WANALA 2018 Collections Management Workshop

The Western and Northern Aboriginal Languages Alliance (WANALA) biannual forum was held in Batchelor last week. It brought together interested people from language centres around WA and the NT, as well as some other interested parties. One of the streams focused on collections management, which is always a challenge for language centres. There are many technical issues (which of the myriad tools available are appropriate for which context? How to weigh up usability, price, functionality, support required and rapid turnover?), funding issues (there is rarely funding available to support the time and human resources required for appropriate collection and archiving of precious language resources) and intellectual property issues (language centres are answerable to the communities they serve, while also managing compliance with national laws, negotiating the balance between open sharing and careful restriction). This workshop was an excellent opportunity for people to come together and share ideas about all these issues in a supportive, friendly environment.

The first morning involved presentations from language centres about the issues they face. Julie Walker shared the Wangka Maya experience, having been incorporated in 1987 but not having an archive when she started in 2013. This meant there was no system in place for managing the collection of books, recordings and files produced in languages of the Pilbara over many decades. A fire in the building led to smoke damage that destroyed over 5000 cassettes, which in turn affected relationships in the community. A significance assessment and conservation assessment led to recommendations for disaster planning, and they outsourced a South Australian company to digitise their collection. She noted that specialist support is very hard to find in remote contexts, making it incredibly expensive to build and support appropriate infrastructure, and long distances between communities means that workshops need to be carefully planned – laptops running out of power hundreds of kilometres away is a problem not faced in our major cities. The language centre faces many requests from community members to access materials, so detailed metadata is required, which also linked to physical or digital locations – knowing something exists is not the same as being able to show it to someone.

David Nathan from the Groote Eylandt Language Centre reported on the development of a database that responds to the need for a repository for the huge amount of materials produced over many years which had never been systematically collected or catalogued. He noted that the most important knowledge about the materials is not in the system or metadata but in the community itself. The Ajamurnda database is designed to bring together the two components – digital resources and the local knowledge about them. He noted the importance of a collections policy to assist with the selection and curation of files, the use of software to automate some of the processes, and the benefit of using unique file IDs in managing long file names. They developed a range of access protocols that allow people to feel safe about looking at things and about what other people are looking at, coming up with 7 categories which are currently being tested, with a view to creating a living map of knowledge circulation.

Daryn McKenny from Miromaa Aboriginal Language & Technology Centre reported on how they’re managing both the physical and digital collections they’ve developed over many years, including some very rare historical documents about the languages of the Newcastle area. He described the different processes used for capturing and storing metadata, as well as various means of mirroring and backing up. He showed the Fujitsu Scan Snap, a handheld scanner with a range of software that makes digitisation look very simple. He also identified some of the challenges of keeping a physical collection safe, and recommended some useful software and tips that not-for-profit agencies can benefit from.

Presenting online, Mari Rhydwen from Muurrbay Language Centre shared a different perspective, as they don’t create much new material but need to keep safe existing material. They use Dropbox to store files, but acknowledge that this is not ideal. There were also concerns about security and access, for example if computers are damaged or stolen, or if someone with a large collection passes away. Looking to the future, if the language centre did not exist, what would happen to all these materials?

Siobhan Casson from the Kimberley Language Regional Centre in Halls Creek showed images of their archive room in the centre of their building, and how their material has been carefully catalogued over the years, earning high praise for their collection in a Significance Assessment in 2008. The difficulties have been in maintaining this high standard, with turnover of outside staff, lack of committed funding to this aspect of the centre, and the lack of links between the digitised materials and the database. The challenge of working in a language context with no embedded literate culture means some materials like grammars and dictionaries are not the most appropriate for supporting intergenerational language transmission, yet funding opportunities tend to prioritise text-based resources rather than teaching on country programs. She proposed an information management system that could incorporate the digital archive as part of a larger infrastructure, and they are looking for how this might be done effectively.

