Decolonising the academic library, Digital conference Mercian Collaboration event 16/6/20

The first digital workshop for the Mercian collaboration this meeting offered a varied and thought-provoking programme centring on the reasons, practices and processes of Decolonising academic libraries.  Speakers from De Montfort University, University of Leicester, Northumbria University, University of East London, University of Surrey, King’s College, London and Coventry University presented their experience and current practice in various approaches to decolonising their academic library.  The event was organised By Kaye Towlson, DMU with Heena Karavadra and Keith Nockels of University Leicester and hosted in Teams. 

 Keith Nockels, University of Leicester, welcomed all to the meeting and spoke of the Decolonising group working at University of Leicester library. To acknowledge the current societal context Heena Karavadra read the BAME Network (Cilip) statement in response to the murder of George Floyd https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/statementGeorgeFloyd . This statement ends by acknowledging the key role that Library, information and knowledge professionals have in dismantling racism and asks for all to personally reflect and take action. This day provided space and inspiration for attendees to think about potential actions.  

Kaye Towlson (De Montfort University) presented the background and ongoing work of the Decolonising DMU project working to create an anti-racist university where all can succeed. She detailed various activities of the library work stream and focussed on the importance and impact of getting people talking, thinking and doing to progress  decolonising.   

Kelly Stockfield , Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Northumbria University presented “Decolonising work and the staff /student experience – utilising the ‘inclusivity matrix’ as a way to visualise and reflect on module reading listsKelly and her colleagues developed an inclusivity matrix, delivered in the classroom as a visible expression of racial and gender bias in researchers and knowledge taught in the UK. The matrix was utilised in  Criminology and computing studies classrooms. Kelly acknowledged the role of the library in helping researchers broaden their perspectives to a more global representation of knowledge. The “chicken and egg” situation of reading list driven library acquisitions was noted as a challenge. See https://www.britsoccrim.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Exploring-the-Criminology-Curriculum-PBCC19.pdf  by Stockdale and Sweeney (2019) for details. 

In the afternoon a series of lightning sessions enabled four presenters to share their work:  

Ian Clark, Academic Services Librarian for Psychology, University of East London presented a thought- provoking talk entitled White people need to do the work (not lead it). Ian identified barriers put up by white people to obscure the need for decolonising and anti-racist work, challenge assumptions or refute privileges and offered rebuttals. He supplied a link to a Zotero library of relevant material: https://www.zotero.org/groups/2148478/decolonisation/library and shared the link to Abdi, M. (2019) Advice for being an ally. BAMEed. Retrieved from: https://www.bameednetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/advice-5c-20for_38970569.pdf   

Liberating the Library through Staff-Student partnership. This work provides an example of co-creation, student curation, giving space to the breadth of the student cohort, paying heed to the lived experience of students of colour and moving away from the “single story”. University of Surrey student Oluwapelumi Durojaiye, worked in the Library as an Education Intern with Catherine Batson, Faculty Engagement Manager. During her time in post, Oluwapelumi  Durojaiye was able to develop the student curator initiative where students were able to create virtual and physical displays in the library and could add to the library collection via suggestions for purchase. To help develop decolonised reading lists Oluwapelumi developed an inclusive publishers index to enable staff to source a wider, more diverse body of knowledge and reading.  

Michelle Bond, Academic Liaison Librarian for Media and the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Automotive Engineering spoke of “Starting points: Building your on-campus decolonisation network”.  Michelle offered a series of steps to deconstruct one’s own predominantly white, western mode of thinking, to challenge existing assumptions and knowledge of education and the position and role of libraries. These challenges and reflections can be facilitated through networking and engaging with reading and discussion. Michelle talked of the benefits of engaging with a cross campus staff book club composed of staff with a range of cultural backgrounds and experience.  Suggested resources of interest: A blog post from a student reflecting on an event: https://www.cusu.org/news/article/bame/Reflections-on-the-BHM-Panel-Talk/   and Gus John BELMAS lecture 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kD-s_UDRftM  

 Vanessa Farrier, Head of Education and Curriculum, King’s College, London who spoke of Maintaining a decolonial approach to teaching collections in crisis mode. Vanessa asked how can we facilitate decolonising in an environment driven by the COVID crisis? A crisis which demands all acquisitions are digital (where possible) and where the acquisition of library stock is more process than subject collection driven. Vanessa spoke of enshrining the concepts and actions of decolonising within Librarian job descriptions, a phenomenon enabled by the recent restructure of Librarian posts at King’s. She argued it is essential that reading lists are seen as tools of pedagogy and not a process driven means of access to relevant information. Librarians must be involved in both the process of the curriculum and the development of content for the curriculum to enable decolonising to happen. Decolonising is seen as vital to student experience and success. 

Represent: The last presentation of the day was by Heena Karavadra, Academic Librarian (College of Science, Engineering and Life Sciences) University of Leicester. She spoke of building a representative leisure reading collection for all of the student community.  She spoke of her student zine workshop exploring the theme of representation.  Attendees of the Mercian event were invited to contribute to a padlet wall noting their thoughts of why representation is important.  Themes included in the wall were:  belonging, empowerment, avoid the single story,  empathy with people “not like you”, demonstrate all  an inclusive and equal part of  university, other ways of understanding the world, role models students can relate and aspire to. All inspiring reasons for diversity in all collections.  

To sum up attendees were invited to contribute to a padlet wall noting a reflection on the day, a take home point, an action on return to the day job. The wall will be circulated to attendees later in the year as a call to action.   

Kaye Towlson, Academic Team Manager (Information Literacy) and Fair Outcomes Champion (Decolonising DMU), De Montfort University, Leicester