Retirement of Joye Volker, Chief Librarian at National Gallery of Australia

Joye Volker, the Chief Librarian of the Research Library at the National Gallery of Australia retired in November 2016. Joye was in the role for eleven years, leading Australia’s foremost art library and artist archives collection.

Joye sent a farewell message to the members of Arlis/ANZ (the Australian arm of the Arts Libraries Society, to which she has made an immeasurable contribution):

“It has been my pleasure and privilege to work with so many of you. You are indeed inspiring colleagues. I have had such an adventure with you and my staff over the years, many who attended the champagne celebration at the Gallery.

I wish you many blessings and personal achievements in the future. I have faith that Art Libraries and Artist Archives will continue to thrive.”

Joye Volker and Gerard Vaughan (former Chief Librarian and current Director)
Joye Volker and Director, Gerard Vaughan

Joye Volker was farewelled by the Gallery on 21 November with a champagne celebration in the staff lounge, in front of a replica Blue Poles (copies of works of art were created by staff prior to the opening of the Gallery, to assist with planning and placement).

We are sharing the farewell speech from the event below:

My name is Aileen Weir, a good friend and former colleague of Joye, and it is my pleasure to say a few words this evening. As you know, Joye has been Chief Librarian here at the National Gallery since June 2005. She has loved being in this role and often refers to it as her ideal job. From my point of view, this role was the perfect culmination of a long and distinguished career. Joye is the embodiment of the position of Chief Librarian. She has a passion for art and librarianship and extensive managerial and strategic experience. When she joined the Gallery, she brought her well-established international connections to the role. She also brought a great sense of style and fun. I’m sure there is no one in the room who has not attended one of Joye’s celebratory events, always elegant, and, as tonight, accompanied by champagne.

Given Joye’s passion for fine art, I’m sure there will be some in the room surprised to learn that her first qualification was an honours degree in pure mathematics and physics, a testament to her intellect. Joye obtained this degree in her native Canada after which, luckily for us, she decided to follow her mother’s advice and pursue a graduate degree in Library Science at the University of British Columbia. Joye’s professional career as a librarian began at the University of Calgary Library where, of course given her background, they quickly appointed her Science Librarian. Her colleagues at the University of Calgary soon recognised her potential and invited her to start a library for the new graduate program in the interdisciplinary study of environmental design. But, as one does when one is young and looking for adventure, Joye decided she was working too hard, resigned, hitch hiked across Canada and took a Polish ship to Copenhagen where she explored Europe for six months reconnecting with her Norwegian heritage and meeting many relatives. When she arrived in Copenhagen, she found a letter waiting for her saying she had achieved a National Research Council scholarship to complete a Masters in Librarianship at the University of British Columbia. So, this drew her back to Canada where she completed a thesis entitled “Environmental Design: An analysis of the field, its implications for libraries and a guide to the literature” A copy of her thesis resides in the University of Canberra Library so is still accessible right herein Canberra.

More adventure beckoned and Joye left Canada again, this time to move to Australia and become Senior Librarian at the ANU. Her interest in artistic design, piqued in Canada, developed at the ANU where she helped build the art history collection with Sasha Grishin for the new Department of Fine Arts. It was in this role as Senior Librarian where Joye’s strengths as a manager began to emerge. As a single parent of twin boys, Joye was a strong advocate for work/life balance, not as easily obtained at that time.

Joye and friends
Margaret Cazabon, Marilyn Stretton, Joye Volker, Robyn McKay, Catherine Bohm amd Mary Anne Neilsen.

She introduced job sharing to enable other young mums to juggle their family and professional lives. Many of these librarians became life long friends and went on to significant positions at the Parliamentary Library, ANU and elsewhere. Some, now retired, volunteer at the NGA as Guides convinced by Joye’s frequent raves about how fabulous it was to work here.

