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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).

CILIP BAME Network Inaugural Meeting

ucylcli11 October 2019

I attended the CILIP BAME Network inaugural meeting on 12 September 2019. The event took place on UCL’s Bloomsbury campus and it was nice to see some UCL colleagues as well as bumping into a few familiar faces from other institutions.

The event began in earnest with an opening address from CILIP CEO Nick Poole followed by one from Shirley Yearwood-Jackman, chair of the newly formed CILIP BAME Network. She spoke passionately of her aspirations for this event and for the Network going forward. The meeting was then made up of a number of sessions.

Regina Everitt, Director of UEL Libraries and Learning Services, spoke about the findings of a SCONUL research report regarding the experiences of BAME staff in academic libraries.

Paul Byfield, Legal Knowledge Manager at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, advocated for social capital, professional networking and initiatives to promote work sectors where BAME staff are under-represented.

Emily Drabble, Head of Awards and Promotion at BookTrust Represents, discussed how this project is promoting BAME children’s authors and illustrators.

Marilyn Clarke, Head of Discovery Services at Goldsmiths College, talked about liberating the library and diversifying library collections. The idea is to challenge non-inclusive structures in knowledge management and their impact on library collections, users and services.

Ruth D’Rozario, at publishing group Hachette UK, explained how she set up a network for BAME staff in order to bring people together and build cultural awareness.

Refreshments were available throughout the meeting and the breaks in-between talks provided opportunities to network with other delegates at the event. Overall, this was an excellent forum to exchange knowledge and experiences with colleagues from different regions and sectors, hear from leading BAME influencers and learn more about the work of the BAME Network.

More details about the CILIP BAME Network and future events can be found at: https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/BAMENetwork

Chinese New Year 2018

ucylche15 February 2018

Ah, Chinese New Year.

This year marks the year of the dog.

Food, lion dancing, animal zodiac signs… food. Fireworks. More food. Red packets. FOOD. Most of us are probably familiar with that time of year (around January or February – this year it falls on the 16th Feb), when the Chinese celebrate the start of a new year. However, with a greater number of Chinese living in other countries, you might not be familiar with how some of the customs have evolved into their own identities. With that in mind, welcome to Julie and Andy’s handy guide to (or rather personal experiences of) New Year celebrations of the Chinese diaspora. Far out. (Literally.)

Julie (Archaeology and Bartlett Libraries)

I was born and bred in London (quite specifically, the south of London) but my parents were born in Mauritius. My grandparents (and beyond) were from South China, a place called Meixian in the Guandong province. The Sino-Mauritian population is small, at around 3%, but the diversity of Mauritius is such that Chinese New Year is still celebrated throughout the country, and in fact is a festival celebrated more widely than Christmas – something I was always bemused by. Having experienced CNY over there for the first time a few years ago, however, I can see why; it was certainly an experience I want to relive again soon (waistline be damned!).

So-called because the cooking process causes the ball to crack (into a smile!).

Unsurprisingly, CNY is a time for the family, so we spent a lot of time visiting the proverbial extended family and, everywhere we went, we would eat. The Chinese have a special Chinese New Year cake called nian gao, but in Mauritius it’s called gato la cire. (“That sounds like French!” I hear you cry. Well done! Mauritians, like myself, speak Creole, which is like a slang form of French, and gato la cire literally means wax cake.) We will also eat some Sino-Mauritian snacks, many of which are fried (they love frying food over there). A few of my favourites are tien yen nain (round sweet balls made of glutinous rice, sweet potato and sesame seeds), Chinese laughing balls (fried dough balls covered with sesame seeds) and a simple fried cracker made of dough and sesame seeds known as crammy’s crab. That’s a lot of sesame.

Homemade and delicious!

Of course, these will all be supplemented with classics such as prawn crackers (which we call sipek) and dumplings. You’ll notice that some names are French, some English, and some Chinese – being a multicultural country, all Mauritians, whether of the Chinese, Indian, African or European persuasion, will be familiar with the big holidays such as CNY and will enjoy the food, so they will all have their own names for them. The names I use here are the ones I’m most familiar with!

