Culture & Heritage

Research libraries are at the forefront of engaging large and diverse audiences with their acquisition, curation, presentation, and use of their rich collections. RLUK will work with members to maximise the scholarly and societal impact of these collections, support their innovative curation and presentation, promote the role that collections and the staff who care for them have as catalysts for cross-community and disciplinary discourse, and highlight their joint role in addressing key societal challenges.

Under this strategic strand RLUK has been working with its members to collectively challenge established biases in the acquisition description, and presentation of heritage and cultural collections through the sharing of best practice, knowledge exchange, and drawing on expertise from across the research library community and beyond. This has included the formation of a Decolonisation Group and the Inclusive Collections, Inclusive Libraries virtual event series.

Our research into the development and use of Virtual Reading Rooms (VRRs) and Virtual Teaching Spaces (VTSs) has resulted in three reports and the creation of a Virtual Reading Room ToolKit, developed with international partners, to help collection-holding institutions, including libraries, archives, and museums, in setting up a VRR consultation service.

We also work in collaboration and partnership with partners, including Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA), to advocate for copyright and licensing frameworks that enable the digitisation of out of commerce works and for a UK equivalent to the EU orphan works exemption.

The National Archives and RLUK Professional Fellowship Scheme has been running since 2018 to enables staff from both organisations to gain experience and insight from one another, strengthen and diversify the relationship between them, and to overcome some of the collective challenges facing research and cultural organisations.


Christina Kamposiori


Jill Taylor-Roe

Katie Eagleton

RLUK Networks

RLUK’s Networks explore areas of professional or strategic interest to members, and work closely with the Board and Executive to deliver RLUK’s strategic objectives.

The Culture & Heritage strategic strand is supported by the Special Collections and Heritage Network (SCHN), a professional peer network for RLUK members leading cultural heritage activities within member libraries.

RLUK Decolonisation Group

RLUK’s Decolonisation Group was established in January 2022 to discuss issues of common interest around the decolonisation of collections in research libraries. Through a programme of events to explore what decolonisation means in practice and current practices in collecting, describing, presenting, and engaging with content in research library collections, the group aims to facilitate dialogue, shape strategic direction, and develop a shared understanding across the sector of what decolonisation means, what the criteria are for decolonising collections and what the role of different groups is in the process.

The group curates the Inclusive Collections, Inclusive Libraries event series and developed a survey to identify the current practices and needs of RLUK institutions when developing initiatives that aim to make collections more diverse and inclusive, the result of which have been published in a recent report.

Related Reports

Developing inclusive collections: understanding current practices and needs of RLUK research libraries

This report presents the results of a recent survey launched by Research Library UK (RLUK) aiming to document the current practices and needs of member institutions when developing initiatives that aim to make collections more diverse and inclusive. The focus was placed on decolonisation efforts and the needs of professionals that lead or support them in terms of training and skills development. The motivation behind the survey was to understand the challenges that research libraries currently face with regards to decolonisation practice with the aim of providing more targeted support for the RLUK community.

Academic use and perceptions of Virtual Reading Rooms and Virtual Teaching Spaces

This report presents the results of a recent survey launched by Research Libraries UK (RLUK), in collaboration with the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, and members of a working group convened by the International Alliance of Research Library Associations (IARLA).

The aim of this research was to establish the academic awareness, experience, and perception of Virtual Reading Rooms (VRRs) and Virtual Teaching Spaces (VTSs). Developing a better understanding of user needs and motivations behind the use of VRRs and VTSs will lead to further improvements which will ensure greater use and sustainability of the services.

Virtual Reading Rooms and Virtual Teaching Spaces in collection holding institutions

The report presents the experiences of 22 institutions internationally which have created, or intend to create, VRR and VTS services. This work informs an ongoing piece of research being undertaken by RLUK regarding the potential of VRRs as digital research infrastructure and the possibilities and benefits of undertaking a networked approach.

Evidencing the Impact and Value of Special Collections

This report examines the role that the unique and distinctive collections play in enabling research libraries to meet their impact goals and investigates the ways impact resulting through relevant services and activities is evidenced.

The unique and distinctive collections held by research libraries have long been recognised as cultural assets by their institutions, with strong research and educational potential. Yet, over the past decades the practices and values of academic and cultural heritage institutions have shifted in response to pressures from a fast-changing society, the digital revolution and a constrained economic climate.  In such a shifting environment, the roles played by unique and distinctive collections are being reassessed and the way in which they can align with the wider institutions’ missions re-evaluated.