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Liberating the Collections at UCL

Rozz Evans19 June 2020

As signalled in Ben’s Liblist message of 11th June 2020 we wanted to share a bit more detail about the work that has already happened in the area of ‘decolonising our collections’ and plans to develop and build on this work. There is a lot of activity in this area across the library and archives sector, many colleagues have attended events nationally related to this topic and there is a high level of interest and commitment to this area of work across the service.

Back in November 2019 a meeting was convened for all academic support staff interested or already engaged in themes around “decolonising” collections, at subject or site level, to consider the scope for activities in Library Services. The response was huge. We considered terminology and agreed we’d give this work the title of ‘Liberating the Collections’ so that it would complement the existing ‘Liberating the Curriculum’ work that UCL has undertaken. We also felt that the unintentional mis-use or misappropriation of the terms ‘decolonising’ or ‘decolonisation’ could be problematic.

Colleagues shared examples of work already being undertaken including:

Reclassification – recent projects

Art Reading Room, UCL Main Library (photo courtesy of Liz Lawes)

Tom Meehan (Head of Cataloguing & Metadata) spoke about a project initiated by Liz Lawes (Subject Liaison Librarian: Fine Art, History of Art, Film Studies, Small Press Collections) for the MX section of the ART collection, to change the classification of non-Western art from purely alphabetical-by-country to a logical arrangement using Garside’s standard geographical table. This followed on from a student enquiry and meant that African art in particular could be more effectively organised and less marginalised. The project involved mapping the former classmarks for 2000 items to new ones (in this case also recalculating Cutter numbers), making the changes to Alma holdings records, and physically relabelling and moving the books.

Wojciech Janik (Area Liaison Coordinator & Area Liaison Librarian for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus & Eurasia) shared details of similar reclassification work at SSEES library, undertaken to create new categories for materials from former Soviet republics which have been independent countries for almost 20 years. These had continued to be classified within the Russian collection which is politically problematic. There was a lot of interest in this work and it even resulted in a donation of books from the Georgian Ambassador.

Reading lists – modelling good practice

With planning for the new UCL East campus under way there is an objective to embed good ‘Liberating the Curriculum’ practice in new programmes from the outset. Hazel Ingrey (Head of Teaching & Learning Services) is working with academics to suggest inclusive, non-canon literature and viewpoints for the new reading lists that they will curate.

Change the Subject! – film screening at UCL

On 3 February 2020, Library Services co-sponsored the London premiere of this documentary, with UCL’s Department of Information Studies (DIS). The film narrates the story of a group of students at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, USA, who challenged anti-immigrant sentiment as represented by the Library of Congress subject headings in the Library catalogue, and specifically the term ‘illegal alien’, used by academic libraries globally.

Open to attendees across the library sector, the screening was followed by a panel discussion where UCL was represented by Tom Meehan. The film is temporarily available to view https://www.pbs.org/video/change-the-subject-23nbpj/

Steps to Progress – facilitating and hosting a student initiative

Steps to Progress, UCL Main Library

In late 2018 a PhD student from UCL’s English Department approached the Library with a project he was developing, with the support of the Vice Provost International and other senior officers, to install decals of book spines to the stair risers leading to the Main Library that challenged existing perceptions of the literary canon and celebrated the diversity of the UCL community. Supported and enabled in liaison with library colleagues, the project came to fruition in early June 2019 https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/libnet/2019/06/05/steps-to-progress-2/. It has received considerable attention and plaudits from both UCL and external visitors to the space.

Eugenics Inquiry – supported and informed by Library Services

In 2018, UCL’s President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur commissioned an ‘Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL’, led by Professor Iyiola Solanke of the University of Leeds. Library Services supported the Inquiry through the Director of Operations acting as secretary, and Special Collections staff assisting with identification and provision of evidence drawn from the archives and records materials we hold. Learning and insight from this process has been shared with Library Services staff in the Peer Review https://www.ucl.ac.uk/libnet/news-social/peer-review/archive-2020/issue-168-02-march-2020 on 2 March 2020. The articles illustrate some of the discoveries made and implications for how our collections might be researched and presented in future.

Sustaining the Liberated Curriculum – Special Collections project

The Special Collections team have long been involved in Liberating the Curriculum work, the most recent example being a funded project to develop enhanced resources for archival handling and exploration to support teaching in the BA (Hons) Education Studies at the IOE. The focus of the project was the preservation and digitisation of historical materials used for teaching about groups whose experiences have often been marginalised in historical accounts of education – in this case girls and the science curriculum, multicultural and anti-racist education in the 1970s and 80s and disability and special educational needs (SEN). Although they can be accessed in person, the resources are now available to UCL students on Moodle and have been used to develop teaching and student research in these areas over the past 2 years.

Next steps: Liberating the Collections Steering Group

It was agreed that there is a lot more that we can do and that we needed to establish a group to plan and oversee strands of activity across Library Services, aligned to our Strategy, UCL’s Liberating the Curriculum initiative and with reference to best practice in the library sector.

The group will be meeting for the first time on the 15th July to agree terms of reference and decide the priorities for this work going forward. The group will report to the Collection Management Advisory Group (CMAG) and connect closely with the Library’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

It will be co-chaired by Rozz Evans (Head of Collection Strategy) and Kate Cheney (Head of Site Library Services and lead for the Staff Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Key Performance Area).

Replacing Copac with new NBK Library Hub Discover

ucyltpm8 July 2019

Further to my blog post of 5 February, Copac and a number of related services from RLUK and Suncat will no longer exist from 31 July 2019. They are due to be replaced by a new range of Library Hub services from Jisc, based on data within the National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (NBK). Please take note if you use any of the following services:

  • Copac
  • Copac Collection Management (CCM) Tools
  • RLUK record downloading (z39.50)
  • Suncat

There are three “Library Hub” services, the most important one for discovery being Library Hub Discover, which takes over from Copac and SUNCAT and should have similar coverage. UCL’s holdings are now in this service, although I am undertaking a number of detailed tests and would appreciate any reports of missing or strange-looking records on Library Hub. Updates should now be weekly. You can restrict any search to UCL only, by putting “held-by:ucl” at the beginning of any search, e.g. this search for social media books by Daniel Miller. This should be useful for when Explore is unavailable. Real-time availability is not available on Library Hub Discover, but is planned.

The RLUK MARC record downloading service will be superseded by Library Hub Catalogue, a web and z39.50 service. I am currently looking at getting this set up on Alma and will send further information to relevant staff when this is ready.

The third service- Library Hub Compare– is not yet ready but is intended to replace CCM Tools and the SUNCAT Serials Comparison service. Further details will be provided when available.

Please note that all three Library Hub services are still being described by Jisc as “pilot” services but with the imminent retirement of Copac in particular it will be necessary to update practices and documentation.

More information

Jisc have provided a number of extra pages with information about Library Hub Discover, including a general About page, a more detailed FAQ, and lots of search tips in a Help page.


Please let me know if you have any feedback, especially about how UCL’s data appears (or if it doesn’t). Jisc are also interested in getting feedback and you can fill in this questionnaire.

New NBK Library Hub to Replace Copac and Suncat

ucyltpm5 February 2019

Copac and a number of related services will shortly be disappearing, to be replaced by new services from Jisc this summer. Jisc have been working on a new National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (NBK) with a view to replacing a number of popular national library services, including Copac, Copac Collection Management (CCM) Tools, RLUK record downloading (z39.50), and Suncat. There are currently three “Library Hub” services planned, two of which now have a pilot interface available:

  • Library Hub Discover (search, to replace Copac). This is now available as a pilot with limited coverage to test now. There is a link to a feedback form on the Search page.
  • Library Hub Catalogue (record download, to replace RLUK z39.50). I anticipate this simply replacing the RLUK profile in the Alma External Resources search although there is a web interface too. This is now available as a pilot with limited fields and data, but this is for libraries that have contributed to the NBK, which we have yet to do.
  • Library Hub Compare (to supersede CCM Tools and the SUNCAT Serials Comparison service). There is no test version of this yet.

Jisc intends for all three to replace the existing services in July 2019. For more information about the Library Hub Services, see the About and FAQ pages. There is a little more information, including about the Compare service, in this post: Driving Transformation with the NBK – where have we got to and where next?. We intend to fully participate in the NBK so our records will be visible in the Library Hub services.