We keep to quite a few of the well-known traditions too. Chinese New Year can be a lucrative time for children (or, technically, anyone who isn’t married yet!), as they receive those all-important red packets of money known as foong-pao. (Note, foong-pao is the Hakka Chinese word for what is known as lai-see in Cantonese). Another important aspect of CNY is the lion dance. Go to the West End’s Chinatown in London on the Sunday nearest to CNY and you’ll see acrobatic lions outside the restaurants heading for a cabbage before ‘eating’ it. Likewise in Mauritius, shops, businesses, or perhaps even a rich family(!) will have a lion dance outside their premises, accompanied with clashing cymbals, drums and gongs, to ward off evil spirits and bring in good luck.

Let ‘s make some noise! (Maybe not in the library, though.)

Similarly, Chinese families will also set off firecrackers in front of their homes, the idea being that the loud noise will scare off any evil spirits. Firecrackers are set off at certain times of the day, and throughout the day the sound of firecrackers can be heard across the island. Visiting relatives, I remember seeing red confetti all over the streets of Mauritius, where a Chinese family had set off their crackers. Perhaps my most memorable experience of CNY in Mauritius was being stood outside my uncle’s house as he set alight a stream of crackers, vaguely concerned that the largest cracker at the top was about to detonate and I was caught between an impending explosion and a much-taller-than-me wall. It was… intense.

Andy (Library Finance)

Julie, thank you for sharing such a wonderful insight into the Chinese/Mauritian New Year.

My parents were fortunate to embrace CNY when in Jamaica and enjoyed the celebrations much as you have described. Similarly, the festival was an important date in the calendar.

Unfortunately, since arriving in the UK in the 50’s, they broke tradition having lost contact with the Chinese Jamaican community.

So despite both my parents being half Chinese, some of the oriental traditions have been lost and I’m having to relearn the culture. Shameless to say, even my 8 year old, who is also of German/Hungarian extraction, may be ahead of me. Only this week he was preparing for today saying Happy New Year in Chinese and describing the beautiful customs that you highlight. In particular, foong-pao  …….but he cleverly left out the cleaning of his room!

A few weeks ago I asked a friend what he was doing for CNY and the reply was “helping to clean the house.” I thought, that seemed a little strange, especially as my memories of a traditional Jamaican New year was very different. An all night party from 31st December with rum punch, curry goat and guests from what seemed like ‘all of North West London’.

The penny eventually dropped, although food and drink is at the centre of most New Year celebrations, the Chinese New Year philosophy also entails ‘Spring cleaning’. All the old useless things are discarded and the home given an overhaul to bring in the year new. It’s a very special time for family and friends to enjoy, like playing Mah Jung and celebrating health and prosperity. The traditional party lasting as long as 15 days!

Kung Hei Fat Choi to all our Chinese colleagues and I hope our fellow Library staff might also get the opportunity to celebrate this weekend too!!

Happy New Year!

Links for Further Reading!

Discover your animal zodiac and what lies ahead for you this year here.

Superstitious? Here’s a handy guide of what to avoid during CNY…!

Fancy joining the celebrations? Time Out has a few suggestions here.

Introducing WHEN | The network for all Women working in Higher Education

Grazia Manzotti12 February 2018

Dear Colleagues,

The Library DEOLOs would like to draw your attention to the arrival of WHEN, the UK’s first and only network for all women working in Higher Education (HE).

WHEN is about speeding  up gender equality. They will do this by providing a space for all women to unite. Experiences will be shared, stories told and careers propelled as they explore and optimise what unites us and differentiates us as women in HE.

As well as opening up to accept new members, they are hosting our inaugural conference on 27th March: Eliminating the Gender Pay Gap in Higher Education.

Their hope is   that we will be able to connect and support you, either by welcoming you as a member of WHEN or enabling you to sign up your female colleagues as members of WHEN.

