Working with Indigenous collection items

Some collecting organisations have material culture connected to Indigenous communities in their collections. Those considering displaying these items, digitising, or sharing these collection items on the internet, should consult with the Elders within their local Indigenous community first.

There are significant protocols around Indigenous materials that have important meanings to their communities. These protocols vary from place to place and community to community. The protocols not only ensure appropriate interaction with the materials but also protect Indigenous intellectual and cultural property rights. There may be considerations around which gender may observe or handle an object, whether it can be photographed or not, and whether a scanned photograph should be shared on the internet.

To determine the best course of action, consult with the Elders in your local Indigenous community. Chat with your contacts in the community to see if someone you know could assist you in making contact. Consider whether there is someone at the local council, a local Land Council, the library or other local GLAM organisation such as a gallery, who can help connect you with the appropriate people. You could also consult with staff of Indigenous units of your state cultural institutions.

For general advice about managing Indigenous materials in collections, including their preservation and description contact the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies reference desk or email

More information

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services – ATSILIRN

Working with Community: Guidelines for collaborative practice between libraries and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – National and State Libraries Australasia