In 1986, Joye achieved the position as Librarian at the Canberra School of Art at the ANU, a position she held and loved for 17 years. Joye blossomed in this creative atmosphere, admiring the talented students and it was at the School of Art that Joye’s strengths and reputation as a leading art librarian really took hold. She embraced the role, frequently publishing papers and presenting internationally. One of her first presentations was in Stockholm for the International Federation of Library Associations Art Library Section. Given the lucky timeslot of 5pm on a Friday afternoon, Joye knew she had to be entertaining and her presentation entitled “Kangaroo Kitsch: the iconography of design in Australia” captured her audience with its striking visual imagery. Joye soon established herself internationally, becoming the Australian representative on the Standing Committee of the Art Library Section of International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Joye continued to represent the region in the coming years, giving presentations at IFLA conferences held in Bangkok and Quebec.

Other international presentations include the work she co-authored with ANU art history Professor Greenhalgh called “Australia, Images and the Internet” presented in San Antonio, Texas and “The Image Down Under: Collaborative ventures in the visual arts, music and architecture in Australia and New Zealand” presented in New York.

Joye was always on the forefront of the digital age, contributing to the international development of the Dublin Core standards and creation of metadata applied to web publications. She was active in the field of copyright of images and received numerous study grants over the years including from the Getty Museum, a Paris bookshop, ANU, Visual Resources Association and the Research Libraries Group based in the US. Joye was also active in professional life domestically, becoming President of the Arts Libraries Society, ANZ, as well as Chair of the ACT Branch of the Australian Library and Information Association, our profession’s peak body.

Joye’s leadership also left a lasting legacy at the ANU. In 1987 the Schools of Music and Art were brought together to become the National Institute of the Arts and Joye became the Institute Librarian. Joye was responsible for establishing the first Infolab on campus at the Art Library, officially opened by the Vice Chancellor and bringing state of the art equipment to her.

Working with Robyn Holmes at the School of Music, Joye contributed to the National Networked Facility for Research into Australian Music (NFRAM) in 1999. This project was a partnership with three other universities, the NLA, NFSA and the Australian Music Centre and attracted the largest ARC research infrastructure grant awarded in the arts to that date. Ultimately this led to the development of Music Australia at the NLA, still accessible through Trove.

After joining the NGA, Joye continued her international and national leadership in the field of art librarianship. The Gallery library has become the finest art research library in the country, with a collection valued at 37 million dollars, half of which is unique material. The fully catalogued Archives and Artist Files have been thriving and are now discoverable by researchers around the world through the OCLC Art Library Discovery Catalogue operated out of the USA.

Like every good library, the collection and space has enabled new creative output.

Betty Churcher wrote much of her book Australian Notebooks in the Library and Sasha Grishin spent every Friday for a year there researching his important book Australian Art: a History. In his Introduction he writes;

“The National Gallery of Australia Research Library has been an invaluable resource, and Joye Volker and her staff provided me with access and support that one can only dream of. It would not have been possible to complete this book without their assistance.”

And many NGA exhibition catalogues would not have been so excellent without the Research Library.

Of course, Joye has many interests outside of work as well. Earlier I briefly mentioned her twin boys, Aaron and Sam. Since their arrival in the world in 1981, Joye’s boys have been the core and centre of her life. Both are now very successful in their own right. Sam is a Senior Accountant in Melbourne and Aaron is working in law and accounting in Zurich Switzerland. I understand she is flying to Switzerland in December to visit Aaron and his fiancée Natascha to once again experience a North American winter and explore the Christmas Night Markets in Germany and France.

Joye and Chris
Joye and Chris

Joye closely identified with the Norwegian practice of ‘hygge’ (hoogah) – which means embracing the coziness of winter and enjoying the outdoors of summer. Joye has always been active, competing internationally in the sport of orienteering in far away places such as the highlands of Scotland and Tasmania. 15 years ago she took up golf at the Royal Canberra, playing with the Business Ladies on Sundays. This sport, however, has brought something much more important to her life. It was through golf that Joye met her lovely partner Chris, a champion golfer himself, enjoying a shared pastime that has brought them both many trophies. They are now winning trophies in another field as well as Chris and Joye are part owners of a racehorse, named Akiko Gold. As you might expect, Akiko Gold is an elegant, dainty little filly, who has already won three races and placed in others.

