ATSILIRN Protocol 4: Accessibility and use

Protocol 4 is about ensuring that our libraries are approachable and welcoming to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Although most library spaces feel far less institutional and imposing than they once did they can still be intimidating, particularly for people who may have little or no experience using them. Attention to library design, presentation and staffing can make a big difference to people’s experience.

Having an acknowledgment at the entrance of the traditional owners of the land the library sits on, a welcome message in the local language (especially if there are equivalents translated into other languages) and displaying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in some form are all visual cues that a space is welcoming to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Likewise, it’s reassuring for people to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff within the space, particularly at service points like reference desks.

Once people feel welcome to enter the library space, it is vital that the staff they encounter are approachable and sensitive to the anxieties they may have. This includes being aware that our collections hold information that may be sensitive, offensive and traumatic to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

For inexperienced library users, approachable and friendly staff make it easier to seek assistance using library systems without feeling intimidated or inferior. As well, focused finding aids can help users find materials of interest without having to know how to search the catalogue, and visual markers such as Aboriginal flag labels on the spines of books can be useful in smaller collections.

As with the other Protocols, engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and individuals is the very best way to ensure that your library’s resources, services and environment meet their needs, and to promote the services you offer. The most effective way to do this is to employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison officers.

In this section we’ll look at case studies about how public libraries are successfully using the State Library of New South Wales Indigenous Spaces in Library Places toolkit, and about how kuril dhagun, the State Library of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community participation and meeting space, engages with communities to create exhibitions.

In the video below, Nathan Williams explains some of the things we can do to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples feel more culturally safe, whatever the reason they are visiting our library.