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Friday, 25 May 2018

Australia’s ongoing cultural war: research, records and Indigenous heritage

By James Bosanquet

There is a growing recognition that the descriptions and handling of Indigenous culture widely used in Australian records systems and archives are inadequate, inappropriate and insensitive. This can include objects, but equally covers photographs, oral histories, interviews and other sources of identifying information. This has repercussions for researchers. The issue is being discussed at a professional body level, but requires action and, without a legislative framework, arguably institutions should be taking the lead.

As a child I have strong memory of seeing the artefacts displayed in the museum. Strange objects in tidy, backlit boxes. Labels like ‘stone age axes’, ‘totems’ and ‘ceremonial tools’. Not to mention skeletal remains. The appropriation of objects by institutions is mirrored in our present treatment of Aboriginal and Indigenous records. Removal of the existing Indigenous cultural significance of an object and placing it into a different cultural framework reflects Australia’s past mistreatment of Aborigines from genocide, the stolen generation, through to the high numbers of Aborigines in custody, deaths in custody and the health and education gap. Writing about the display of Indigenous objects in a new anthology of essays Indigenous  Archives: The Making and Unmaking of Aboriginal Art, Jessyca Hutchens writes ‘the archive represents not only historical displacement but ongoing violence towards immaterial aspects of the culture that the object remains linked to’ (Indigenous Archives, University of Western Australia Press, 2007, p.297).

By describing objects, we are contextualising and framing them in history. The process of description is core to archives and recordkeeping.  In Australia, description is an elaborate and matured process tied to organisational culture and function. It is also tied to the Records Continuum Model that uses a lifecycle for a record determining its long-term value.  The value of objects is signified by the description, such as ‘artwork’.   

The language of recordkeeping in Australia is formal and government or business orientated.  A researcher usually requires knowledge of the system to be able to access the archives. This is at the exclusion of cultural signifiers, the particular importance or harm that an object may carry. 

National Archives Australia (NAA), like other institutions, supply Reading Aids to assist researchers to understand the language. Researchers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI) history using the NAA’s site are taken to reading aids that categorise Aboriginal history within Australian government frameworks. Categories for Aboriginal records include Northern Territory Administration, Aboriginal Affairs, Nuclear Testing at Maralinga. Searches are listed by organisation and function. Researchers using the Reading Aids would access the relevant government department records in the archive, such as Department of External Affairs (CA7) to reach official Australian records about Aboriginal or ATSI populations from 1911-1916.  

Figure 1 – detail from NAA record search website, Reported discovery of prehistoric Aboriginal relics, Dr H Basedow

Figure 2 – detail from NAA Record Search website, Aboriginal dress and ornaments

This framing of records is standard for archival description almost all around the world.  In recent times, a failure to engage Indigenous communities has been highlighted in contrast to work that is occurring in Aotearoa/New Zealand Institutions.  An engagement with Maori stakeholders is a requirement. This has come from a national approach under a legislative framework ‘to uphold the principles of the treaty of Waitangi’ (p.14, Morse, Indigenous Human Rights, 2012).

Australia’s changing demographics should see the broadening need for community consultation and a willingness to engage with the cultural significance of information.  

The ASA (Australian Society of Archivists) recently partnered with ITIC (Information Technologies Indigenous Communities) in Melbourne 2017. I was fortunate to be present to hear Leisa Gibson give her paper at the ASA/ITIC Conference ‘Engaging expert knowledge outside academia: service-learning for archival education’. Leisa provided an analysis of the needs for community consultation. At the same Conference Cathy Bow, Dr Ruth Ringer and Elizabeth Shaffer (presenting on the experience of post-colonial Indian archives) the inherent flaws and violence perpetuated by archival systems. Systems and language that continue to subjugate communities.

Community engagement is something we can incorporate into practice. Without our own treaty in Australia, it is time for institutions and communities to take the lead to develop a national approach.  

James Bosanquet is the Information and Records Manager at the Health Education and Training Institute. He is an accredited professional with the Australian Society of Archivists and has a BA (Politics and Literature) from Macquarie University, a Grad Dip (Information and Knowledge Management) from UTS and a Masters of Information Services (Archives and Records) from Edith Cowan University. James has a passion for Information and Archives. 

