Australia is acknowledged internationally as an innovator of library services in a culturally and linguistically diverse society. Responding to the landmark Review of Post-Arrival Programs and Services to Migrants (the Galbally Report, 1978), and the development of policies recognising Australia’s multicultural society, the Australian library sector sought to re-orient policies and programs to promote equality of access to library services and resources, and to document and preserve the heritage of multicultural Australia. Despite professional and institutional commitment, though, progress in developing and providing access to multicultural collections has been slow. Structural impediments included the project-based nature of funding for collection development, the costs of extending collections into new areas, and overall budget pressures on public libraries. This meant that they pulled back ‘active’ collection programs in areas such as oral history and lending collections.
The development of digital collections and online access brings new opportunities for libraries and other collecting institutions to fulfil mandates to document multicultural Australia. Online access to information resources has dramatically altered the practices of both libraries and library users. Library professionals demonstrate a continued appetite for innovation, with Trove a fine example.
However, while there is a large literature on the implications of new information and communication technologies for libraries, little attention has been paid to their impact on multicultural collections. The online environment widens the possibility of collecting and making available information resources relating to Australia’s diverse history and heritage. However, such practices raise complex questions about cultural identity and institutional capacity, as well as equally complex issues about equity of access to online resources.
This panel will discuss some of the conceptual, policy and practice-based challenges to representing multicultural Australia in the digital era. Panellists are Adjunct Professor Derek Whitehead, a pioneering figure in the multicultural library movement, and Chair of the Australian Digital Alliance, Dr Jodie Boyd, research fellow on the new Australian Research Council-funded project Representing Multicultural Australia in National and State Libraries, and Dr Ian McShane, senior research fellow at RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research.