Watch Inclusive Collections, Inclusive Libraries talks on demand
Over the past few years, cultural heritage institutions, including research libraries from across the UK and beyond, have intensified their efforts to decolonise their collections and practices. Developing more inclusive collections, where a variety of voices are represented, is necessary to create a culture where equity, inclusivity, and diversity are the driving forces and where scholarship and learning can thrive.
However, there is a need for honest discussions about what drives decolonisation in institutions, how initiatives are delivered, the successes and failures, which can lead in identifying current gaps and needs in the sector.
Inclusive Collections, Inclusive Libraries is an RLUK programme of events that aims to foster conversation around decolonisation and inclusive practice in collecting, describing, presenting, and engaging with content in research library collections. It seeks to raise awareness about the opportunities and challenges of dealing with, contextualising, and engaging with offensive collections while also identifying and sharing examples of good practice.
Jump to a talk:
- Building inclusive and diverse collections: from development to engagement
- The Sandbach Tinne Project – slavery colonialism and the digital archive – Malik Al Nasir, PhD candidate, University of Cambridge
- Decolonising the curriculum and the role of the research library
- The ecology of inclusive knowledge collections rests on the pillars of excellence, transformation and sustainability – Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Chancellor, University of Cape Town
- Museums & the Making of Us: In the Footsteps of Giants – Richard Benjamin, Visiting Professor in Slavery and Public Engagement, School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, University of Liverpool
- Surfacing History: Case Studies in Digital Discovery of African American Cultural Heritage – Dorothy Berry, Digital Curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Building inclusive and diverse collections: from development to engagement
This seminar brought together the recently graduated RLUK/TNA Professional Fellows to discuss the results of their projects. The 2022-2023 Professional Fellows investigated pressing issues around diversity and inclusion in cultural collections. Their projects looked at the opportunities and challenges involved in developing inclusive collections as well as best practices in surfacing diverse identities in catalogues and representing marginalised histories and voices. Their work also explored the value of understanding the needs of users and engaging with different communities in the process.
The RLUK/TNA Professional Fellowship Scheme 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. Find more about the scheme here.
Diversity and inclusion in UK archival collection development
Jenny Shaw, Collections Development Manager, Wellcome Collection
Jenny shares her research into how archives have attempted to develop their collections in more inclusive ways to include a wider range of perspectives. She will talk about how archival theory can support more diverse collecting, look at some archival practice, and explore some of the challenges of measuring progress.
Documenting Complex Histories: Inclusive Cataloguing and the Women’s Aid Archive
Holly Smith, Project Archivist, Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive, University of Leeds
Holly introduces us to the Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive, talking through some of the ways her TNA/RLUK Professional Fellowship into inclusive cataloguing practice has affected her approach to documenting this significant collection.
Capturing Diversity: Challenging normative assumptions of Records Subjects
Rachael Minott, Joint Head of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, The National Archives
Rachael shares her research into the user desire for diverse narratives in archives, and the ethical and practical considerations for capturing record subject and creators racial identity in archive catalogues. Exploring this within the frame of the need to challenge normative assumptions of person’s identity when information is absent.
The Sandbach Tinne Project – slavery colonialism and the digital archive – Malik Al Nasir, PhD candidate, University of Cambridge
The ability to conduct effective archival research is contingent upon several factors, including; institutional collection policies, (who decides what the collection priorities are?) Academic affiliation, (what access is there in academic institutional archives for public historians and community researchers who are unaffiliated?) Effective indexing and cataloging (how is this impacted by limited human resources in the archival sectors?) Digitisation and transcription, (to what extent have the archival and academic communities adopted digital migration measures for collections?) Disparate collections (how practical is is to travel to the various locations that house segments of related archival materials?)
These are practical questions that span the breadth of subject areas and the entire academic and archival sector. However, when contentious and problematic histories are the subject (such as enslavement and colonialism) these barriers often become defensive harbours for deliberate, – as well as incidental – discriminatory practices.
These include; limited or absent collection prioritisation of Black history. The rejection of contentious archival deposits that might show British or western society in a bad light. Furthermore, the lack of diversity in the higher echelons of the sector and the broader Academy, when combined with the prevalence of analogue archival materials, behind layers of bureaucracy, has resulted in limited access and a lack of research, by comparison to other subjects during similar periods, such as the Napoleonic wars, or the Industrial Revolution.
These barriers were all encountered by Malik Al Nasir when he sought to trace his ancestry back through plantation slavery in Demerara. Malik took to purchasing archival materials related to his ancestral slave owners know as Sandbach Tinne and Co., in order to wrench control of the archival materials necessary to uncover his own enslaved and colonised history.
To confront these questions and begin to eradicate these obstacles, Malik created The Sandbach Tinne Project.
Now reading for PhD in history at University of Cambridge, Malik is working with museums, galleries, records offices and universities in the UK, USA and the Carribean, in an ambitious project to identify disparate Sandbach Tinne collections and to unite them digitally in one authoritative digital dataset, that can be researched, curated from and interacted with by academics and the public alike.
In his talk, Malik discussed the development of the project that will act as not only a pilot for a multi-agency approach to decolonisation of archival materials, but that will attempt to begin to decolonise the archival sector in the process.
