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On embracing the labels of PoC/BAME as a library school student by Open Aspirations

By Ian G Evans, on 14 September 2020

The following article is written by a current LIS student at UCL. Based on work written for the INST0016 Supporting Users module, the article provides an excellent summary of a number of key resources for any LIS student or library worker who is looking to inform themselves on key LIS resources related to race, equality and diversity. The article also touches on the experience of studying as a PoC at a library school. In 2019, BAME/PoC students made up 15% of the LIS student body at UCL. While this is a higher percentage than in the librarian workforce overall (97% White), it is not a statistic of which we are proud. Publishing article such as this one is one of the many steps that we are taking to address the role that we play in shaping workforce diversity, along with other progressive stacking measures, including tackling representation in module, reading list and panel/events, establishing student-led reading groups and working with UCL Libraries to purchase access to titles from the Black Excellence in LIS syllabus. Thank you to Open Aspirations and other students for their work leading and supporting these initiatives.

Alison Hicks, Programme Director, Library and Information Studies.  

On embracing the labels of PoC/BAME as a library school student

Back in 2018, when I started to attend the LIS programme at UCL, I would have had to search the Internet to find out what the acronyms PoC (people/person of colour) and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) stand for. Having lived in several different countries before moving to the UK in 2014, I saw myself as someone seeking to become a world citizen. It was in this somewhat naïve and colour-blind mindset that I shielded myself from internalizing racialized labelling.

This attitude has changed over the past two years. I still remember my first day in one of the LIS modules, where I felt panicked to see I was the only apparently (east) Asian-looking student and there was only one Black student. The emotional labour of standing out in the classroom was overwhelming, but this experience prompted me to look into the low representation of BAME LIS students as well as BAME academic librarians, the sector I aspire to work in.

Out of this exploration, I wrote an essay about the key resources for library school students to engage with the “decolonizing academic libraries” movement — the recent initiatives that tackle the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the overall practice of UK academic libraries. Thank you, Alison Hicks, for suggesting me to share my findings with the DIS community.

Here is a brief summary of the list I compiled…

  • Research Reports

Factual sources, specifically the recent official research reports published by UK organizations are essential in understanding the diversity issues within academic libraries and beyond. Among them, particularly useful ones are:

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, attending day conferences was a popular way of information sharing on the subject of decolonization for librarians.

Among these three, Cardiff and Goldsmiths organizers made the conference presentation slides available through online databases.

  • Library Juice Press Publications

In this time of uncertainty, I have found it quite beneficial to explore the work of the US publisher Litwin Books, especially the publications of their imprint Library Juice Press. A few titles relating to decolonization initiatives are: 

The LJP publications help us to 1) gain comparative understanding of the history, research and practice of critical librarianship in the UK and the US; 2) learn to see library activism as an ongoing historical process and continuing efforts; and 3) develop strategies to face up to the challenge of tackling racism and advancing inclusion in the new social context, which is emerging from the current pandemic and anti-racism movement.

I hope these resources are useful for the DIS community. By exploring them, we are most importantly invited to reflect on our own experiences. Self-reflection, which I have learnt from writing my essay, is one of the keys to raising awareness, building empathy and becoming more open to having conversations on racial inclusivity.

Open Aspirations (Twitter: @O_Aspirations)

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