Author: Spencer Lilley
Reviewed By: Melissa Batteate, Olivia Mules, Brenna Smith, Ginnea Smith, and Krista Ward-Sell
Link to article: http://www.informationr.net/ir/24-3/rails/rails1806.html
Increasing the number of indigenous students attending universities and ensuring their academic success is a priority of the New Zealand and Australian governments. As technology becomes more and more prevalent in today’s academic environment, equitable access to the numerous library services available to students is a critical component of academic success. The literature review conducted for this article indicated that indigenous students can feel disenfranchised from the library and related services. To better welcome and engage indigenous students, library websites and online content should be reflective of campus diversity and viewed through the lens of an indigenous student.
Researcher Spencer Lilley collected and analyzed data from forty-eight university libraries pertaining to the online services and information available to indigenous students. Lilley’s findings indicate that much can still be done to ensure that indigenous students feel welcome within the university library setting and are obtaining the information needed for academic success. This article represents an international perspective in its analysis of findings and through the author’s stated conclusions as they pertain specifically to the indigenous cultures of Australia and New Zealand. These conclusions could be applied to library settings worldwide with the overarching goal of improving services to historically marginalized members of the population.
Core Research Questions
To accommodate the impact of rapid technological change, many libraries offer their services virtually, accessed through their website. As a result, it is critical that university library websites are configured to be inclusive for all. The following are the core research questions for the article, Through Indigenous Eyes:
Do the formats of Australia and New Zealand university websites illustrate that there are services, collections, and facilities available specifically curated for indigenous students?
After navigating the website, are indigenous students left with the feeling of being represented and included?
Are indigenous students often seen as “non-users” because of the lack of relative information provided on the website?
Forty-eight university library websites were selected for inclusion in this study. Each library’s services, programs, and collections that might appeal to students in the indigenous population of Australia and New Zealand were recorded in an Excel worksheet. This working document focused on reporting six factors that the authors identified as adding cultural relevance to the host library. The object of the study was to identify the responsiveness of these libraries to native populations, and not to rank their performance in doing so. The following six features were searched for and recorded:
Home Page: Acknowledgement of indigenous students and presence of their languages.
Strategic Documents: Inclusion of indigenous population in plans, policies and other official documents that govern staff behavior.
Indigenous Collections: Collections of relevant material other than databases.
Subject Guides and Library Guides: Navigation tools meant to direct students to material that may be of interest and use to them.
Contact Information: For a library representative designated to interface with indigenous students.
Identifiable Indigenous Staff Members: Staff that represent the population and their group affiliation.
These research methods were quite simple, with no surveys, interviews, or long term research projects to observe. Research was carried out online, and the discoveries recorded. All links were followed to wring the most data from available material that is accessible by the public. Researchers were trying to replicate the experience of a student searching available information.
Findings and Conclusions
The following is a brief breakdown of the six factors used to evaluate the websites:
Home Page: Land acknowledgements were found on 45% of Australian universities. 75% of libraries in New Zealand included a welcoming phrase (te reo Māori) on their homepage.
Strategic Documents: 25% of Australian universities had any evidence of consideration of indigenous matters in their documents (none of these were comprehensive). All the New Zealand universities referred to initiatives involving Māori in their documentation.
Indigenous Collections: 17.5% of the Australian websites had any evidence that they had ingenious collections. Contrastingly, 87.5% of the New Zealand websites indicated the existence of Māori collections.
Subject Guides and Library Guides: 72.5% of the Australian library websites had a link to at least one guide to indigenous services and resources. All of the New Zealand library websites had guides to assist users in accessing indigenous resources.
Contact Information: 50% of the Australian libraries had contact information available for staff who provides assistance for indigenous students or in the area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies. 87.5% of the New Zealand libraries gave contact information for assistance with Māori-related enquiries.
Identifiable Indigenous Staff Members: 10% of Australian libraries have staff that are identifiably indigenous. 75% of New Zealand libraries have staff that are identifiably indigenous.
Libraries connect students with valuable resources and services to help them succeed. Having a library website that is accessible and welcoming to indigenous students is imperative in creating a space where these students feel comfortable going. The library website may be the first contact a user has with the library and thus needs to be inclusive to all. As the article states, “the focus of this paper is not on the structure, content and overall usability of the Website of each library” but rather if any indigenous elements are included in the website to indicate that indigenous students are welcome at the library. Of the six factors that were used to evaluate the library websites, universities in New Zealand had more elements of indigenous accessibility when compared to universities in Australia. However, there is room for significant improvement on both sides. It is also important to note that the findings of this study are limited to only the information that is available on the website.
What American Libraries Can Learn
American libraries can use the implications from this article to design services for indigenous populations. Students from indigenous backgrounds are less likely to be familiar with the library and its services and more prone to perceive libraries as being part of the dominant culture, having nothing to offer them. The library website is where users unfamiliar with the institution will begin exploring, which creates an opportunity for engagement. Library websites should create a strong first impression for an indigenous user, with a welcome note and land acknowledgement. A dedicated web portal that showcases activities, events, and services for indigenous peoples, as well as any specific initiatives, collection materials, and contact information for indigenous staff should be prominently displayed on the institution’s website. The goal of any library serving an indigenous user should be to incorporate indigenous elements into design in such a way that users feel seen, cared for, and welcomed into the library.
Lilley, S. (2018). Through indigenous eyes: Looking for indigenous services in Australian and New Zealand university libraries. Information Research, 24(3). Retrieved from: http://www.informationr.net/ir/24-3/rails/rails1806.html