Joye’s generosity and thoughtfulness are renowned. She throws terrific parties, is a fabulous hostess and a great cook. She inherited this from her mother who, as a preacher’s wife, entertained anyone who didn’t have a special place to go following the Sunday morning sermons. Joye is a PK as they say in Canada – a Preacher’s kid – and the values and generous spirit she gained from this religious upbringing permeate everything today.

Joye has received many heartfelt messages in the lead up to her retirement, and I’d like to read one from one of her closest friends. Janine Schmidt is the former Director of Libraries at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and former chief librarian at the University of Queensland. Janine says:

“Congratulations on your brilliant career. You have made outstanding contributions to libraries in Canberra, to the professional association ALIA, and to art libraries throughout the world particularly through your work with IFLA. You have been a guide and mentor to many and a truly exceptional professional colleague. Your personal warmth, charm, intellectual capacity, thoughtfulness, passion and style have enriched occasions and events and won you friends everywhere. For all who have worked with you, let alone passed by, you will remain long in their memories. Best wishes for the next steps on life’s journey. Felicitions et bon voyage.” – Janine.

Joye adds to all of our lives. Her favourite colour is red which, according to one of the pop psychology sites, defines her as extroverted and optimistic, courageous and confident, action oriented and physically active. You are stimulating to be with and you radiate a great deal of energy. You are achievement-oriented and gain the respect of others easily with your practical and grounded attitude and ability to set boundaries. Lovers of red are the explorers and pioneers of the world and have a passion and enthusiasm for life.

Says it all really. Please join me by raising a glass to acknowledge Joye’s world-class career, her significant accomplishments, her fantastic sense of elegant style and her warmth and generosity as a human being. To Joye.

Volunteering with Canberra Contemporary Art Space: interview with Sharon Gallagher

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many magnificent volunteers, places and stories to restrict them to just one month!

These stories will highlight the abundance of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our fourteenth interviewee is artist, Shags (aka Sharon Gallagher), who volunteers with CCAS (Canberra Contemporary Art Space).

Canberra Contemporary Art Space is a space in which contemporary artists can develop daring new work. There are three CCAS gallery spaces in Canberra which host exhibitions by local, national and international artists. CCAS offers opportunities for networking and collaboration, while introducing audiences to exciting new ideas and media.

Shags, CCAS volunteer
Shags, CCAS volunteer

Tell us about you and your CCAS volunteer role…

As part of my mid-life crisis (or is that ‘peak in the all-life crisis’?) I decided to enrol in Printmedia and Drawing at the ANU School of Art. As part of a Professional Practices unit, we had to undertake either a residency in a high-school or do an internship somewhere of our choosing. Not being confident that I could wrangle a grunt of teenagers; and because the CCAS staff laughed at my dumb jokes when I first met them, I figured I may as well be among people who didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Fortunately, they took me in.

After my required time was up, I asked if I could stay on as a volunteer. Well, I must have dazzled them with my wit*, because they said yes.

*I can’t back this up.

What are the benefits of volunteering with CCAS? 

The international glory?

Seriously though, there are a number of benefits:

1. As I attempt to transition into an arts career, this real world experience will no doubt be invaluable. I’ve learnt all manner of skills. For example, how to hang lights (and stay on a ladder); that the bubble-side of bubble wrap goes on the outside of artwork; if you sit the gallery, the public expects you to be the local arts expert; what artists do as other jobs; what else an arts organisation does to stay relevant and engaged with the community; how much time and effort goes into organising an exhibition. This list goes on.

