Higher Education Review 2002

Higher Education Review 2002


Higher Education at the Crossroads

Fifth Discussion Paper: Indigenous Australians in Higher Education

The Council of Australian University Librarians is pleased to submit information for the consideration of the Higher Education Review Committee. CAUL congratulates the Minister for highlighting the need to improve educational outcomes for indigenous Australians.

Promoting an understanding of indigenous issues

Libraries have long recognized the very pivotal role they play as information agencies in developing an understanding of indigenous issues. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information Services (1) were published in 1995, and have been used by libraries all over Australia to guide the development of policies in the areas of collection development, access, use, description and classification of materials , governance and management, staffing, and education and training. The Protocols refer to the major role libraries and information services have in preserving and transmitting knowledge. By providing and proactively promoting appropriate displays, exhibitions and tours, by having a welcoming presence for indigenous cultures, and by actively acquiring material produced by and about indigenous peoples, University libraries are providing essential services that promote an understanding of indigenous issues.

Another avenue of promoting understandings is to implement an active program of cross-cultural training for all staff employed in library and information services. Libraries have long recognized the need to ensure that all staff dealing with members of the public have a strong client service work ethic, so this cross-cultural training is an extension of that role. Cultural issues are an important component of all library education and training courses at both the HE and TAFE levels. This is a model that could be emulated by other professional bodies.

Universities across Australia are required to produce an Indigenous Education Strategy and this has helped focus attention on the needs of Indigenous students. In recent years Universities have also been examining their “graduate outcomes” as part of their commitment to quality. Although many Universities refer to cross-cultural understanding, only the University of Newcastle currently includes a reference specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as an attribute that they expect all their graduates to possess (2). Encouraging Universities to include similar statements in their list of graduate outcomes would be one way of promoting understanding of indigenous issues.

The Australian Library and Information Association’s Statement on library and information services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (4) is used by all libraries as a guide to issues they need to address: involving ATSI peoples in decision-making and policy formulation processes, recognizing cultural diversity by consulting with community representatives, providing employment opportunities and cross cultural awareness programs.

Increasing pre-tertiary activities

Pre-tertiary activities are to be strongly encouraged. One of the very important roles that University Libraries have for all students is the development of their Information Literacy skills. Information literacy is an understanding and set of abilities enabling individuals to ‘recognise when information is needed and have the capacity to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information’ (3). An information literate person is able to

  • recognise a need for information
  • determine the extent of information needed
  • access the needed information efficiently
  • evaluate the information and its sources
  • incorporate selected information into their knowledge base
  • use information effectively to accomplish a purpose
  • understand economic, legal, social and cultural issues in the use of information
  • access and use information ethically and legally
  • classify, store, manipulate and redraft information collected or generated
  • recognise information literacy as a prerequisite for lifelong learning

University Libraries are currently investigating ways of collaborating with academic staff to incorporate the standards into the curriculum. Some Universities are working closely with coordinators of pre-tertiary programs and Indigenous Support Officers to develop indigenous students’ information literacy skills. Such activities should be strongly encouraged and supported.

Supporting Indigenous research organizations so that they can be strong networks of support for their members?

Research organizations should be aligned to a University so they can avail themselves of the research support services available through a University library, such as access to electronic information resources, printed research materials such as back runs of journals, interlibrary loans services, and liaison librarians specializing in their area of research interests.

Due to the very nature of their work, Indigenous research organizations contribute to the wealth of Indigenous knowledge and library staff have the expertise to collect, document, store, and disseminate that knowledge. However there needs to be recognition of the difference between Western and Indigenous knowledge management (5).

Prepared on behalf of CAUL by:

Ruth Quinn

University Librarian

Northern Territory University


13 September 2002

The Council of Australian University Librarians comprises the university librarians or library directors of the tertiary institutions which are eligible to be members of the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.

CAUL is dedicated to improving access by the staff and students of Australian universities to the scholarly information resources that are fundamental to the advancement of teaching, learning and research.

Helen Hayes
President CAUL
Vice-Principal (Information)
The University of Melbourne
VIC 3010.
Tel: 03 8344 5382
Fax: 03 8344 9879
Email: / Diane Costello
Executive Officer, CAUL
LPO Box 169, ANU
Canberra, ACT 2601
Tel: 02 6125 2990
Fax: 02 6248 8571


(1)Byrne, Alex et al (compilers). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for libraries, archives and information services. Canberra: Australian Library and Information Association, for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resources Network, 1995.

(2)Institutional Quality Assurance and Improvement Plans for the 2002-2004 Triennium. Canberra: DEST, 2002. Available:

(3)Information Literacy Standards. Canberra: Council of Australian University Librarians, 2001. Available:

(4)Australian Library and Information Association. Statement on library and information services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Canberra: ALIA, 1995. Available:

(5)Nakata, M. Indigenous Knowledge and the Cultural Interface: Underlying issues at the intersection of knowledge and information systems. In Proceedings of 68th IFLA Council and General Conference, held August 18-24, 2002