Please support WHEN by signing up: full membership details can be found here and spreading the message about WHEN’s arrival, you could forward this email, or share the following message:

WHEN: Women’s Higher Education Network is speeding up Gender Equality in Higher Education. We are all different, but we share a unique set of challenges. WHEN recognises and celebrates our differences, bringing women together to build connections, share stories, exchange ideas and to learn from and with peers from across the whole sector. Whatever your role and story, if you are a woman and you work in higher education then we are stronger together. Find out more about our network and our inaugural conference here: WWW.WHENEQUALITY.ORG

If you would like to find out more about their  network, please visit their  website, follow them on Twitter, or get in touch with any one of them  via their team email.

Speeding up gender equality in higher education. If not now, WHEN.

Contact details

The WHEN team

Best Wishes

Grazia Manzotti and Breege Whiten  (Library DEOLOs )

Screening of The White Helmets & panel discussion

Kieron L Jones24 May 2017

WhiteHelmetsYou are hereby cordially invited to the following event, organised by Library Services and UCL’s Refuge in a Moving World Network:

Thursday 1st June 2017, 17:00-18:15
Archaeology G6 Lecture Theatre

Synopsis: A Netflix original short documentary, set in Aleppo, Syria and Turkey in early 2016. As the violence intensifies, The White Helmets follows three volunteer rescue workers as they put everything on the line to save civilians affected by the war, all the while wracked with worry about the safety of their own loved ones. Moving and inspiring, The White Helmets (winner of the 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short) is both a snapshot of the harrowing realities of life for ordinary Syrians who remain in the country, and a humbling portrait of the power of the human spirit.

After the screening, a multidisciplinary panel discussion will reflect upon the issues raised, future of the region and human rights abuses within countries following the onset of civil war.

The event is free but you do have to book a seat.


Cpd25 – Community Engagement and Widening Participation: How Universities and Libraries Reach Out to Marginalised Groups

Sharon A James21 December 2016

On 29th November I attended the Cpd25 course Community Engagement and Widening Participation: How Universities and Libraries Reach Out to Marginalised Groups. This ran for an afternoon and was held at The London Mathematical Society in Russell Square. I wanted to go to this event to find out more about which students are under-represented in Higher Education, what methods are used to overcome this and how we could be more inclusive at the site where I work (the UCL Language and Speech Science Library) and within UCL Library as a whole.

The first presentations were given by two representatives from King’s College London (KCL); Niaomi Collett, Deputy Director of Widening Participation and Tom Claydon, formerly at UCL Library, who is now the Library Liaison Manager at KCL. Niaomi explained that WP candidates are prioritized in terms of ethnicity, disability, gender, mature student status, a background of being in care, or experience as a carer. KCL has sixteen schemes to help young people explore university including their flagship scheme K+, the Sutton Trust summer school and King’s Scholars, which works with local pupils in Years 7-9. Because KCL’s Archives and Special Collections is involved in community engagement the King’s Scholars’ scheme runs an Archive Adventurers session in which pupils learn about archives and how they are used at university.

KCL children 2

Pupils learning about KCL’s Archives and Special Collections

KCL’s Widening Participation strategy is all-encompassing and goes from pre-16 outreach through to student support and career guidance for graduates. The Widening Participation Office collaborates with the library through Tom Claydon whose job includes overseeing the provision of reference cards, inductions and study skills training for WP students. For example, the K+ scheme, which has a yearly intake of 200 children who attend classes over a two year period, starts off with a Library introduction given by Tom and a session about using the library’s resources with a library-trained Student Ambassador. Future plans include the Widening Participation Office giving a library training hour once a year and, in line with KCL strategy, the library working to provide parity of access to all service users. To achieve this it is developing tailored study skills training and investigating ways it can provide borrowing and e-resource access to K+ students.

The next two presentations were given by Kirsty Wadsley, Head of Widening Participation at LSE, and Maria Bell who provides Learning Support at LSE Library. Widening Participation at LSE is currently offered from primary school through to undergraduate level with priority given to students who are under-represented such as those from under-performing schools. The presenters stressed that it is key to make connections with schools so that relationships are formed, maintained and strengthened over time. Local events are also looked out for in which the university and library can get involved and engage with the community.

