Acknowledging, valuing and making space for diversity in LIS education


I made some changes to the foundational course studied by Masters students in our Information Management program, updating it to better match the Australian Library and Information Association’s Foundational Knowledge for Library and Information Professionals at entry level and working within the profession.

I was chatting to some of the ALIA folk about it and they invited me to write an article for the INCITE magazine Workforce Diversity supplement July/August 2021.

This lead to an “In Conversation” webinar between Kirsten Thorpe, Andrew Finegan and myself to discuss diversifying LIS education in July 2021.

Kirsten is an Indigenous researcher who has shown leadership in policies and actions in the library and archives sector in Australia for the last decade or so. You can read more of her work at her ORCiD page, or her page at the Jumbanna Institute. She generously shared her knowledge with my students as a guest lecturer in April.

Below is the text of the article I wrote, then an embedded movie of our chat.


Librarians, records managers and archivists serve diverse people and keep diverse stories. LIS students vary in Indigeneity, language spoken at home, country of origin, physical ability, sexuality, economic background and life experience and choices.

Traditionally, university courses have not reflected this diversity. The voices students hear, the things they read and the topics they cover, all tend to normalise a white middle-class, middle-aged, able-bodied English-speaking perspective.

In 2021, the foundational course for University of South Australia’s information management postgraduates was re-designed. This provided opportunity to align the course with the University’s Enterprise25 Strategic Plan 2018-2025 which values diversity and social justice.

Here are some things I implemented:

  • Two Indigenous professionals, Kirsten Thorpe and Kim Tairi, provided guest lectures. They were invited to talk on whatever they believed foundational students needed to know, whether it fitted the curriculum or not.
  • Where possible, Indigenous perspective is provided, using work by an Indigenous creator. For example, in the history topic, students are reminded that historical accounts of libraries in Australia value settler knowledge not Indigenous knowledge. They also read about current impact of historic collecting of Indigenous knowledge by libraries worldwide.
  • ‘Kaya Nganyang kwerl Kathryn Greenhill’. My first words to my students are a greeting in language of the Noongar people from South Western Australia where I was born.
  • When logging on to our course page, the first thing that students now see is Acknowledgement of Country.
  • In Week 1, students read the ALIA Workforce Diversity Trend Report 2019. Statistics showing extreme lack of diversity are discussed. Students are invited to consider in future course readings who is speaking, the presumed audience, who is being represented and who is being excluded.
  • Topics covered in the course now include human rights, the Sustainable Development Goals, equity, antidiscrimination, diversity, inclusion, non-neutrality, decolonisation, codesign, Indigenous cultural protocols, universal design, care, self-care ethics and critical librarianship. Where possible, students read work by people impacted. For example, work by Nikki Anderson, a librarian who lives with disability, in the inclusion topic.
  • Diversity is not just a specialist, separate topic, to be trotted out for special weeks. I try to select readings and voices that are diverse for all topics, favouring Indigenous voices first, then the work of people of colour, women and economically excluded geographical areas.
  • My introduction movie lets students know I value the diversity that they bring to the course. I invite them to share this to strengthen the learning environment.
  • I acknowledge that students have different backgrounds and time or ability to study, mentioning that readings and assessments are ‘one size fits most’, which may not always work for them.
  • I specifically name anxiety and depression as something extremely common in university students, not their fault, and suggest strategies and support for this.
  • The first assessment students submit includes their learning goals for the course. Students are rarely asked their aims, with tutors and students treating everyone as though they are there to get high marks. Some students only want, or have capacity, to pass. This approach acknowledges people with family responsibilities, economic issues, dealing with health issues or discrimination at the same time as they study.

Increasing coverage of diversity in university coursework is both a social justice issue and a smart way to strengthen and improve student knowledge and outcomes.

Movie in discussion with Kirsten Thorpe and Andrew Finegan, INCITE in Conversation – July 2021 . You can see it embedded here:

What do you think? Let us know.