Curating with Community

WEBB, Damien (2015) Curating with Community. Paper presented at: IFLA WLIC 2015 - Cape Town, South Africa in Session 168 - Indigenous Matters SIG.

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Language: English (Original)
Available under licence Creative Commons Attribution.


Curating with Community

Libraries have undergone rapid and exciting changes in the last decade. Their role has expanded beyond just collecting and preserving material, to actively engaging communities and curating their collections. While these ongoing changes have been largely successful, there remains a considerable disconnect between cultural institutions and Indigenous peoples. It is now widely understood that access to material which reflects a person’s culture and history can play a profound role in determining their social, cultural and emotional wellbeing. The problem lies in the fact that for many Aboriginal people this material is hidden behind cultural, lingual and physical barriers; largely accessible to everyone but the people it relates to. If Indigenous peoples are expected to play a greater role in determining the future of these collecting institutions, there must first be some basic structures in place. Photographs and other heritage materials must be released back into Indigenous communities and Indigenous peoples must have a larger stake in the curation of Aboriginal heritage materials. Historically a large amount of Aboriginal heritage material has been donated by non-Aboriginal people, and items have little in the way of identification, or context – often with simple captions such as “Blacks, WA” or “Man, Kimberley, 1940”. Comparatively, heritage material relating to non-Aboriginal people is often identified with incredible detail and accompanied by rich, primary sources including diaries, letters and notes. Barriers to access are further complicated by a number of other factors, in particular literacy and language. For many Aboriginal people Standard Australian English is not as important as traditional Aboriginal language(s), and efforts to promote English literacy can be seen as holdovers from the previous ‘assimilation approach’ to education and administration. Additionally, English may be a second, third or fourth language and speakers may not be confident in their understanding and use of English in formal settings such as libraries and schools. For this reason Storylines is being trialled as a tool for engaging Aboriginal people in digital and information literacies – literacies which have the potential to transcend traditional lingual barriers. The State Library of Western Australia’s Storylines project is directly challenging these barriers by working with Indigenous communities, organisations and families to reinterpret collections, develop community capacity and return historical material. Complementary programs, including family history sessions, information literacy training and photo identification workshops, are informing the State Library’s ongoing development of policies and frameworks in relation to collections, engagement models and service delivery. These activities are also building the confidence and capacity of Aboriginal clients; empowering people to discover photographs of their ancestors, and to share their own stories, knowledge and histories. The Storylines Project seeks to restore balance to these heritage collections and create a truly inclusive Western Australian history. This paper will explore some of the effects the project is having on both the State Library and Aboriginal communities, with a particular focus on the curation of inclusive collections and the creation of culturally relevant literacy and learning opportunities.

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