The ABC is consolidating its sound libraries in a move that will see physical libraries dismantled and library staff made redundant, The Guardian reported this morning.

As part of ongoing changes at the ABC, Sound & Reference Libraries around the country will be dismantled in favour of a centralised library in Melbourne. In an announcement to staff dated January 16, obtained by Limelight, the ABC said collections will be “culled to remove duplicates and CD’s [sic] no longer required, (approximately 50% of current holdings), with only a single copy held in Melbourne. Changes to the CD collections will be the initial focus as this is the area of key impact and demand.” The Sound Libraries serve music stations including Classic FM and Triple J, as well as providing music for documentaries and other programs across the ABC.

A portion of the collection will be digitised for distribution through the Broadcast Music Bank, which allows content makers to access music digitally without having to physically source CDs from the libraries. It is unclear how much of the collection will be digitised, with sources reportedly telling The Guardian they believe only between 5% and 10% of the collection will be digitised and that only 700 of more than 100,000 CDs have been digitised so far. The changes will also see ten specialist library staff made redundant.

“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,” a spokesperson for the ABC told The Guardian. “With the closure of the other physical libraries, the roles there would not be required.”

“The new digital Broadcast Music Bank service has only been operating since late 2017 and CDs have been digitised into it as requested by content makers,” the spokesperson said. “The reference library services are currently based in Sydney and Melbourne, and book loans have reduced dramatically. We are not planning to digitise the books. Under the proposed changes we would move to a digital delivery model using e-resources, such as journals, e-books and databases.”

According to the staff announcement, the changes will see six of the redundancies at the Sound & Reference Library in Sydney, two in Adelaide, and one each in Perth and Hobart, with one new 12-month position created in Melbourne to assist with the transition. A small classical music collection will remain in Sydney for Classic FM. “This is proposed to be an interim arrangement to enable further assessment of classical music requirements, availability of direct access to digital sources and programming requirements as part of reviewing this separate holding,” staff were told.

The changes will take place over the next few months. “It is proposed to implement the changes in a phased manner to allow holdings to be culled and packed and delivered to Melbourne in a controlled manner,” staff were told. “Given the size of the current world music collection in Perth, and that its use is now minimal, this part of the collection will be subject to further analysis, along with the vinyl holdings, to determine the future of these CD’s. Sydney will be the priority to free up floor space followed by the other States and Territories with the CD work completed by May 2018.”

ABC staff, through the Community and Public Sector Union, have raised a number of concerns about the changes, including questioning why library services are being abolished before digitisation is even half complete, as well as concerns about limited storage capacity in the Broadcast Music Bank and the decision-making regarding how much content will be digitised and how it will be selected.

In internal documents obtained by Limelight, detailing the CPSU’s general feedback and observations to the ABC, the union said: “Some people believe this was on the cards last year but the announcement was not made because Michelle Guthrie wants to maintain the mantra that the Content Restructure is not about job cuts. Another view is that this is about the new Director under pressure to find savings. In any case the merits of the proposed plan do not appear to be regarded as credible by any Library staff that the CPSU has spoken to (no doubt the ABC will have their own positive tales to tell here).”

“The ABC’s decision to sack specialist staff supporting journalists and program makers before the ABC has even bedded down the new content restructure is irresponsible,” the section secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Sinddy Ealy, told The Guardian. “Not only will it undermine the editorial quality of ABC content audiences rely on, but it is likely cost the ABC and taxpayers more money than it saves.”

As far as ABC Classic FM goes, Content Manager Richard Buckham told Limelight he didn’t foresee any negative effect in the station’s day-to-day operations by moving to a centralised digitised system. “The physical classical music collection will move to Sydney where our team of music programmers work, giving them close proximity to the library,” he said. “Digitising the collection will also mean that ABC Classic FM staff around Australia will have instant access.”

“The ABC is not disposing of any program archives, concert recordings, or recordings of which there’s only one copy. It is only disposing of CDs where duplicate copies are held. It’s not a matter of prioritising one piece of content over another,” he said. “The ABC will continue to obtain new music and add it to its catalogue.”