2. As a practicing artist, I understand what I can do to make life easier for a gallery; what’s important in an exhibition proposal (good documentation!); I get to practice talking about art; I feel more included in the arts community. This list goes on too. I’ve really learnt a lot just by having my ears in the room.

3. The quiet pride in knowing you’re helping an organisation, that you inherently care about, to succeed.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

I just really like hanging out with the people who work there; they’re delightful, hardworking, multi-skilled, driven, charming nutters.

A close second is de-installing and packing up exhibitions, prepping the walls and installing the next show.

Was there anything that surprised you when you first started at CCAS?

The volume of work they get through with good humour.

Last year CCAS had 32 exhibitions at the Gormon Arts Centre (GAC) and Manuka. Now that the City space opened earlier this year, CCAS will have 41 shows in it’s 2016 exhibition program (pause to think about that. That’s A LOT!). This of course means: drafting contracts, liaison with artists/galleries/couriers, de-install/install, catalogue essay writing and design, marketing, organising and attending openings, doing their social pages wrap-ups, to name a few things.

On top of this, they also (take a breath here) write funding proposals, do budgeting, report back to their funding bodies, manage the members base, member emails, social media, organise resident recipients, host events and school groups, give advice on proposals, do archiving, keep statistics, attend other organisations’ openings, they’ve just set up corporate partnership … there are only three full time staff!

To help with all of this and more, they have a bookkeeper, an installation guru and two volunteers.

Do you have a favourite exhibition that’s been held at CCAS?

Oh my. There have been so many great exhibitions held in all their spaces. However, my favourite by far was Monster at the GAC in 2013 by the mind-blowing printmaker and pioneer, Erica Seccombe.

How do people express interest to volunteer with CCAS?

Firstly, ask yourself some questions: Do I actually like contemporary art? What am I hoping to learn? Why this particular arts organisation and not another? Am I certain that I can turn up when I say I will? Do I understand it’s not all about wine and cheese cubes at openings? (i.e. I’m ok with scanning old catalogues or filling in statistical spreadsheets).

Once you’ve done that, head over to their website for information about duties, benefits, requirements and who to contact.

Volunteering at a Gallery: interview with Christina Clarke

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many to restrict them to just one month! These stories will highlight the copious volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer.

Our tenth interviewee is Christina Clarke, who volunteers for the National Gallery of Australia.

Christina, Gallery volunteer
Christina, Gallery volunteer

Tell us about you and your Gallery volunteer role…

I’ve been working at the National Gallery of Australia’s (NGA) Research Library with documentation and archives for five and a half years but I’m actually an archaeometallurgist – an archaeologist who specialises in metalwork.  I finished my PhD on prehistoric Greek metalwork in 2012 and it’s been a struggle to find work in my field.  I wanted to do some volunteer work to expand my skillbase and I asked a colleague at the Gallery if she knew of anything coming up.  It was just pure coincidence that we had recently acquired a massive collection of early Australian silver from collector John Houstone and someone was needed to work on the records in the Gallery’s collection management system (CMS).  It’s a data entry role, but every item in the collection must be measured and examined for makers’ marks, and the manufacturing techniques and materials described.  This means that I handle every item, and there are hundreds of them, perhaps a thousand.

Having a library background means that I have a good grasp on data entry standards, but I have the expertise necessary for analysing metal antiquities, so it’s pretty much the perfect volunteer role for me.  Metalwork is my passion, and I’m just so happy to be able to be able to work with it every week!  Especially with a collection like this one which contains the work of some of the earliest silversmiths in Australia, so it has a lot of historical significance.  People joke with me that I must be sick of teaspoons (there are hundreds of them in this collection), but I secretly enjoy every single one!

Another great thing about this role is that I get to work with people and in parts of the Gallery that I’ve never had anything to do with before.  I liaise with art handlers, conservators and the Curator for Decorative Art and Design, as well as the team who manage the Gallery’s CMS, KE EMu.  I’ve gained some great new skills and have learned so much.

