Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Representation in Western Australia Public Library Collections

Library collections have historically been built around the colonial perspective, with power inequalities and biases contributing to the marginalisation and misrepresentation of First Nations Peoples. As a result, First Nations voices in collections are often missing or fragmentary creating unbalanced collections, void of the viewpoints and perspectives of First Nations Peoples.
Libraries have an obligation to promote reconciliation through First Nations collections, as it is these collections which shape the views of those accessing First Nations resources. The management of these collections is an ongoing process that requires regular evaluation to ensure collections are rebalanced to include resources by and about First Nations Peoples, as well as improve the discoverability and accessibility of these resources for users.
My research examines the visibility of First Nations collections in 10 public libraries in Western Australia, with an aim to determine the extent that public library collections contribute to First Nations reconciliation. A refined search of each library’s online catalogue identified the number and format of First Nations resources within adult fiction collections, and a segment of adult non-fiction collections in the form of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs. Observations were made on the subject headings used to describe resources, the functionality of the library catalogue, and the extent of acknowledgement of First Nations Peoples and promotion of First Nations resources on the catalogue homepage.
The data suggests that the extent of First Nations representation and reconciliation is inadequate due to missing and/or inadequate subject headings that lack specification and jeopardise the discoverability and accessibility of First Nations resources, as well as insignificant numbers of First Nations resources relative to each library’s total collection of resources. Most libraries do not advertise their First Nations collections, or include an Acknowledgement of Country or a cultural sensitivity notice on their library catalogues. Given the results of this study, it is clear that ongoing collection development, evaluation and management is needed to balance collections with First Nations Peoples’ perspectives, and library catalogue changes are needed to increase the discoverability and accessibility of resources as a means to educate users and promote First Nations cultural awareness.

Rhiannon Burley

Postgraduate Student 2022, University of South Australia

Author Bio

Rhiannon graduated with a Master of Information Management from the University of South Australia in 2022. Her thesis focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in public library collections in Western Australia. She was also privileged to undertake a placement at the special collection library at WA Museum Boola Bardip where she gained invaluable experience cataloguing and accessing rare collections for research queries. She is passionate about improving First Nations public library collections and creating safe and inclusive online library catalogues that acknowledge First Nations Peoples, promote First Nations resources/collections, and ensure First Nations resources are appropriately labelled, easily discoverable and accessible.