ATSILIRN Protocol 5: Description and classification

Protocol 5 is about how collection content by and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is described and classified in our catalogues and library management systems. It recognises that the indexing terminology, subject headings and classification systems that have been in use for a long time contain outdated, inaccurate and value-laden terms, and that these can obstruct access to collections.

Access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-related collection materials can be significantly improved by identifying items by their geographic, language and cultural identifiers – that is, the words that individual clans or language groups use to describe themselves or their culture.

There are resources that can help us find these descriptors, such as AIATSIS’s Pathways Thesaurus, which provides culturally appropriate subject headings that describe material relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and issues more accurately. For instance, an image depicting a ceremony can specify whether it is performed for a specific occasion (such as initiation or marriage), for a specific purpose (such as rain making), or by men or women.

In 2018, AUSTLANG Australian Indigenous language codes were added to the Library of Congress’s MARC Language Codes list. Where previously materials in Indigenous languages were catalogued under a catch-all ‘Australian languages’ descriptor in catalogue metadata, AUSTLANG codes identify the specific language/s used, making materials easier to discover, for researchers and family historians alike.

By improving the metadata in our catalogues when we create new records and update old records, we can make them more accessible and more accurate.

Protocol 5 also recommends that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are consulted in relation to catalogue description and classification of collection materials, and that there should be opportunities for them to annotate and describe material that relates to themselves and their communities.

In this section, we'll look at a case study about a bespoke classification system for collections in remote Aboriginal community libraries developed by the Northern Territory Library using a participatory approach with the communities involved.

In the video below, Allison Lubransky-Moy talks about the effects of using or maintaining outdated, inaccurate or value-laden terms, and some of the ways we can address this in our description and classification practices.