After hearing from the language centres, the next sessions focused on institutional archives and how they can support the work of language centres. Cathy Bow from Charles Darwin University presented on the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, a digital collection of endangered literature in languages of the Northern Territory. A collaborative partnership funded by the Australian Research Council, the archive contains around 5000 items in 50 languages. The collection is stored on the university’s library repository, in PDF and text form for presentation, and TIFF formats for preservation, available through a visual website that requires little text or technical literacy to navigate. She described the way tensions between copyright and Indigenous cultural and intellectual property are being managed, through licenses, permission forms and take-down notices, while using a Creative Commons license to inform users of the conditions under which the materials are shared.

Karen Manton from the CALL Collection at Batchelor Institute acknowledged the importance of the people whose work form the basis of their national collection, and how seriously they take the responsibility of caring for these materials. They have developed an extensive database and have been digitising their collection, with first stage of their website now available. With help from Terri Janke, they developed a range of end user licenses and protocols which inform and protect both the creators and users of the collection.

Amanda Harris from PARADISEC described nearly 50 Tb of files from 99 countries and over 1000 languages, which has now spread well beyond the Pacific region. Their custom-built database promotes discoverability, and where possible embeds metadata directly into files. She discussed some of their strategies of enriching metadata, by inviting language experts and community members to add value to the collections, as well as activities to promote the collection such as a Virtual Reality event at Canberra Museum in 2017. Their collection includes materials form Australian languages and they are pursuing partnerships with language centres to support local archiving activities.

In the panel discussion time, Steven Bird from CDU shared a 2010 checklist for language archives which focused on the key issues of audience, access, preservation, sustainability, but noted that issues of relevance to Indigenous Australia should also be included, such as cultural protocols. It was noted that the intertwining of technology and human resources is often under-estimated – a language centre may get funding to buy or build software, but the cost of a staff member to research, install, maintain and train others in using this is not always factored in by funding bodies. There was a clear indication that language centres wanted to manage their own collections, not relying on external experts who leave without building capacity for ongoing local sustainability. It was noted that collections and archives are not exactly the same, with daily management of materials often demanding more immediate attention than the safe storage and backup of archival materials. David Nathan urged caution about use of the word ‘archive’ to mean all sorts of other things – collection, library, website, backup, server – which don’t necessarily conform to the requirements of an actual archive. Steven Bird noted that technology is only one part of the process of information management, and noted that the federal government’s commitment to technological solutions, as articulated at the National Indigenous Languages Convention on the Gold Coast earlier this year, needs to be challenged. The current forum is an opportunity to articulate what is required and how the government can support the vital work of language centres, with the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019 an ideal opportunity to become more visible and more vocal in our efforts.

In the workshops after lunch, small groups worked on specific topics, such as Access, Planning, People and Skills. The planning group focused on knowing where to start, such as with an audit of what materials there are and in what forms, which can then be used as the basis for a database, whether a simple spreadsheet or a more complex system. A suggestion that the government could provide storage for off-site backup for language centre materials was met with caution from those who don’t trust the government to do this, although some agreed that AIATSIS would be a suitable repository. Prioritisation of work is also crucial, thinking internally, regionally, and nationally, with a view to sharing knowledge and avoiding duplication of effort. Both the audit and prioritisation processes require funding and time and people, which are all in short supply in language centres. There may be some crowdsourcing or volunteer options, though these may require some initial setup. First Languages Australia could support the process by providing case studies, guidelines and factsheets, if people are willing to share what they have. There was some concern about language becoming a product that can be packaged, so the need for more innovative ways to think about collections and data as something other than artefacts to be managed, and to communicate the value of our languages (in all their forms) for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The final session of the day involved discussion of tools. Susan Locke from First Nations Media Australia (formerly IRCA) described their multifaceted approach to developing resources and standards, and their coordinated approach to a national community collections plan. They are working on an affordable digital asset management system (DAMS) for Indigenous media organisations which would manage preservation files for archiving, managing ‘mezzanine’ files for production house purposes, managing community viewing and listening, capturing cultural information, and controlling access according to cultural protocols. This work will begin in 2019 but requires additional funding.