The library has various schemes such as Learning with LSE Collections for Schools, LSE Library Outreach (Young People & Communities) and the LSE Library public lecture programme. Because of this, library staff have training to learn about their role in WP and how to work with younger customers. The presenters also pointed out that they are fortunate enough to have a library Education Officer who creates connections between the library, the Widening Participation Office and schools. Finally the presenters reported that they get lots of positive written feedback from young participants such as: “The library is useful and very big & quiet.”

LSE school children

The final presentation was given by Bernard Scaife, Librarian at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Co-leader of the Outreach KPA. There is a Widening Participation Office at UCL that raises awareness of Higher Education through activities and enhances UCL’s diversity by admitting students from under-represented backgrounds. Because of this UCL was awarded a Buttle Quality Mark for engaging with children in care, encouraging applications to UCL and providing support until after enrolment. The library has a relationship with the WP Office, for example it produces reference cards for the UCL Summer Challenge students, a cohort of 6th Form students from target backgrounds who undertake lessons and an essay on a topic of their choice. In 2014/15, 43% of pupils from this programme went on to make an application to UCL for undergraduate study. However, Bernard mentioned that the library needs to formally develop inductions and information literacy training and he will be working on this in the future.


There is also a library Outreach Steering Group (OSG) which was formed in April 2016 and includes members from various library sites. The OSG is working on the library’s first outreach strategy that will bring together the WP activities of all the sites and share their best practice. A future objective is to find a way to statistically record staff time spent on outreach so that it is recognised as an integral part of library services. Another aim is to look at ways of collecting information on how and if the library is reaching marginalised communities. Other plans include training and working with volunteers to provide library outreach activities both centrally and at the upcoming campus at the Olympic Park. This campus features in UCL’s plans to engage with the Borough of Newham and through outreach to the local community the UCL East hub will be used to raise awareness of the library’s collections.

UCL yr 8 sutton scholars

Museum workshop of Year 8 students from UCL Sutton Scholars

An interesting example of Community Engagement involved learning about Alix Hall, an Archive Education Coordinator funded by the Heritage Lottery. While working at IOE Library she ran various outreach events including one in May 2014 where evacuees talked about their childhood education during World War II and explored the concept of archives. In conclusion, Bernard mentioned that future ideas for library Community Engagement include a Culture Bus to take special collections to UCL East and a Culture Club where people can attend public lectures and events in Bloomsbury.

The afternoon ended with attendees being asked to write down what they had learned from the training on Post-It notes. These were then stuck up on the windows so that others could read and place stickers on those they found most helpful. Popular information included the need to not make assumptions about the knowledge and skills students bring with them to university, using special collections to capture imaginations and library staff knowing what their role is in Widening Participation and receiving training. This exercise consolidated what I had learned over an insightful afternoon and I came away from the course with far more awareness about Community Engagement and Widening Participation than I had before going.

Post its 3

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

ucylgng6 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.

RaceMatters@UCL launched

Antje Brauer-Maxaeia11 March 2016

On 8 February, my SSEES Library colleague Vladimir Smith Mesa and I attended the launch of RaceMatters@UCL, a new forum to encourage networking, peer support, sharing ideas, organising events, and positively influencing policy and practice on race equality at UCL.  The event was organised by the HR Equalities and Diversity Team.

Impetus for the establishment of the network was also provided by UCL being one of only eight higher education institution to receive the Race Equality Charter Bronze Award, out of 21 applicants, in August 2015.  The Race Equality Charter is a national scheme “aimed at improving the representation, progression and success of ethnic minority staff and students in higher education”.  It is run by the Equality Challenge Unit, the advisory body which also oversees the Athena Swan Charter for the advancement of gender equality of which UCL has been an award holder since 2006.

Participation in the scheme requires each institution to analyse its key areas of activity and then develop and put into place a comprehensive 3-year action plan, with input from both staff and students. The renewal of the award depends on successful implementation of the action plan.

The Award was introduced by Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu of the UCL School of Pharmacy, who gave a summary of possible actions which can be implemented and recounted her personal experience of the obstacles and misconceptions in higher education she faced as a Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) student and later academic.

