A strong example of how support from a large organisation (the State Library of Western Australia) can assist local people (Mowanjum Community) with their project to deliver culturally appropriate digital access to important collections.Background:
The Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre (MAACC) is a creative hub and Dolord Mindi a keeping place for the Worrorra, Ngarinyin and Wunambal tribes, who make up the Mowanjum Community. MAACC and Dolord Mindi service the people of the vast geographic area at the top end of Western Australia. These three language groups are united by their belief in the Wandjina as a sacred spiritual force and the creators of the land. They are the custodians of Wandjina law and iconography and continue to paint the Wandjina image to share their culture, knowledge and understanding of their way of life.
Dolord Mindi is home to the Mowanjum Community Collection and Media Space. This space allows the community to explore and deepen cultural knowledge through digital media platforms. The project aims to preserve and collect archival records, while training staff to create new digital media stories. In this space, community members can engage with an evolving collection via a community controlled database called Storylines – part of a statewide project of the State Library of Western Australia (SLWA).Employment and skills:
MAACC has a growing number of trainee Digital Collections Officer positions allocated to Mowanjum Community members. Trainees act as community liaison, connecting families with relevant content, and as Storylines administrators and advocates in the community. Volunteering at Mowanjum offers a two-way learning exchange between volunteers, arts workers, artists and community members. Trainees can extend their experience though professional development workshops held locally and interstate through art centre, museum and gallery networks. Collection:
The Dolord Mindi Storylines collection features photographs, videos, sound, documents and object information. Dolord Mindi coordinates diverse recording projects that document the stories of people and places that are culturally significant for families and language groups, which are stored in the archive to be accessed by the community.Software:
Storylines software is used because of its simple interface and functionality, which has been designed with Aboriginal cultural protocols in mind. To support privacy, the Mowanjum community’s version of Storylines is independent of SLWA’s, and is password protected.
Cultural material with restricted access, including men’s business and women’s business, is included in the archive but not in the database. The team has established cultural protocols which are held in the platform’s metadata and has determined with the Council of Advisors that some material will not be included in the database, while other material has restricted access for cultural reasons or family preference.
Storylines delivers an interactive platform that supports the maintenance of culture, language and law, as well as intergenerational teaching and learning. Having a community-controlled database allows families and communities to gain control of their own history, and assists in the return of photos and other information to the community collection. In this way, the project also provides pathways for repatriation from private collectors and major collecting institutions.Process:
Digital Collection Officers scan and upload images of privately owned items brought to the centre by community members. The digital items are tagged to link them to places and profiles of people. There are currently 3245 profiles in the database, which include information on family connections and language group.
The images are uploaded as JPEGs. Information, including the stories of Elders about items, is recorded in a spreadsheet before being entered into Storylines. Artefacts are accessioned into the keeping place and also photographed and documented for Storylines with advice and knowledge from a Council of Advisors.
Currently, 90 per cent of photographs are digitised and catalogued, 30 per cent of objects and 90 per cent of tape recordings (but only 5 per cent of recordings are uploaded to Storylines). Challenges:
- The collection is continually growing and there is a backlog of data.
- It takes time to disseminate information about the project and to build relationships with extended and geographically dispersed community members necessary for them to access Storylines and also contribute to it.
- There is an insufficient number of capable and trained staff to support the ongoing development of trainees.
- While SLWA has donated the software and annual licence for Storylines, it cannot provide operational funding. The project is fully equipped but struggles to secure a sustainable model because of reliance on competitive annual grant programs, which are generally for project funding.
- The team has cable internet and wifi; the connection is good but during the wet season there are often power outages.
- There is a fear of people from outside the three language groups using information for unauthorised professional research that does not benefit the groups. However, Storylines has a log in entry for the people from the three language groups only and MAACC works closely with the State Library about security concerns.
- Access to technical support from SLWA has been extremely helpful and Storylines is robust and suitably flexible to accommodate the needs and interests of its user group. As a pilot study, the team is pushing the boundaries of what the Storylines software is capable of. They discuss and workshop their needs and ideas with SLWA staff who then communicate with the software developers.
- There are multiple ways to connect related stories and express them through different kinds of audio-visual materials. For example, a story may be told through a dance, song, totem, book, audio voice recording, and photographs. Within Storylines, these different mediums can all be connected and levels of appropriate access can be determined by the community.
- Positive and trusted relationships with community members and word-of-mouth are key to encouraging community access and also sourcing additional material. Taking staff and laptops out on the road and into communities where the collections and knowledge are located is a significant driver for the project.
- The material held within Storylines has demonstrated its capacity to revive cultural practices and traditions within the community.
- Storylines trains and employs people and develops community capacity and cultural development both in maintaining cultural traditions and nurturing contemporary artists.
Full case study:
This is a summary of the full case study. Download the PDF below to read more about Dolord Mindi is using Storylines to make its collection digitally accessible to the Mowanjum community.