Culturally Safe Libraries

The Culturally Safe Libraries Program is running in all NSLA member libraries between 2019 and 2021. The program will:

  1. Provide accredited online core cultural learning, local perspectives, and role-specific training
  2. Ensure that the voices and views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and organisations are considered and incorporated in the design, delivery and evaluation of Library programs, services and facilities.
  3. Embed the ATSILIRN protocols to make culturally informed approaches to collection management, description, access and use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection materials endorsed practice for NSLA.


While the program has achieved its aims of setting NSLA libraries on a consistent path towards becoming culturally safe spaces for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors, researchers and staff, we know that this is just the beginning of the work that needs to be done. As part of recent ALIA’s In-Depth series, members of the CSLP Steering Group and Patrick Gregory, Senior Director or Library and Archives NT, spoke with NSLA’s EO, Barbara Lemon, about the journey so far and the challenges ahead.

Core cultural competency

As of March 2021, over 1700 staff in NSLA libraries were undertaking or had completed Core Cultural Learning, an online course developed by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). By November 2021, staff at all employment levels, areas of responsibility and activity, are expected to have completed the course.

Working with Indigenous collections

The Working with Indigenous collections workshops for information services and collection management staff planned to take place in each NSLA library in 2020 have been rescheduled for May-November 2021. These workshops focus on embedding the ATSILIRN Protocols in our collections policies, procedures and services.

We have made the suite of resources created for the workshops freely available online under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY) to encourage the Australian library and archives sector to adopt culturally safe collections practices.

Ongoing accountability

From 2020-21, all NSLA libraries will complete an annual audit to track and transparently report progress in cultural capability (the structures and policies essential for building cultural competency).

Why are we doing this project?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the traditional owners and custodians of Australia. Dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from country, the dispersal and relocation of communities, the erosion of traditional customs and languages, and the removal of children from families, have resulted in the disconnection of generations of families from traditional homelands, languages and culture.

The information held in NSLA libraries is a powerful resource for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples wishing to reconnect with family and community and to strengthen personal and cultural identities. Due to the sensitivity and significance of collection materials held in NSLA Libraries, there is a responsibility to ensure there are policies in place that deliver culturally respectful services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This will be part of a national effort to provide culturally safe public spaces and services in libraries for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and a supportive workplace for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff where they are able to confidently draw strength in their identity, culture and community.

What is cultural safety?

Providing an onsite and online environment that is emotionally safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and clients; where people feel supported, can express themselves and their culture, history and identity with dignity and pride. An environment which fosters shared respect, meaning, knowledge and an opportunity to learn together without judgement.

What is Indigenous cultural competency?

The ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There are three core competencies:

  • Knowing: Gaining knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, customs, histories, and place-based circumstances. Understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ current and past interactions with government.
  • Doing: Taking action in a culturally sensitive way.
  • Being: Demonstrating authentic respect for culture in all interactions. Being aware of personal values and biases and their impact. Having integrity and cultural sensitivity in decision-making.

Related resources

NSLA Indigenous cultural competency principles

Position statement: Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP)

Working with Indigenous collections workshop materials