Possible areas and actions include:

  1. Staff
  • Mainstream equality and diversity issues into the appraisal process at all levels, not only senior
  • Sponsorship programme
  • More transparency in senior appointments
  • Recruitment panels to be more diverse
  • Improve chances of promotion for professional services staff and establish ‘job families’
  1. Students
  • Foundation courses offered to BME students to counteract the trend of not receiving university offers with same A-level grades as white students (same courses are also offered to white students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds)
  • Relevance of curriculum (this point was raised in the panel discussion ‘Why isn’t my professor black?’ hosted by UCL in March 2014, and by Dr Nathaniel Coleman)
  • Anonymous marking to avoid discrimination
  • Scholarships to encourage BME doctoral students

The lecture of the guest speaker Dr Nicola Rollock, from Birmingham University, was entitled “Beyond Racial Gesture Politics: moving toward race equity in higher education”.

An important point made by Dr Rollock is that this is not only a matter for BME students and staff but concerns all sections of the higher education community, including white students and staff.  It requires us all to participate, contribute and examine our identities.

Dr Rollock ended her lecture with an appeal to “fight for race equity, not only equality” which takes into account the different requirements to succeed and recognise possible barriers.

In the subsequent Q&A session, Vladimir suggested the introduction of cultural awareness training for all UCL staff, given the global nature of the institution.

Since attending the RaceMatters@UCL launch, Vladimir has joined the UCL Race Equality Steering Group.

The issue of making the curriculum more inclusive to reflect representation and  viewpoints of traditionally marginalised groups is starting to be addressed by the initiative ‘Liberating the Curriculum’ as described in Lesley Pitman’s post Liberating the Curriculum.


Useful links:

UCL Equalities and Diversity

Equality Challenge Unit

Black History Month

Breege Whiten26 October 2015

October is Black History Month and UCL has been celebrating with a number of events, with the last few taking place this week:

As a tribute to this our very own Sarah Circus (Evening & Saturday Main and Science Supervisor) has kindly sent in an abridged piece of research she has been working on about black librarianship and library origins in Africa. This research includes profiles of Joseph B Danquah and Ladipo Solanke, who both studied at UCL.

‘Libraries preserve a society’s cultural heritage’: Black History Month, Librarianship and Knowledge
Sarah Circus

With this quote, Kathleen E. Bethel and African American librarian, expressed the sense of cultural dislocation felt by people of African descent in a Eurocentric world.
Librarians are responsible for the collection of specialised and technical information or materials, and their cataloguing facilitates their access to a wider audience.
As a tribute to Black History Month, I am concentrating a brief resume of a piece of research I have recently been undertaking about oral pedagogy and library origins in Africa, and black librarianship in the diaspora.
In my research, I explain the origins of ‘Black History Month’ and identify some significant African American librarians who worked for cultural heritage and integration, as well as the greater societal good. Their ability to positively inspire others and promote social change is of paramount importance for librarianship and those in the African diaspora equally.
In terms of Africa, there is a tradition of librarianship albeit different from the western model and African libraries are relevant to Black History Month as a source of information about a pre – European continent.
Lastly, I comment on the colonial impact on African history and culture and the efforts to counteract misinformation and reinforce Africa’s contribution to world civilization.
Black History Month
Carter G. Woodson, a founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life is acknowledged as the architect of what has been known since 1976 as ‘Black History Month’.
Woodson received his doctorate from Harvard in 1912 and sought through his scholarship to contradict the racist and negative image of African Americans and Africa that proliferated in education at that time. He believed that African Americans had to see positive depictions of them and of African history to counteract what was being imposed upon them. His 1933 work ‘The Mis-education of the Negro’ lays out the detail of this.
At its inception in 1926, it was only a week to focus on the contribution African Americans made to the United States.