What are the benefits of volunteering for the Gallery? What kind of projects and activities do you anticipate in the future?

The Gallery is just a great place to work and volunteer.  It’s lovely to be part of a national cultural institution where, no matter what job you’re doing, you’re contributing to Australia’s cultural history.  It also has a fairly small workforce, so you get to know most people’s faces, even if you never work with them.  Another great benefit, of course, is all the wonderful art.  Working in the office you tend to forget that there’s an amazing collection of art just a couple of doorways away, so I love to wander through the exhibition spaces now and then to remind myself of what all the hard work is for!

For the future, well I will probably still be examining and cataloguing this silver collection until the end of the year, and after that there will still be some work to do tidying up the records.  I’ve also been developing some research projects based on the collection which will lead to some scientific papers for publication.  My academic interest has always been in prehistoric European and Middle Eastern metalwork, but as you can imagine there aren’t many avenues for that research in Australia!  I think that there’s a lot of scope for research into Australian colonial silver.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

Working directly with items in the NGA’s collection is definitely a highlight.  I’m particularly happy to be working with metal objects but, frankly, I’d be happy working with anything in the collection!  It’s also great volunteering in the organisation you work in because you learn about other aspects of the place, which makes your own job more meaningful because you see your work in a greater context.

Do you have a favourite collection item? Or have you learnt interesting things from doing data entry in the CM?

I don’t know if I could single out one item from the hundreds I’ve dealt with so far!  A couple of fun things with engraved inscriptions come to mind.  The Ryan Tea Service was presented to Captain Valentine Ryan by the passengers of a ship he captained between Portsmouth and New South Wales in 1836 “in acknowledgement of his unremitting attention and kindness during the voyage”.  He must have been a very kind chap to earn a gilded silver tea service!

Another wonderful item is a silver medal awarded to one Mr Moses Moses by the inhabitants of Yass in 1842 for trying to capture the bushranger Massay “in which he only failed by not being supported by the Constable present upon whose assistance he naturally calculated”.  These funny little stories really bring life to the objects.  Some of the items were owned and used by significant historical figures, and it’s humbling to work with them.

Could you share some tips for people wanting to do similar volunteer work? 

I really lucked out with this opportunity because it just happens to require a combination of skills and expertise which I happen to have.  Others would find it tedious, but I look forward to it every week.  If you’re a younger person who’s looking for volunteering opportunities to increase your skillbase, I’d say think about what direction you want your life or career to take and ask around about opportunities in areas which will carry you in that direction.  It’s also a matter of being able to contribute something, of course, so make sure you have some relevant skills to bring to the table!  Some of the best mature age volunteers I know have professional experience in their area, and they really are invaluable.

How do people become a volunteer at the National Gallery of Australia?

To find out about volunteer project work opportunities (which can be really varied) with the Gallery, please phone the Volunteers/Guides Coordinator on 02 6240 6588.

Many of the volunteers at the Gallery are Voluntary Guides, and provide daily public guided tours of the exhibitions. They undertake a year-long education program in art history and, upon graduation, commit to guiding once a week for at least three years. You can find out more about applying to be a Voluntary Guide on the Gallery’s website.

Volunteering at an Art Museum Library: interview with J. Margaret Shaw

The Canberra Library Tribe is delighted to be participating in #blogjune 2015. You can find out more about #blogjune in flexnib’s 2014 post.

We are kicking off with a short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). These stories will highlight the abundance of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our first interviewee is J. Margaret Shaw, who volunteers for the National Portrait Gallery of Australia’s Research Library.

