera, particularly of contemporary art spaces in Brisbane. But where was I going to put it? There were problems enough as it were establishing the Arts and Music Collections, but I knew if I asked for space, let alone archival material and time to house it there would be great and vehement opposition. I was also seeking material Australia wide, and could foresee this material would just grow exponentially. I thought the basement! And one can only imagine how totally inappropriate that was given the age of the building, close to the river etc. The basement it was!


I can remember surreptitiously and stealthily collecting boxes [not the archival type]and started sorting in dark damp conditions behind old broken shelves, desks etc. I think I had my spies as ‘Why does Cassie go down to the basement and for so long!’ I think my dear friends in the bindery protected me as I would make an excuse to visit them. With the planned move to South Bank I had to “fess” up as the architects were requesting our needs, spaces, etc. I was not a popular girl as you can imagine! But I was happy! And look what we have today.


We moved to the new building in 1988. The James Hardie Library of Australian Fine Arts was housed on level 3 in a beautifully designed space with cedar shelves, desks etc. Very befitting for my illustrious ephemera, formerly housed in the damp basement of William Street! The collection by this stage with this donation just more than doubled in size and was continuing to grow. We housed it by single artist, group exhibitions, gallery, art space, organization etc. A marvellous dedicated team of volunteers took on the huge responsibility of incorporating our collection into James Hardie’s extensive ephemera collection. Robert Holden, Librarian, James Hardie Library of Australian Fines Arts was instrumental in fastidiously collecting all aspects of art documentation, but the ephemera he had collected was nothing short of outstanding.


Sadly I left my ‘babies’ in 2005 as planning had begun for renovations of the library at Southbank. We were told the James Hardie Library of Australian Fine Arts and the Rare Book Collection was not going to be on open access and staff was not given permission to work in the area. That and other personal issues I unfortunately was going through was the last straw for me. I resigned. I felt my babies were now ’teenagers’ and sadly on their own. I was even more devastated when I learnt the ephemera collection which had begun in the early 1980s was to be on ‘Open Access’ and librarians not rostered on the desk! The Art Gallery of NSW Library so highly value their extensive ephemera collection it is under lock and key and weighed before given to researchers.

That’s my history and I enjoyed every second. I learnt so much.


Now I feel I should embrace my library knowledge and experience and explain although it really doesn’t need explaining the following. What are ephemera? Who creates ephemera? Why collect ephemera? Who collects ephemera? Maurice Rickards, doyen of ephemera, has been credited with his very succinct and inclusive definition of ephemera as ‘Minor transient documents of everyday life’. [4]. There has been much discussion on a clear definition of ephemera from the plural form of the Greek word ephemeron (epi = on, about, round; hemera = day), to ‘fragmentary documents of everyday life’ to Julie Ault’s concept that art ephemera ‘convey the visual strategies of the times when they were made’. [5]


The recent proliferation of art library literature on ephemera as a scholarly resource when looking at contemporary and innovative art practice highlights this growing need where art librarians, artists and curators work together to ensure art ephemera are collected, recorded, preserved and made easily accessible not only on library shelves but now digitally. Spectacular advancement.


Of particular importance is the impact of digital technology and the collaboration and sharing of resources. Libraries throughout the world are making their ephemera collections visible. Most notably these include The Women’s Art Library/Make Collection at Goldsmiths College Library,, The Political Art Documentation/Distribution [PAD/D] archive now housed at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, to The Jean Brown Collection, The Getty Library,, of ephemera on 20th avant-garde artists from the 1920s through to the Fluxus Movement and other contemporary art initiatives from the 1950s to the 1970s.


The ephemera societies throughout the world further promote the importance of the acquisition and availability of ephemera online. These include The Ephemera Society of America, , The Ephemera Society, London, and the Ephemera Society of Australia, These societies are very professional and have further links, scholarly resources, newsletters etc.


A collection of major importance is the Centre for Ephemera Studies, University of Reading, The Centre is based on the extraordinary collection of Maurice Rickards. His publication on collecting ephemera, its diversity and scholarly importance has seen fruition with the establishment of the Centre and the long awaited publishing of his The Encyclopedia of ephemera, London: The British Library, 2000. This remarkable publication won the Library Association’s Besterman/McColvin Medal for ‘an outstanding work of reference’ for 2000.

Artist Maria Filippow, Midnight Cabaret Brisbane, 1983 Photo: Kent Johnson

The importance of collecting, archiving, preserving and making accessible and visible art ephemera is of major importance, particularly viewing this material as scholarly primary source material. Art ephemera are integral to art scholarship and internet access now is essential. This calls for committed collaboration amongst art librarians, artists, performers, digital curators and so on if we are to best exploit this brilliant source of scholarly primary art material.


I would like to conclude with the following written by Jacqueline Cooke, an authority on collecting art ephemera:
These are ways in which particular, local, content present in ephemera can be catalogued in such a way that information about it can be re-used and widely retrieved, as a mass of fragmentary information is joined together to represent ephemera visually and textually. Such projects can be understood as making, as well as documenting, histories that would otherwise disappear. [7]


February 2016

Cassie Doyle has worked in Arts Librarianship for over thirty years at the State Library of Queensland and the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland. She curated the online exhibition Daphne Mayo: A significant woman of her time for Fryer and More than gloss: Australian limited edition and deluxe art books for the State Library. She writes a blog for Fryer Library []



1. Sarah Gibson, ‘Past as prologue: the evolution of Art librarianship, Drexel library Quarterly, V. 19, no. 3, Summer, 1983, pp 3-17.
2. William Dane, ‘Organisational patterns in Public Libraries’, Library Trends, V. 23, no. 3, January, 1975, pp 329-348.
3. The Standards for Art Libraries and Fine Art Collections, The Art Libraries Society of North America, Occasional Papers, No. 2, 1983.
4. Nik Pollard, ‘Artychoke: Acquisitions and ephemera’ Art Libraries Journal, winter, 1977. P.4.
5. Maurice Rickards, Collecting printed ephemera. Oxford:Phaidon/Christie’s, 1988,p.7.
6. Julie Ault, ‘For the record’, in Alternative art New York: 1965-1985.Edited by Julie Ault, pp 1-16. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
7. Jacqueline Cooke, ‘Calling in the dark: Identifying our ephemera files’, Art Libraries Journal, V. 31, no. 4, 2006. Pp33-41




Trace of the Past

A panel discussion about ephemera – exhibition invitations, leaflets, posters and other transient documents – and why the ephemeral trace provides a special insight into the past. Led by Fryer Library’s Simon Farley, speakers include curator of ‘ephemeral traces: Brisbane’s artist-run scene in the 1980s’ Peter Anderson, artist and collector Malcolm Enright, Fryer Library Librarian Cassie Doyle, and curator of ‘Barjai and Miya Studio’ Michele Helmrich.

An International Museum Day event presented by UQ Art Museum in partnership with Fryer Library and Art Monthly Australasia.
Recorded 18 May 2016, UQ Art Museum.