NSLA Indigenous Cultural Capability Audit

As a means of maintaining momentum after the formal Culturally Safe Libraries Program, NSLA members in Australia agreed to run an Indigenous cultural capability audit for five years from 2021. The intention of the audit is to hold one another to account in making necessary improvements to policies and practices involving First Nations staff, visitors and collections. The audit is also designed to help fulfil NSLA’s obligation to the broader library sector – as sector leaders and according to commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals – to transparently demonstrate and promote cultural capability. The audit has been designed to reflect the ATSILIRN Protocols.

2021 report: summary of findings

Results from this inaugural audit reveal a number of clear strengths and weaknesses in NSLA libraries. Extracts and examples from text responses are included with full statistics below, providing useful case studies of both successful and ineffective practices, and painting a nuanced picture of the status quo.


  • Provision of cultural competency training, with all libraries offering training to all staff and categorising it as mandatory.
  • Connecting First Nations staff for peer support, with a majority of libraries supporting First Nations networks of some kind.
  • Consulting First Nations staff before releasing communications relating to First Nations communities and collections (but less successful in ensuring that this workload is fair and manageable – many libraries are working with an un-scalable model of seeking approval for a very wide range of content from a very small number of First Nations staff).
  • Display of First Nations artworks in library buildings (with more than half also displaying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags).
  • Participation in significant cultural events, with all libraries participating in major events or campaigns such as NAIDOC Week.
  • Increasing recognition of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) and practical approaches to recognising and respecting this.
  • Use of AIATSIS thesauri for Indigenous languages and places, and enhancement of new and past records with these terms.
  • Partnerships with First Nations individuals and communities as expected practice in development of programs and exhibitions.
  • Inclusion of First Nations providers in library procurement strategies.


  • Very low representation on governing bodies, with seven of nine libraries reporting 0% First Nations representation in executive teams and boards. Under half of all libraries have established Indigenous Advisory Groups or similar.
  • Strategies for recruitment and retention that go beyond aspirational quotas or footers on recruitment advertisements, and provision of dedicated career support for First Nations staff.
  • Mechanisms to deal with the very specific issues of cultural safety breaches, workplace racism and lateral violence – rather than relying on generic HR processes.
  • Communications plans specifically designed for outreach to First Nations communities.
  • Processes for community consultation about collections, including cultural permissions.
  • Processes for handling of secret and sacred materials.
  • Direct action in response to consistently collated performance measures for First Nations employment – including making changes to corporate policies.
  • Direct action in response to consistently collated performance measures for First Nations collections.
  • Involvement of First Nations communities outside of the library in strategic planning.

Download the full report below.