Decolonising the curriculum and the role of the research library
Higher Education institutions in the UK and beyond have been increasing efforts to decolonise the academic curriculum. The reason is often twofold and linked to the current need to offer modules and academic content that represent the interests of their diverse student communities as well as to tackle racism and inequality across the campus.
Research libraries play a leading role in the process of decolonisation through their collections and expert support of their staff, which in many cases has led to a review of existing institutional practices and processes. During this seminar, professionals from two RLUK research libraries discussed the role of the research library in decolonising the curriculum, shared their experiences and reflected on the opportunities and the challenges that this role involves.
Addressing the colonial legacies in the University of Liverpool’s heritage collections
Joanne Fitton, Deputy Director Libraries, Museums, Galleries, and Robyn Orr, Liaison Librarian for the School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool Library
This talk outlined the current project work on the heritage collections by Libraries, Museums & Galleries staff, and how this is related to, and informed by, academic, institutional and external partnerships.
Decolonising library collections: contemporary issues, practical solutions and examples from LSE
Kevin Wilson, Academic Liaison and Collection Development Manager, The London School of Economics and Political Science Library
In his presentation, Kevin provides a summary of the book chapter he contributed to ‘Narrative Expansions: Interpreting Decolonisation in Academic Libraries’, edited by Jess Crilly and Regina Everitt (Facet Publishing). The presentation includes a historical overview of the development of LSE Library’s collections and how a recent collection evaluation confirmed the strengths and weaknesses of those collections. It also focuses on bias within collection development and reading lists across academic disciplines. The presentation culminates in some practical tips that libraries can take to develop more diverse collections.
The ecology of inclusive knowledge collections rests on the pillars of excellence, transformation and sustainability – Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Chancellor, University of Cape Town
Libraries are the custodians of knowledge. If they focus only on knowledge from a particular cultural bias or historical frame of reference, then libraries are serving only that part of the population that shares those perspectives. A library that does not seek to include diverse sources of knowledge and inclusive perspectives on the use of such knowledge will only reinforce the divide between the Global North and the Global South. This at a time when the world requires different perspectives and different sources of knowledge to address the challenges of global magnitude that humanity is facing. In this sense, every library, no matter where it is located, is an essential part of a global knowledge network. By understanding and promoting the relationship between excellence and transformation in the collection and curation of knowledge, libraries are in a powerful position to build a universal knowledge archive that can serve all humanity.
This presentation summarises how the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa builds on the relationship between excellence and transformation to strengthen sustainability across the institution. These three pillars form the basis of UCT’s institutional ecology as well as their call to serve South Africa and the wider world. This focus on the ecology of the university is expressed in their Vision 2030 strategic plan, which can be summed up in UCT’s massive transformative purpose: to unleash human potential to create a fair and just society. The presentation includes a brief description of the student protests since 2015, which gave voice to the disconnection students and staff members felt with the institution’s history and current approach to teaching, learning, curriculum, pedagogy and the archive and use of knowledge from different sources.
The presentation explains how UCT’s current approach to diversity and social inclusion in the academic project is built on the interaction of excellence, transformation and sustainability. In such a model, excellence is not about a specific standard set by a limited world view. Rather, it is achievable by everyone. Transformation involves not just meeting a quota for admissions or employment equity but rather creating conditions for everyone to express excellence, regardless of where they come from. This requires students to bring not only intellectual capacity to the academic project but also to gain the cultural capital that allows them to thrive in a university environment. Creating conditions for them to succeed, while enabling excellence, is transformation with integrity. Together, excellence and transformation promote the sustainability of the university ecology, including knowledge dissemination, culture, finances, our contribution to society, our impact on the environment, the people and the institutions around us, recognising that a higher education institution affects the wider society. If we focus on excellence without transformation, or vice versa, the university ecology will not be sustainable.
The presentation demonstrates how UCT Libraries puts into practice the belief that “historically advantaged institutions should have a moral obligation to share scholarly content for the advancement of research in the country as a whole and for the greater good of the public.”
Museums & the Making of Us: In the Footsteps of Giants – Richard Benjamin, Visiting Professor in Slavery and Public Engagement, School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, University of Liverpool
What role do museums play in realigning and reflecting society? Platforms for dialogue and portals for action on issues from the legacies of slavery to decolonisation. Revolutionary thinkers and doers. Contemporary (and caring) curating, exhibitions, displays, and stories can reflect the here and now and hasten power sharing; but show an awareness of the journey and those that strove before us, from cabinets of curiosities to social justice museums.
Richard reflects on and reappraises contested histories and narratives through the lens of his time as Head of the International Slavery Museum (ISM), an activist museum challenging and framing racism, discrimination, and accepted convenient and dominant narratives.
Surfacing History: Case Studies in Digital Discovery of African American Cultural Heritage – Dorothy Berry, Digital Curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
The recent wellspring of interest in surfacing marginalised peoples’ histories has led to various projects across GLAM institutions focused on reevaluating description with user-centred discovery at the centre. By highlighting projects to reimaging description of racially inflammatory materials, and to increase access and awareness of African American cultural heritage materials at predominately White institutions, Dorothy Berry hopes to spark conversation around expanding access and reimagining descriptive possibilities.