Anja Tait from Northern Territory Library asked us to reconsider ‘what is a library’ as she described their 32 remote library services, plus providing wifi to 44 communities. She described some legacy projects – a language app, bilingual board books – as well as an innovative rethinking of how to classify library materials in a community environment. They’re currently in the process of reconfiguring the Community Stories service, which enables local communities to store and share photos, videos, texts, etc. under local authority. The library is considering how best to serve the local and regional needs of communities, and Anja ended with a statement on the importance of trust.

Daryn McKenny shared about extensions to the popular Miromaa software, which will include the capacity to manage collections for language centres. The update will allow users to manage multiple databases through a single interface, and each database can have its own security or cultural protocols attached. It will also be customisable, so users can create their own fields and tags, and allows storage of digital artefacts within the system, directly linked to the metadata.

On Thursday, continuing talk of tools, Nick Thieberger from the University of Melbourne shared 3 emerging projects happening through CoEDL. The first is a multi-platform extension of SIL’s SayMore program to assist users to enter catalogue information when creating collections, allowing simple means to view and add information about files, people, places, etc. The second is a collections database for small agencies, allowing language centres and others to create rich metadata to keep track of their collections. The third is based on the Digital Daisy Bates project, as a map interface to collections, where a user can click on a map location to see a text, and the text and images scroll together. They have funding for each of these projects and are looking to partner with language centres to explore them further.

The discussion part of the workshop covered many different areas, from a warning about talking only about ‘tools’ but rather thinking in terms of ‘concepts’, to a call for Miromaa to become the tool that all language centres use. Miromaa is already used widely, but is not sufficiently funded to meet the needs of all its users, with Daryn providing the majority of support directly. There is a sense of urgency about these issues, with people wanting more opportunities to workshop and discuss options, even before the next Puliima conference in August next year. First Languages Australia has a project researching the tools used by language centres, which can inform ongoing work in this space. It was decided that an important outcome of this workshop would be a statement from WANALA calling on the government to acknowledge the importance of Indigenous languages and to support them through adequate funding and legislation. A team is currently working on this statement.

The remainder of the day involved presentations from the other workshops happening over the forum, including Message Sticks, language in Art, Storytelling, and the use of drones to document country – fantastic footage from nearby Litchfield National Park. All the attendees left excited by the inspiring workshop, and looking forward to the next steps.

Murrinhpatha translations

University of Melbourne linguist, Dr John Mansfield, spent some time working in Darwin recently. With office space at CDU, he gave us a hand with the Living Archive project

One of the unique benefits of Charles Darwin University is being able to work on Aboriginal languages on-campus, with speakers who live right here in Darwin. In August 2018, I invited Murrinhpatha speakers Erica Bangun and Mary-Ann Jongmin to the Northern Institute, to do some translation work.

The team worked on Murrinhpatha materials from the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, most of which are solely in Murrinhpatha. They created English translations for all book titles in the collection (all 187 of them!), which makes it much easier for users to search for relevant materials if you don’t know the language. They also translated the full text of two storybooks: “da niminem pardidha” (They stayed at Niminem) and “Da Ngarra Ngerrenenham Thangadi” (The place where I got scared).

Book cover

If you would like to contribute to the Living Archive project by translating texts or titles, or if you have a story to share about materials in the collection, contact us or send feedback.

Volunteering with the Living Archive

This month, we’ve had Sue Weekes from Canberra volunteering with the Living Archive project team. Here’s what she says about her experience.

The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages welcomes interns and volunteers willing to assist with retaining a special collection of the Northern Territory, produced by local people. I recently completed a month long program which was my attempt in helping to provide access to this unusual and unique collection.

The Living Archive has a number of hard copy texts that have been donated to the project for digitisation. In my volunteer role I checked the titles on Trove so the team could decide who to give their copies to. There are copies spread throughout the NT in the CDU library, the NT Library, and Batchelor Institute, and in Canberra in the (the NLA) and AIATSIS. The project team will talk to the NT Library about adding these hard copies to their special collection.

