Collecting for a society’s memory: national and state libraries in culturally diverse societies

Jodie Boyd's picture
Call for Papers
February 20, 2019 to February 22, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Archival Science, Cultural History / Studies, Ethnic History / Studies, Immigration & Migration History / Studies, Library and Information Science


Collecting for a society’s memory: national and state libraries in culturally diverse societies

RMIT University, Melbourne, 20-22 Feb 2019


National and state libraries are repositories of a society’s former and current experiences, creative endeavours and intellectual currents. Today, they collect tomorrow’s heritage. They allow future generations to remember their pasts. “Build the nation’s memory” is the first strategic priority in the National Library of Australia’s 2017–2018 corporate plan. Major libraries elsewhere in the world have similar mandates. Provincial or state libraries play comparable roles, scaled to their jurisdictions. The State Library of Victoria, for example, aims to “build a comprehensive collection about Victoria and the people of Victoria”.


In societies in which a large proportion of the population was not born in their country of residence, a “nation’s memory” is arguably not contained within the geopolitical borders of the nation-state. Migrants contribute their own histories and memories to the nation’s history and memory, reshaping the contours of that history and the collections that document it.


The requirement to build collections that reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of societies presents significant challenges for national and state libraries, particularly in settler-colonial countries of immigration such as Canada and Australia, but also in multicultural countries such as Argentina and South Africa, The Netherlands and Singapore. At the same time, the emphasis on an adequate representation of cultural, religious and linguistic minorities within a singular notion of ‘the nation’ has remained politically contentious. The online environment widens the possibility of collecting and making available information resources relating to a society’s diverse history and heritage. However, such practices raise complex questions about cultural identity and agency, as well as institutional capacity and the equally complex issues of equity and access to online resources.


In this conference, we would like to explore these challenges, consider strategies to address them, and discuss the implications that the memory work of libraries has, and could have, for the identities of multicultural societies. We seek to engage with questions to do with libraries’ attempts to represent and reflect culturally and linguistically diverse societies, but we also encourage the submission of papers that address related broader questions, such as the possibility of national histories and national heritage in multicultural societies.


We are particularly interested to hear from professionals and scholars interested in Australian multiculturalism, but would also welcome contributions that address issues elsewhere.


Themes and issues that we hope to discuss during the conference include, among others:


Collections practice and assessment

  • Past and present collection development strategies
  • Collection evaluation methodologies
  • Collection description policies and practices
  • National documentation strategies and the distributed national collection
  • Digitisation and online access
  • Providing access versus collecting and preserving


Representing multicultural societies

  • The role of oral history archives
  • Filling in the gaps: libraries’ role in retrospective collecting
  • The post-colonial national / state library
  • The possibilities of representativeness and equity in the library
  • Libraries as potential troves for post-national(ist) histories


Libraries and the Collecting Sector

  • Libraries, archives and museums (particularly immigration museums) as memory institutions for multicultural societies
  • The challenges and benefits of convergence
  • The relationship between public local, state and national libraries, and community archives and collections
  • The case for new specialist cultural heritage institutions


Libraries, politics and policy

  • The impact of state and national citizenship and multicultural policy on libraries’ approaches to collection development
  • Libraries’ and librarians’ engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse communities
  • Libraries and the culture wars
  • Libraries’ funding and the impacts of austerity
  • Challenging the library as a ‘neutral’ space


This interdisciplinary conference is aimed at practitioners and academics. We are seeking papers from library professionals; library studies and archival science scholars; cultural policy analysts; historians; sociologists; political scientists; individuals working for government and non-government organisations promoting multiculturalism or administering cultural policies in multicultural settings; and migration studies experts.


This conference is an initiative of the project Representing Multicultural Australia in National and State Libraries, which has been supported by the Australian Research Council, RMIT University, Deakin University, the National Library of Australia, the State Library of New South Wales, the State Library of Victoria and the State Library of South Australia.


Conference convener: Dr Ian McShane, RMIT University, on behalf of the project team


Please direct enquiries at, and send proposals for panels and individual papers (accompanied by 200-500 word abstracts and short bios) to: Dr Jodie Boyd,


Deadline for abstracts and bios: 3 September 2018

Notification by: 15 September 2018

Contact Info: 

Please direct enquiries at, and send proposals for panels and individual papers (accompanied by 200-500 word abstracts and short bios) to: Dr Jodie Boyd,

Contact Email: