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A Rich Tapestry: Diverse Collections and Audiences (CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference 2016)

By Genny Grim, on 6 October 2016

At the beginning of September I visited the University of Liverpool to attend the annual RBSCG conference. The 70-odd attendees were mostly library staff from universities, but there were also representatives of independent and special libraries, as well as colleagues from archives and museums.

Over the course of the conference, we heard sessions on a range of topics relating to diversity, in our collections, among our readers, and within the profession. These ranged from Kay Jones (Museum of Liverpool) giving her keynote address on the benefits and challenges of working with diverse audiences, to Valerie Stevenson (Liverpool John Moores University) discussing the practicalities of exhibiting special collections materials outside the library space. We also heard Yvonne Morris, the CILIP Policy Officer, presenting the initial results of the CILIP workforce mapping survey and how CILIP plans to respond to those results.

The latter was particularly interesting. While there is still a great deal of work to be done analysing and acting on the survey results, the initial findings presented were as follows. First, they estimate that there are around 87,000 people working in the information and knowledge sector, of whom around 69,000 are working in libraries. Around 45% of CILIP members will reach or have reached retirement age by 2026, and 97% of the workforce identify as white. Finally, while women make up 79% of the profession, 47% of the top earners are men. Obviously there are some issues to be addressed here; while full details of how they plan to address diversity issues are yet to be confirmed, CILIP’s action plan for the next few years is now available and highlights these issues.

In addition to the sessions, we were able to visit special collections in institutions around the city. I went to the University of Liverpool’s special collections and to the Anglican Cathedral archives, where I was impressed by the range of documents held, not to mention the incredible work being done by a team of three part-time archivists.

The theme that kept coming up throughout the conference was that of storytelling and voices: how we can use our knowledge of our collections to tell new stories; how we can work with users to make sure our collections reflect their experience and stories; how we can listen to the diverse voices of our profession to provide a better experience for users and for each other.

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