In my other activities, I worked on preparing digitised materials for uploading to eSpace, the CDU digital repository which stores all the digital artefacts in the Living Archive. There were a few collections of books from Papunya and Barunga that had been digitised but needed to be prepared as PDFs and text files with cover images. I also worked on text correction of the text files generated by OCR and compared them to the PDF files – and gave me the opportunity to read and learn some Kriol language which is used in a number of Aboriginal communities across the NT. I also helped prepare for the repatriation of digital files to the communities of origin by creating a list of file numbers and sizes.

The Living Archive is located in the Northern Institute at the Charles Darwin University. I can recommend July as a lovely time of year to visit Darwin, and a chance to escape the cold weather down south. The campus is on the north side of town, but easily accessible, and has a number of activities that a volunteer can attend, such as talks and seminars. There are also other cultural institutions in Darwin that are well worth a visit.

I really enjoyed my time here getting to know Cathy Bow the Project Manager for the Living Archive who was always helpful and instructive, staff of the Northern Institute who were very welcoming and inclusive, and participating in some of their events, in particular the activities held here for NAIDOC week.

Other interns or volunteers could further assist in the Living Archive program, either by working in house or online anywhere in Australia, so that these endangered texts can be edited and uploaded to the Living Archive. Performing this work will ensure access for readers, researchers, and reach other interested audiences Australia-wide.

Arrernte students working on texts

David Moore from the Alice Springs Language Centre writes about how they’re using materials in the Living Archive.

Currently we are working on Ripponlea Institute with the development of Cert III in Applied Language. We need a stack of accessible and useful resources for our students in the various languages.

We looked at some of the Arrernte materials on the Living Archive and found that many of them are virtually unusable. They were written a long time ago, and have missing grammatical markers, older spelling, spelling mistakes and obscure words. This means that we can’t take these texts from the site and use them in class without extensive re-working.

What is needed is texts which enable the learner to progress with access to notes and explanations, guides to how grammar and lexical items are used in the text. It seems that the LAAL texts have that potential if spellings were regularised to conform to current Arrernte spelling, mistakes corrected and guides for the learner attached to current files.

Anwerene_cover

I worked with some Arrernte teachers on a few texts, changing words to standard dictionary spellings and reorganising sentences so that this book can be read more easily in class. You can see one uploaded to LAAL as ‘Other Text’ for the story Anwerne Alheke Yerrampeke.

Over time we would like to re-work more of the texts as a class exercise for Cert III. Using texts in various classes we get a sense of how they can be developed. We could make an assessment task for students to work on creating new texts of enhancing some of the Arrernte books that are currently on LAAL.

Josiah Armstrong and I are working on the text for Akngulye arerte from the Arrernte collection in LAAL. We use the Arrernte Picture Dictionary and the Eastern and Central Arrernte to English dictionary to write current spellings: e.g. ‘othene’ changed to ‘uthene’. We will also make an English translation and glossary. The next stage would be to develop worksheets and activities based around the text.

Working on LAAL texts on whiteboard

Students will learn to read the texts and will read the text to primary classes when they are on VET work placements in schools. 

There are a number of pathways that this course supports: language teacher, translator, writer, illustrator, editor, language research assistant and Language Centre worker….

There is also a lot of potential here for further research, exploring some of the ways in which LAAL can influence language practices.

LAALbot now on Twitter

The wonderful Tim Sherratt has produced a simple guide to creating a Twitter-bot drawing information from Trove and posting it to your Twitter account. Not being a programmer myself, I was curious to know if I could build a bot to post an item from the Living Archive every day.

The whole process probably took only a few hours, from setting up a new Twitter account (https://twitter.com/LAAL_bot), getting a Trove API key, working my way through the instructions on Glitchsome trips up the garden path (switching from a trove-title-bot to a trove-collection-bot) and working out what I did wrong when I got error messages.  My first efforts selected random items from the complete CDU Library repository, so I had to ask for help to narrow the range to just the items in the Living Archive collection, to which Tim gave a helpful response. A little bit of customising the text (from “Another interesting item” to “Check this out from @living_archive!”) and creating a cron-job to tweet daily, and we’re in business!

