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Thursday 22 May 2014

Your multidisciplinary team needs a librarian

A history of Aboriginal Sydney won a Research and Investigation Award from the National Heritage Trust last week. It is a proud achievement for a multidisciplinary team, including a librarian. In Library and Information Week, the Chief Investigator, Professor Peter Read, wishes to share his opinion why librarians are needed in a historical research team.

The University of Sydney project 'A history of Aboriginal Sydney' started off as a planned book, but soon turned into Suzana Sukovic, a librarian and researcher, gently steered the team of oral historian, photographer, film-maker and historical researcher towards an on-line presentation which would produce not three or four parallel results but one co-ordinated one. She joined the team as well, in 2010.

Librarians well versed in digital humanities, I realise now, offer not only new ways of creative thinking, but epistemological insights into how to present historical knowledge and understanding to solve new problems. Issues of design, attractiveness, maneuverability and access are just part of what I understand to be a great deal more than an easy way of putting everything together. We're all proud of what we produced. I'm preaching to the converted here, but any future historical project of mine, will certainly have a librarian in the team.
Admittedly, the librarian in question is also a LARK, but the message is an important one. Academic historians may be more inclined to take it on board when it is coming from their colleague. 

Peter Read is an Adjunct Professor in the Australian Centre for Aboriginal History, ANU.  He has worked in  Aboriginal History for most of his career, especially in NSW and the Northern Territory, and amongst the Stolen Generations.

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