Visualising information

C. Yogeswaran13 May 2016

Those fond of cataloguing, classification, and visual education may be interested in exploring the Mapping knowledge: understanding the world through data exhibition which is currently on display at the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium (last year’s ‘European Capital of Culture’). The Mundaneum represents Paul Otlet’s utopian vision for a world city housing the corpus of all knowledge, bestowing international organisation and dissemination practices.

I was fortunate to visit it in September last year – the space is wonderfully framed by the Universal Bibliographical System bibliographic index cards, and the exhibition explores Otlet’s visualisations of knowledge, as well as broader information-mapping praxis. If you won’t be adrift in Wallonia any time soon, check out the Mundaneum’s webpages which also proffer a captivating interactive infographic.

UCL Library Services has also recently acquired Alex Wright’s Cataloguing the world: Paul Otlet and the birth of the information age if you’re interested in reading more [record on UCL Explore here].

The exhibition remains open until 29 May 2016.

L’univers. L’intelligence. La science. – Illustration de la page 41 du traité de documentation, par Paul Otlet (1934), Commons Wiki.

Useful links:

Jewish Pamphlets Project Phase 2

Andrew Watson8 January 2016

In August 2015, Vanessa Freedman reported on the completion of phase 1 of the Jewish Pamphlets Project. A total of 4,000 rare Jewish pamphlets were catalogued, a conservation survey carried out and a pop-up exhibition presented. In addition, a full-page article about the project by Professor Colin Shindler appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

Following this noteworthy achievement, we have been successful in obtaining funding to allow us to embark on the next stage of the project. In phase 2, we will be addressing the urgent conservation needs highlighted in the phase 1 survey. Over 1,000 pamphlets are in a fragile state with some 300 in very poor condition.

Jewish PamphletsAngela Warren Thomas and her team of conservators based in the Science Library will be carrying out this work to make the material safe to handle.

Following the conservation of the physical items, Matt Mahon will manage a programme to produce digital surrogates of the rarest and most fragile items. Not only will this reduce the need to handle the originals, it will also allow the material to be accessed globally via Digital Collections.

Lastly, phase 2 includes provision to catalogue the remaining pamphlets in collections of notable provenance, in particular the Montefiore pamphlets, to enrich, as Professor Shindler put it, this “treasure trove for anyone interested in Jewish history”.

Jewish Pamphlets Project phase 1 is complete

Vanessa Freedman4 August 2015

The first phase of the project to to catalogue the Jewish pamphlets at UCL Special Collections is now complete, with 4000 pamphlets catalogued in Aleph.


The 4000th pamphlet

Some notable items from the project will be installed in the display cases next to the Donaldson Room in the Main Library on 13th August and will remain there until October/November, so do go and have a look.

Sadly this means saying goodbye to the project cataloguers, Dalia Maoz-Michaels and Peter Salinger (though Peter will remain at UCL as a volunteer). We held a small celebration after the Retrospective Cataloguing Team meeting last week to thank Peter and Dalia for all their hard work. They in turn thanked Andrew Watson, the project manager, for his guidance and support.

Peter and Dalia

Peter and Dalia

We are now seeking funding for phase 2 of the project, which will involve conservation, digitisation and further cataloguing – so watch this space!

Uncovering UCL’s Jewish Pamphlet Collections

Vanessa Freedman11 November 2014

Earlier this year we received funding for an exciting project to uncover a hidden treasure in UCL Special Collections: the Jewish pamphlets. The first phase of the project is under way and involves cataloguing some 4,000 pamphlets from the Mocatta and De Sola collections, as a well as a conservation survey and small exhibition.

Two project cataloguers, Dalia Maoz-Michaels and Peter Salinger, started work in July, and so far have catalogued nearly 1400 pamphlets. These mostly date from the 19th century and cover various subjects including the Anglo-Jewish community, anti-semitism, missionary activities focussed on Jews, and Jewish communities in 19th century Palestine.

The history and conversion of the Jewish boy, by the author of the “Twin Sisters”, &c. London, 1829. From the Asher Myers collection. Ref: SR MOCATTA PAMPHLETS A 106 SAN

The history and conversion of the Jewish boy, by the author of the “Twin Sisters”, &c. London, 1829. From the Asher Myers collection.

Look out for an article about the project in the autumn library newsletter. You might also be interested in this post on the Hebrew & Jewish Studies blog written at the beginning of the project.