The LAALbot gives the title and cover image of a book from the Living Archive, and links it to the record in Trove. So you don’t go directly to the item in the Archive, but can get there indirectly via Trove (go down to the green View online button and click on the Freely available link to the CDU repository). Twitter has an unfortunate habit of offering to ‘translate’ from a completely unrelated language, but I haven’t figured out how to switch that off.

If my coding skills went beyond ‘dummies’ level, I’d love to add some detail, for example identifying the language of the item, or adding some other metadata. Any computer scientist or amateur programmer interested in volunteering?

So if you’d like to receive a new book every day from the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, follow @LAAL_bot now on Twitter! Thanks so much to @wragge for making the process possible for novice coders.

Using Kriol books with Indigenous students – part 2

Liz Clarkson is a year 9 teacher at Marrara Christian College in Darwin. At the end of 2017 she experimented with using Kriol books from the Living Archive with her class of Indigenous students. Here she describes how she used the materials the second time – see Part 1 for how she initiated the activity the week before.

The following week the groups followed the same instruction sheet for the Kriol text Bog La Mad (Bogged in the mud) from the Living Archive. I had downloaded the book from the website this time and it was much easier to click through the pages than working directly online. This was great as the pictures are lovely and help with understanding as well.

Our most confident Kriol speaker became our ‘consultant,’ so as we worked through the text she corrected as she saw fit, which gave her the role of ‘teacher.’ Then later we compared our translations with the English text that was provided on the last page of the book. That was enlightening for all of us to see if a sentence had been translated with different words or different meaning or perhaps in a more poetic and descriptive way. For example, the translation in the book had ‘exhausted’ but we had used the words ‘weak’ and ‘tired’ which were more literal translations of the text.

Examples of colour-coding and translations of Bog la Mad, with the translation from the book.

Because of the difficulties with the lower group the previous week, I didn’t put the students with lower literacy in a group. Instead I went around to each of them individually while the others went on with their reading activities. With each of them I read through the story in Kriol, they listened and told me what it meant. We discussed the meanings of some  different words, and I asked them to give me an oral summary of the story. We used this activity as a basis for comprehension and forming sentences in English based on the Kriol.

In summary here’s what I got out of the activity as a teacher:

  • It was a useful diagnostic tool which helped me understand which students understand how to use articles and prepositions in Standard Australian English.
  • It showed how students are influenced by their first language.
  • It helped me understand better which students could understand Kriol as a common language even though it wasn’t their mother tongue.
  • It was interesting to see low literacy students able to listen to Kriol and translate it orally with good accuracy.
  • I could experience being the student, as the students could teach pronunciation and meaning to the teacher. This was fun and empowering for the students.

What did the students get out of it?

  • Students learnt that there are lots of stories written in Aboriginal languages (not just told).
  • Students who were reasonably literate in English could soon get used to how to read Kriol as they were familiar with Kriol sounds and could use English reading skills to decode Kriol.
  • Students were able to see how words can be translated in different ways, and see how the grammar of Kriol differs from English.
  • It was fun to do an activity that placed value on Aboriginal languages and authors and stories. Students were excited to look up the Living Archive for stories in other languages they knew better or from their home communities.

This is the worksheet used in the class: Instructions for using LAAL books

Do you have a story to share about using materials from the Living Archive? Contact us and we can publish it here, with links from our social media sites.

Using Kriol books with Indigenous students – part 1

Liz Clarkson is a year 9 teacher at Marrara Christian College in Darwin. At the end of 2017 she experimented with using Kriol books from the Living Archive with her class of Indigenous students. Here she describes how she used the materials the first time – see Part 2 for how she revised the activity for the group the following week.

My year 9 class consists of students from Minyerri, Beswick, Yarralin, Belyuen and Maningrida. Their literacy in English is not strong, and I wasn’t sure whether they would all be able to understand Kriol but I thought there was a good chance they would relate to Kriol because of the common usage of Aboriginal English. This did seem to be the case and most students did respond to it. We read the story Grin Brog (Green Frog) in Kriol and also watched another video of The Christmas Story in Kriol and they really responded well to both.