Source of the portrait of a man above: Barani website 
'This unsigned portrait is entitled "One of the NSW Aborigines befriended by Governor Macquarie" and was for many years in the possession of Mrs Macquarie. Like too many paintings of Aboriginal people, this individual is unnamed (Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW – ML 696)'

Monday, 26 March 2018

Health Education in Practice Symposium & Workshop

The Health Education in Practice Symposium is an opportunity for library professionals and those involved in adult and professional education of the workforce to discuss research, collaborate, and translate findings across sectors. Join educators and researchers from NSW health, universities and the broader professional community who are all invited to discuss current trends in evaluation and research related to health education of the workforce.

The event is a rare opportunity for library and information professionals to collaborate and learn across sectors, focusing on practice-based and academic educational research. The inaugural issue of the Health education in practice: journal of research for professional learning will be launched.

Paper proposals are invited on the following themes:
  • Research in education of the health workforce
  • Evaluation of health educational programs
  • Topics related to evidence-based health education, including theoretical considerations
  • Issues related to conducting educational research and evaluation in practice.

There will be opportunities to prepare presented papers for a special issue of the Health education in practice: journal of research for professional learning. More information about abstract submission can be found on the website

We have a great line-up of speakers, including Ms Elizabeth Koff, Secretary, NSW Health who will launch our journal, and keynote speakers, both education leaders and Deputy Vice-Chancellors: Prof Pip Pattison (University of Sydney) and Prof Shirley Alexander (University of Technology, Sydney). HETI’s Chief Executive Adjunct Prof Annette Solman and Prof Tim Shaw are among our other prominent speakers.

Check the website for a full list of speakers, call for papers, and registration details.

7 May 2018 | 9am - 4.30pm
Have you thought of advancing your educational practice by gathering research data?

Join Dr Suzana Sukovic (LARK founder & chair) & Dr Peter William Stubbs for this introductory workshop designed for health educators and those involved in professional and adult education.

The workshop is an opportunity for educators to network, collaborate and discuss research ideas. Participants will learn about research concepts, design and methods and how to apply them into practice. Participants will have opportunities to work on their research projects in small groups, and discuss the potential barriers and solutions to research project implementation.

Check the website for a presenter information and registration.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

LARK & New Graduates chat about research

Our first event this year is a Twitter chat with ALIA Students and New Graduates. What could be a more promising way to start this year's events than a chat with rising LIS stars? And, research in practice is always a hot topic.

Paul Jewell, Business Librarian from the Western Sydney University, had a great idea to join forces with New Graduates and host one of their regular chats on Twitter. Paul will facilitate this online event. 
In preparation for the meeting, here are the questions to guide our discussions:
  1. What do you see as the role of research in your practice, information service or sector?
  2. Do you read research literature on a regular basis? How do you do this? What stops you?
  3. Are there any initiatives or programs at your workplace that encourages reading, critical discussion and sharing of research?
  4. Have you or your colleagues ever undertaken any original LIS-based research? Please share brief details and links.
  5. What aspirations for research plans do you have in the future? What might support you to better engage with research?
If you are new to Twitter chats, you may like to check a handy guide prepared by the New Graduates.
We hope you can join us (@aliangac @pdjewel @suzanasukovic)
When? Tuesday 6 March 9 pm AEDT
Where? Twitter #auslibchat
Top image is taken from the NGAC blog.
Image credit: Keith C Rainsford, 1946: Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria (Accession no: H99.201/1669) via SLVIC.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

LARK's new look & Treasurer

By Suzana Sukovic

LARK has been so quiet that you have been wondering if the bird went to an around the world trip for holidays. It did fly around, but LARK also took time to revamp its look and freshen its flock. 

LARK is delighted to introduce the new Treasurer, Jamaica Eisner. Jamaica is a wise new graduate who has recognised the importance of starting research early in her career so she joined our flock. If you want to find out more about Jamaica and see her hard at work, go to our About page.

Five years old and a big bird now, LARK can't go around in its baby plumage anymore. So, here is its new look. Anna Nadarajah, ALIA designer, designed two great versions of the logo and we'll use them both. ¿Porque no los dos? The fancy blog banner was designed by Zoran Malesevic. Jamaica and I did a bit of work on Blogger to revamp its appearance.

