Australian Indigenous Knowledge and Libraries

Article excerpt

Nakata, M. and M. Langton (editors), Australian Indigenous Knowledge and Libraries, 2005. Canberra, Australian Academic and Research Libraries, pp. 216, colour and black and white plates.

The papers included in this interdisciplinary collection of readings emerged out of a colloquium that brought together professionals, practitioners and academics to discuss the role, obligation and responsibilities of library/archive services in Australia with regard to Indigenous knowledge. Some of the papers are written from the perspective of the collecting institutions, others from the community and still others reveal the perspective of users. In the end, the collage of papers represent theoretical assessments, practical discussions about setting up library services, descriptions of existing programs, technical presentations about how Information Technology can be used, and more analytical papers on such issues as the traformative power of global trade agreements like the General Agreements on Trade in Services. In the end, it looks at the whole picture of a multitiered system in which local, regional and national constituents have a stake in how Indigenous knowledge is to be treated in the public sector.

While one might wonder about the transferability of the material from Australia to their countries with Indigenous populations such as Canada, the fit was easy for this reader. As I read each chapter, I was able to find Canadian counterparts in the discussion. Issues such as digital technology, protocol, intellectual property were easy fits and raised a number of thorny questions which Canadians have yet to discuss with their Indigenous populations. In a sense, it was surprising to realize that the Australian libraries/archives seem to be well advance on issues of dealing with Indigenous knowledge compared to other Western countries. The creation of Indigenous Knowledge Centres and the development of protocols for libraries, archives and informations services with regard to indigenous knowledge could provide blueprints for Canadian institutions to build upon as they finally develop the strategies and policies that need urgently to be put in place. The historical destruction of Indigenous knowledge, its current fragile existence and the uncertain future all demand immediate action to preserve and protect it. Protocols on the documentation, storage and proper use of Indigenous knowledge in Canada are past due.

Chapters that focus on issues such as the history of the archive, its role and function, the relationship between power and Indigenous knowledge and the issue of intellectual property provide powerful pieces that force the reader to reflect on how organizations in Canada that hold Indigenous knowledge have dealt with the issue. …