Libraries and archives hold vast amounts of cultural heritage material of deep significance to Indigenous communities. Yet there are often barriers to identifying and accessing dispersed collections in Australia and overseas, and the institutions themselves can be difficult to navigate.
The past two decades have seen major developments in recognising the importance of collections for and about Indigenous Australian people. Steps have been made to ensure that documents, artworks and photographs are managed according to cultural protocols. Libraries and archives are also working harder to deliver services tailored to the needs of local communities.
The State Library has a long history of providing services to Indigenous communities, and has raised the national profile of its important and unique collections. The Library has catalogued and digitised Indigenous heritage material, staged events and exhibitions such as Mari Nawi (2010) and Carved Trees (2011), taken part in key policy groups and employed Indigenous staff.
The Library is delighted to announce the establishment of its new Indigenous Unit. As well as improving access, and developing services, the unit will work with communities to expand our collections relating to Indigenous Australian people today. It will ensure that Indigenous perspectives are included in the Library’s vision to be a centre of digital excellence.
The landmark Rediscovering Indigenous Languages project, launched by the Library in 2011, has highlighted the significance of library and archive collections for revitalising Indigenous language and culture. Funded by Rio Tinto, the project aims to identify and preserve the vital surviving records of Indigenous vocabularies and word lists. When the findings are released later this year, the Library will consult with communities about making word lists available online and linking them to education programs.
The Library looks forward to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to improve services and access to collections.
This article was first published by the State Library of NSW in SL magazine (Spring 2013).