ATSILIRN Protocol 2: Content and perspectives

The second ATSILIRN protocol is about ensuring that the collection materials we hold by and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are comprehensive, inclusive and reflect all perspectives. It’s about building collections that tell the whole story.

Much of the material in our collections relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was produced from a non-Indigenous perspective, for example: colonists’ diaries and letters, anthropologists’ field notes, historians’ interview and research notes, and social commentaries. As a result, in general, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities’ perceptions of collecting institutions are not positive. Institutions such as libraries and museums are historically viewed as places where items were ‘taken’ without permission, and remain hidden from their traditional owners. Many records and manuscripts held in institutions are viewed as ‘sorry business’, meaning they are distressing and sensitive. Examples of sorry business in our collections include accounts of massacres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, government removal registers and materials relating to the Stolen Generations.

Protocol two stresses the need for a balance of perspectives, to ensure that the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities are equally represented. For some libraries, achieving this balance will involve a focus on acquiring material by as well as about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Along with considering the content of our collections, libraries need to engage in continuing, appropriate consultation with relevant communities to develop and manage our collections. As we learned in the AIATSIS Core training, engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is about building productive relationships, and respecting the knowledge and experience they bring to the table.

Raising awareness of different perspectives also involves promoting the existence and availability of collections, and of any conditions governing their access. In some libraries this may be achieved by providing a specific space, such as kuril dhagun at the State Library of Queensland, while others may use particular descriptors in catalogue records, or place stickers on books which illustrate Indigenous experiences or views. We’ll learn more about description and classification of records, and about secret, sacred or sensitive materials and cultural permissions in Protocols 5 and 6.

In the video below, Marika Duczynski talks more about what libraries can do to ensure their collections cover a range of perspectives and to increase the visibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander materials.