J. Margaret Shaw, Voluntary Librarian at NPGA
J. Margaret Shaw, Voluntary Librarian

Tell us about you and your National Portrait Gallery of Australia (NPGA) volunteer role…

After 26 years as Chief Librarian at the National Gallery of Australia I went to London for 9 months, where I worked as a voluntary cataloguer, and then returned to Canberra.  I had no desire to sit doing nothing while my brain cells disintegrated and decided to work somewhere on a voluntary basis, preferably where I could use my professional skills.  The National Portrait Gallery of Australia did not then have a Library so I approached the Director, Andrew Sayers, and asked if they would be interested in using my services on a voluntary basis to create a library.  The NPGA staff is still small and certainly “boxes above its weight” but a professionally staffed library is for the time being beyond its means.  I started work in November 2005 doing basically everything from picking the books off the floor to cataloguing and reference.  In 2008 Libby Coates joined me bringing experience and skills from AIATSIS and the National Museum of Australia which both blended with my skills and matched the needs of the NPGA.  Later that year we moved into our new building which included a small but pleasant space allocated to the Research Library.   Recently (2015), we were joined by Gillian Currie after her retirement from the NGA.  Between the three of us we do everything.

The Research Library has now grown to over 5,000 print items together with files on the artists and sitters represented, or likely to be represented.  We have very limited funds so on-line resources must be limited but Libby’s skills in searching remote resources have helped to fill the gap.  We receive a large percentage of our collection from gift and exchange and some significant donated collections.

What are the benefits of volunteering in the Research Library?

My brain still appears to be working more than 10 years after retirement (which occurred when I was 61).

I still have the good fortune to be working in a field which I love and with people who make me feel both welcome and valued.

The working environment means I can continue to learn, almost by osmosis, about new areas of both art and history.

At the same time, the small scale of the library and the sharing of the work with very experienced colleagues mean that the stress levels are so low as to be considered non-existent.

In 2009 the NPGA was described as having a “gem of a library”, having been transformed from a “chamber of horrors!”. How have the library’s services and space continued to evolve along with the NPGA?

Technical services

After previously being dependent on the library systems of our various parent departments (to whom we owe a debt of gratitude) we have now joined UNILINC.  This eliminates the need to transfer to a new system with each machinery of government (MOG) departmental change and on one occasion saved us from being without a system when we moved to a department without a library.

UNILINC provides a strong professional back-up and has stream-lined our cataloguing/OPAC/Libraries Australia functions and our entry into the Worldcat Art Discovery Group (a sub-set of Worldcat).


With three experienced librarians we now have a much improved capacity to assist with research and carry out necessary technical services.

The Library has also now reached a size at which NPGA staff expect us to be able to help.

We have also an increased presence on the NPGA’s website which is producing a small but steady flow of queries from Australia and overseas.


We are still in the same small space but have been allocated 9 bays of shelving for archival etc. materials in the basement store (shared with the publications and facilities departments)

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role? Do you have a favourite exhibition or portrait in the collection?

Most enjoyable aspect?

Continued involvement in the activities of an art museum and my own professional role but on a scaled-down, stress free level.

Favourite exhibition and portrait?

Depends very much on my mood.

I find it hard to compare exhibitions which are all different in approach, subject and mood.

I also find it hard to disassociate a portrait from the story behind it so I like works of many different styles both for their artistic qualities and for the reasons behind their production.

How do people express interest to volunteer with the National Portrait Gallery?

NPGA Research Library

We have deliberately stuck to people with appropriate skills who require basically no training but can, rather, slot into the work-flow almost without a ripple. We are currently at full capacity.

NPGA in general

So far the NPGA does not really have a volunteer programme outside the Research Library but they are looking at the possibilities. The senior curator informs me that a volunteer policy is in development, for possible roles with a particular focus. Anyone interested could sign up to the NPGA’s newsletter for future opportunities via the NPGA’s website.

I should like to add that there are many organisations in Canberra who have small library collections, or would like to have a small library, but who neither have the money nor an identified appropriate person to take on this role.  It is a good way to combine professional skills with out-side interests.  It also means that, should they eventually be able to afford to pay staff, the  person/s appointed will take over a collection in good order.