Designing archival information systems through partnerships with Indigenous communities

Developing the Mukurtu Hubs and Spokes Model in Australia


  • Kirsten Thorpe University of Technology Sydney
  • Kimberly Christen Washington State University
  • Lauren Booker University of Technology Sydney
  • Monica Galassi University of Technology Sydney



Archival Information Systems, Indigenous Sovereignty, Indigenous Digital Return, Indigenous Archives



Indigenous peoples in Australia have been heavily documented in colonial archives and collections. The past two decades have seen significant materials from Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) institutions being returned to Indigenous communities in Australia through physical or digital repatriation of materials. The digital return of materials requires both appropriate systems for returning both the digital collections, metadata and contextual information that relates to them, and agreements, policies, and procedures for meaningfully engaging with Indigenous communities throughout the process. Importantly, the information returned needs to be accessible, readable, and usable in local community contexts based on understanding local community needs. This paper discusses priorities around engaging with Indigenous peoples to reshape and build archival information systems and access points that support community requirements for digital return and management of cultural heritage materials in local settings. The paper discusses future priorities for designing archival information systems to support Indigenous sovereignty, including data stewardship and preservation approaches. These concerns are discussed and raised as part of the research and development of the global Mukurtu Content Management System (CMS) project, including within the New South Wales (NSW) Australian Mukurtu Hub.

Author Biographies

Kirsten Thorpe, University of Technology Sydney

Kirsten Thorpe (Worimi, Port Stephens NSW) has led the development of protocols, policies, and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in libraries and archives in Australia. Kirsten’s research interests relate to Indigenous self-determination in libraries and archives. She has been involved in numerous projects that have involved the return of historic collections to Indigenous peoples and communities, and advocates for a transformation of practice to center Indigenous priorities and voice in regard to the management of data, records, and collections.  

Kirsten joined the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research in 2018 to continue research and engagement in relation to Indigenous protocols and decolonising practices in the library and archive field. Kirsten is an advocate for the ‘right of reply’ to records, as well as capacity building and support for the development of local Indigenous digital keeping places.  

Kirsten was previously the Manager, Indigenous Services at the State Library of NSW where she led the development of strategies supporting state-wide information services for Indigenous people. This included support for Indigenous priorities and cultural competency across NSW Public Libraries, the launch of the Library’s first Indigenous Collecting Strategy, and projects that supported the documentation, return and revitalisation of Indigenous Australian languages through archival sources.

Kirsten is a PhD candidate within the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University where she is investigating the question of Indigenous cultural safety in Australian libraries and archives. 

Kimberly Christen, Washington State University

Kim Christen is a Professor in the Department of English, the Director of the Digital Technology and Culture Program, the Director of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation and the Director of Digital Initiatives for the College of Arts and Sciences at Washington State University.  Dr. Christen received her Ph.D. from the history of consciousness department at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 2004. Her academic research and grant-funded projects focus on the intersection of digital technologies, intellectual property rights, archival process, cultural heritage movements and the ethics of openness within Indigenous communities, and with and by libraries, archives, and museums.  More of Dr. Christen’s work, including publications and projects, can be found at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @Mukurtu.


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How to Cite

Thorpe, K., Christen, K., Booker, L. ., & Galassi, M. . (2021). Designing archival information systems through partnerships with Indigenous communities: Developing the Mukurtu Hubs and Spokes Model in Australia. Australasian Journal of Information Systems, 25.



Research on Indigenous use of Information and Communication Technologies