#FavouriteFeature: Fiona Blackburn from Canberra, Australia

Today’s post comes from one of our community members, Fiona Blackburn, sharing a special  view and a lovely story from her workplace. Thanks for sharing it with us Fiona!

I’m currently working for a short period at the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) library, in Canberra Australia, as a senior collections officer. As I’m on non-ongoing contract, that title means I’m cataloguing rare books, annotating articles in serials and accessioning a collection deposited by a linguist, documenting his work with Aboriginal people in eastern Australia, recording their languages. Core skills but after seven years in the industry doing other things, I’m glad to be consolidating them.


Photographer: Andrew Babbington, AIATSIS.



I love these trees. It’s a view from a desk, although not my desk. They’re on the historic register, although my colleague and I aren’t sure why; but they are sufficiently important for the whole AIATSIS building to have been reoriented – the design initially didn’t preserve them and rather than redesign completely, the architects simply turned the building around. The other thing about these trees, or more particularly the bridge between them, that amuses my colleague and me, is that the bridge is completely decorative. It serves no purpose other than to increase the picturesque factor, which it does pretty effectively. You might be able to see, at the far end of the bridge, on the far side, that one of the rails is buckled – there was a storm one weekend, during which a large branch came down and bent the rail. The branch was removed but the damage stayed – more picturesque-ness … maybe. Or maybe just no money for repair. 

AIATSIS as an institution is pretty unique, established over fifty years ago with a specific legislative remit outlined here. (The trees are at the back of the building that you can see in this photograph.) Its importance unfortunately doesn’t protect it from funding difficulties, so that it will actually be closing its research arm in the new financial year – one of the key activities for which it was established. Management had to make the awful decision between keeping the research arm going and running down the collection; or maintaining the collection in hopes of a future resurgence in research which could draw on the collection, which meant farewelling current researchers.

Management are working very hard to ensure the organisation’s continuation: lobbying the government; establishing alternative sources of funding; promoting it, including the publishing arm, internationally; looking at the activities of like institutions, such as the National Museum of the American Indian, to see what AIATSIS might adopt; and building the organisation’s relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Grim times but I think management are responding admirably – reaching out rather than digging in.

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