One student who seemed to relate the least was from Belyuen where they don’t speak Kriol. But interestingly enough, another student from the same community could understand it and responded really positively.

There were two groups, one more literate than the other. The first group worked through the instruction questions fairly successfully. We read the story together. One student who was confident in Kriol was able to decipher it even though she was not used to reading Kriol. She said some of the words were different to what she was used to, probably because these books were published in Barunga and use the local variety of Kriol. Each student was able to discuss the meaning in English. We looked for Kriol words which repeated in the story and then wrote down what those words were in English.

coloured_textThe students all seemed attracted to different tasks but were all engaged. One student colour coded a number of words – colouring all the same words one colour and working out what those words were. Although they all translated one or two sentences, one student enjoyed going on with this and worked hard to write down translations for the whole text. I could see from his writing that he struggled to notice when articles and prepositions were needed in English. Another student was not keen to write but orally worked on translations with me. She was able to switch easily to the correct use of articles and prepositions.

This was an interesting diagnostic tool for me to see who was switching confidently and who struggled to recognise differences between Kriol and English. I would try this activity earlier in the year next time so I could include some of these aspects in my program planning.

With the lower group, concentration and behaviour was an issue. We sat on the floor with clipboards. It was hard to use the digital version of the book as we were on the website trying to view it instead of downloading, which lets you click through the images more easily. The lesson with the lower group was a little less successful as there was one student who was happy to copy the translations but he wasn’t really learning through it. Another student who was not keen to read or write was happy to listen to me read the Kriol and he could tell me what it meant. This group found it hard to concentrate on what they might learn from the language exercise.

Liz works with a student in her class at Mararra (photo courtesy of ABC)

Go to Part 2 to read about the second class using Kriol resources, and Liz’s reflections about what she and the students learned from the activity.

Little J & Big Cuz

Little J Big Cuz Logo

In case you missed it last year, Little J and Big Cuz was a wonderful cartoon series on NITV, reported as being “Australia’s first animated show to feature Indigenous Australians and their culture.”  There are adaptations in some Indigenous languages.

The website includes a comprehensive list of supporting resources for educators, and several resources from the Living Archive. The episode on Transformation lists several titles for Foundation Years in HASS to support learning from the show.

The Living Archive project team is delighted to be included in such a fantastic resource.

Testimonial from Boarding Training Australia

Jenny Florisson from Boarding Training Australia tells about how she uses the materials in the Living Archive in her work.

LogoI have been using the Living Archive for a long time in my Training work with Boarding schools. My husband Steve and I do Certificate IV training all around Australia for Boarding school staff, particularly those with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. One of the Units that Houseparents and Boarding supervisors study in the training we do is called Promote Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural safety. We believe that

“Respecting, valuing and understanding Aboriginal ways of using English is a significant step in respecting, valuing and understanding the identity and self-esteem of these children.”  Dr Diana Eades

For some staff we train, when we look at the books on the Living Archive website, this is the first time they have seen books written in Kriol and other Aboriginal languages. We encourage Boarding staff to celebrate the languages of their Indigenous students, and to have stories and books available in Indigenous languages for students to read. To value a young person’s home language is vital. Many Aboriginal students speak several languages and some have had the opportunity to learn to read them.

Thri BiligutI have particularly enjoyed the Kriol stories and the students have a lot of laughs teaching me to read the story together. My favourite is “Thri Biligut” in Kriol, written and illustrated by Lily Bennett (Barunga).

I have felt very privileged to sit with a young girl in her Boarding Residence in a remote Aboriginal community while she read me a story in Murrinh-Patha on the computer from the Living Archive website. Her pride and enjoyment at reading to me in her language was very obvious.

I encourage Boarding staff to download the free books from the Living Archive and to print them out for their students to enjoy reading in their own language.

If you have a story to tell about using the Living Archive, contact us at livingarchive@cdu.edu.au