We'd love to know what you think about our new look by commenting on this post and Twitter #LARK.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

LARK's Treasurer & End Year event

By Suzana Sukovic

As many of you have already found out via other channels, ALIA LARK is organising the end of year event in Sydney. It will be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and influence our direction for next year. You don't have to be an ALIA member to join us. Colleagues from allied professions are most welcome. I am sure that GLAM professionals, educators and many others will find out that we have a lot in common.

Please register on Eventbrite if you would like to come. I would also like to invite all of you who can't come to this meeting, but want to participate in organising future events (including remote organisation of online events) to get in touch with me (see details below).

LARK looks for a new TREASURER. After five years, Alycia Bailey has decided to pass the mantle. I wish to thank her for all her work and support over the years hoping to see her in LARK's meetings and events. This is the opportunity for another well-organised person to take a lead in this unique group.  

If you are interested, please check information about ALIA's office bearers (ALIA Group FAQ) and get in touch with me by email ( or via Twitter (@suzanasukovic).

Looking forward to hearing from and seeing current and potential LARKs soon.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Five years of LARK, or how birds of the feather flock together

By Suzana Sukovic

Celebrating 5 years of LARK - 22 September 2017, State Library NSW
A version of this post was first published on the Canadian C-EBLIP blog. Some minor changes have been made and additional pictures added to this post.

LARK (Library Applied Research Kollektive), a grass-roots group connecting professionals and academics with interest in practice-based research, celebrates its fifth birthday this year. Having a professional network of people with similar interests may sound quite straightforward, but there are days when I think it’s a miracle that baby LARK reached childhood by the human measure and, probably, teenage years by measure of longevity of a grassroot group. 

With LARK, bird jokes and metaphors are inevitable. We sometimes talk about being birds of the feather. Since C-EBLIP belongs to the same bird species, I’d like to share LARK’s story, a bit of parental pride and some insights from our five-years long flight.

Let's Talk About Research - 20 September 2012, St.Vincent's College
In 2011, I made an unusual job change and, after many years of working at universities, I started working in an independent high school. In 2012, I initiated a research project at work and thought that some collaboration would go a long way in boosting the study. I also felt a strange sense of isolation in this new sector although connections with information worlds in which I worked before seemed obvious. So, I decided to call professionals from different corners of the library, information and educational sectors to come to an informal meeting called Let’s Talk About Research. We gathered after work at St.Vincent’s College (Sydney), had a nibble and a glass of wine, talked about research interests and had a good time. People were enthusiastic about establishing a network and thought we needed to put in place some structures to support our connections. That’s how LARK was born. My library colleagues at St.Vincent’s College and I decided about the name, I started the blog and a mailing list and invited people to join us. The mailing list had a decent number of members pretty quickly. We were ready to fly.

But, we didn’t. Any baby needs a fair bit of attention. Baby LARK needed attention and lots of patience. It kept quiet and slept a lot. Like most first-time parents, I had some misplaced expectations based on examples I saw (Humanist Discussion Group being the prime example). Where I expected chatter and collaboration, the LARK list offered a deafening silence. My messages felt like sending letters to myself. So, I’d let my daily life take over and LARK slide far to the periphery of my (and everyone else’s) attention. But, whenever that happened, there was someone sending a private message saying how much they enjoyed posts about research. Or, my interpretation of the enthusiasm at the first meeting as one-off occurrence would be corrected by people who’d get in touch to ask when we were meeting next.

So, LARK met again. And again. Some people continued from the first meeting (notably, Alycia Bailey), others joined in for a short or long period of time. Some have become regular companions (shout out to Janet Chelliah and Bhuva Narayan from the University of Technology, Sydney - UTS). We usually had around 15, sometimes 20 people in engaging meetings after work, always followed by dinner. Our colleagues were getting in touch afterwards to say how they’d like to join, but couldn’t on that occasion. During the first couple of years, I expected people would either come in bigger numbers or stop coming altogether. Neither happened. Academics, librarians from university, public, school and special libraries, information professionals and teachers kept getting together. The gatherings had never been large, but the group thrived nevertheless. With ongoing activities and a need for some support, we joined ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) in December 2013.

Culture of curiosity (from LARK's event in 2015)
What also happened over time was that people were getting in touch from various parts of Australia to say how they had research interests, but felt isolated and disconnected from research networks. This is how we initiated regular online events in 2016. Our first online event included presenters from Australia and New Zealand. Like face-to-face meetings, online events attracted a solid audience, but not a huge following. They became, however, an important connection point. The most recent webinar in 2017 was also an opportunity to reach out to other professional groups who talked to us about their research experiences reinforcing a sense of interprofessional networks.

