(10 Jun 2022) When Nathan Sentance first visited Australia’s oldest library, a grand sandstone structure next to Parliament House in Sydney, he loved it. But he felt out of place.
“You have to go past the security guard,” the indigenous librarian said. “The first thing you see when you enter some of these spaces is portraits of colonial figures. I found all that a bit intimidating. I remember getting a job interview there, and nearly not going in.”
An establishment feel is not the only factor that alienates indigenous people from libraries. Some texts and artefacts seem astonishingly antiquated and offensive in their portrayal of Aboriginal Australians. Some have been displayed without the traditional owners’ informed consent. Others have been hidden away on the mistaken assumption that exhibiting them would be an act of cultural appropriation.
Now, Australia’s oldest university library has introduced what it describes as the first indigenous cultural protocols of their type, to tackle these complex problems in an academic setting.
The new conventions address issues such as access to cultural information, acknowledgment of cultural custodianship and interpretation of “inaccurate and outdated” material. They restrict access to “secret or sensitive” materials and prohibit the library acquiring new works about indigenous Australia by non-indigenous authors, unless the communities involved have provided informed consent.
The library will also challenge “misrepresentations” in its collection by providing historical contextual information about material created by non-indigenous academics without Aboriginal input.
Find out more from the report here.