LARK blog: Pageviews by countries 5/11/2017
LARK’s online presence grew in other ways too. This collaboratively written blog  has attracted a fair bit of attention over time. Particularly important were contributions from the ALIA Research Advisory Committee. C-EBLIP’s own Virginia Wilson has become a contributor too. According to the latest statistics, LARK’s blog attracted over 80,000 visits from around the world, well over 700 visits per post.

During a period of a couple of years, Fiona McDonald, Liz Walkley Hall and I ran the first Antipodean LIS reading group on Twitter (#EBLIPRG). We connected with professional groups overseas and even had a session facilitated from Ireland. LARK had an important role in making #EBLIPRG visible.

In May 2017, LARK branched out from online spaces and Sydney to South Australia. Liz Walkley Hall had already led an active research group at Flinders University and decided to initiate LARK group in South Australia to connect with colleagues from other organisations. The group had an initial meeting and has plans for future events.

Happy birthday to us: Krystal Campbell is getting ready to blow candles
Post by post, event by event, LARK has become very visible in the Australian LIS landscape. On 22 September this year we celebrated LARK’s fifth birthday in a research style by organising a seminar titled Holy Evidence! Research in information practice. Yet again, it was a relatively small gathering, but one for which some people travelled significant distances. It was also pleasing that LARK was able for the first time to offer a grant to a LIS student to attend the seminar (congratulations to Krystal Campbell, a student at UTS). 

Seminar Holy Evidence! Research in Information Practice
In the first half of the day, we considered the Australian research environment and heard from a variety of experienced researchers and novices from different sectors and even industries. In the second part of the day, we had a workshop to discuss how to develop a research project from idea to reality, and how to publish research findings. A feeling of connection and genuine engagement in the room was well supported by feedback forms. People greatly enjoyed, not only substantial learning, but also each other’s company. It was particularly rewarding to see that people who came from afar were not disappointed. A sense of a connected research community was palpable in the air.
David Schmidt's reflection on the seminar: 1. Most views were from Russia in the week 18 September 3. Liz Griffits presented a thought-provoking paper comparing research with a swamp 4. Suzanne Lewis presented a paper on search filters

During the seminar, I looked back at the five years of LARK and thought of many dispersed people who are prepared to put effort in making research a reality in LIS practice. Establishing connections between interested people is essential, especially when they don’t even see themselves as researchers. For research, you only need curiosity and tenacity; everything else can be learnt, said David Schmidt at the LARK’s seminar when he talked about research capacity building in health in rural and remote areas. With a network of curios tenacious people, learning is much more likely to happen, and it’s also much more enjoyable. A network also makes practice-based research visible.

Another issue is working with research bubbles formed along academic and professional, hierarchical and sector-based divisions. Distinctions between different types of research and interests are real, but often grossly exaggerated. When it comes to research, there are more connections than non-negotiable barriers. With LARK’s participants and presenters from various LIS sectors and allied fields, it has become evident that we have a lot in common when it comes to sharing research experiences and concerns. Groups like LARK open the lines of conversation and help us pop the bubbles.

In the spirit of interprofessional learning, I looked up what biology says on how birds of the feather flock together. They are known for changing direction, possibly to confuse predators. The change can be led by any bird in the flock and others will follow. How birds of a feather flock together…they are democratic, claims an article in the Daily Mail interpreting a research study. Without looking into the authenticity of this interpretation, I like the idea that any bird can take a leadership position when it picks up important signals from its place in the environment. I like to believe that this is how a loosely organised group like LARK thrives. People come to the group for a short or long period of time, but they keep up the flight and influence the direction. At the end of the seminar, a few young librarians from various parts of Australia offered their help and expressed their willingness to be more involved with LARK. After a very rewarding research celebration, these offers were a real highlight for me. They are saying to me that LARK will keep flying. For all of us, especially new LARKs ready to fly, it is crucial to have the flock. 

Thanks to Virginia Wilson for her kind words and the first post.  

Dr Suzana Sukovic currently works as the Executive Director, Educational Research and Evidence Based Practice at HETI (Health Education and Training Institute), NSW Health