Significant Black Librarians
Dorothy Porter Wesley (1905–1995), Dorothy Porter was the first African American woman to earn an advanced degree in library science (MLS), from Columbia University in 1932 whilst working as a librarian at Howard University in charge of the Negro Collection. She enlarged the collection and significantly, incorporated the Dewey Classification scheme into the cataloguing of materials linked to African American life.
Edward Christopher Williams (1871-1929), the first professional African American librarian in America. He was an expert in national bibliography and also taught and authored a number of articles and papers including ‘Latin Again’ for Howard University Record, where he stressed the importance of Latin for the study of Romance languages as a means of understanding the records related to Africa contained in the records of the Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors.
Dr. Sadie Peterson Delaney (1889-1958) pioneered ‘bibliotherapy’, defining it as ‘the treatment of a patient through selected reading’; for this she was recognised internationally and received awards. She also founded the Disabled Veterans’ Literary Society to raise reading standards in veterans and foster cultural awareness.
Ruby Stutts Lyles opened Jackson Mississippi’s first branch library for African Americans in 1950 and was also politically active in the issues of the day, notably segregation. She negotiated, as part of a group, with Governor White and the Mississippi’s Legal Educational Advisory Committee regarding the desegregation of the state’s public school system.

Preserving a Cultural Heritage
Africa has been disparaged by colonial scholars as having made no contribution to world civilization, in part because of the belief that the continent had no written history. As recently as 1963 historian Hugh Trevor – Roper stated African had no history prior to contact with the Europeans and described Africans as ‘barbarous’.
Generally in pre-literate societies, culture is recorded to be passed on to future generations by means of rituals, ceremonies, legends and poems. In Malian tradition there are professional bard historians who memorise a group’s history and pass it down to the next generation. Indeed, in ancient Greece ‘rhapsodes’ were bards who sang about historical events, politics and current affairs at a time when the oral tradition was revered until Peisistratus had ‘songs’ committed to paper (either by him or using scribes). Icelandic sagas are also based on oral traditions, Knut Liestøl, noted Norwegian folklorist stated that oral traditions could serve as a form of record keeping distinct from written historical accounts.
In pre-western colonial African societies story tellers, bards and oral pedagogues were the traditional custodians of history and culture for society and with respect to the latter, the principal pedagogical technique was rote learning. These custodians were effectively living books forming a type of library. In terms of a western library model, the sweep of Islam westward a thousand years ago, across northern and central Africa, incorporating the modern day states of Niger, Mali and Senegal as well as the northern regions of modern day states Nigeria and Ghana led to the establishment of informal libraries, collections of huts containing books of both local and north African origin. These books were in Arabic and A’jami, a script devised to transcribe information from local African languages into a script that could be understood by others locally in Africa. ‘A’jami’ is derived from the Arabic word for foreigner. Throughout western and northern Africa there are manuscripts dating from before the 8th century AD, however these tend to survive in private hands. As a result of previous colonial destruction they are not readily accessible to researchers.
Education as a Weapon
European nations used African colonies a resource to be exploited; very little positive development took place, ending the slave trade and civilizing the continent were used as pretexts for the occupation. Efforts to provide western education and literacy were limited to providing indigenous colonial administrators.
And thus in the 1920’s Joseph B. Danquah and Ladipo Solanke came to Britain from Ghana and Nigeria respectively to study at UCL, Danquah reading philosophy and Solanke law.
They were both affected by racism both within academic life and outside. In 1925 Solanke and Herbert Bankole – Bright, another West African student, formed the West African Students’ Union (WASU) with Danquah being another prominent member. WASU was in part a traditional students’ union but it also served to support West African students, mainly in London, against the hardships they experienced.
The union evolved into a pan African organisation promoting an end to colonial rule. It also campaigned against misinformation and ignorance. For example, Solanke challenged a London newspaper which stated that human meat was openly sold in African markets. In 1927 Solanke went on to write his book the ‘United West Africa at the Bar of the family of Nations’ with a foreword by Danquah. In it he described Africa’s place in world civilization and detailed how the continent’s development had been hindered by slavery and its aftermath.
In Concluding….
We have Black History Month to inspire those in the African diaspora and to celebrate achievements by those of African descent. I have mentioned four African American librarians who were not only significant in their field but also in terms of their achievements as African Americans. Africa has both graphic and oral antecedents to the library concept and indigenous models of both. These provide records and a reference point of a culture and civilization prior to the devastation of the slave trade and colonialism. In recent times education and the usage of recorded history has been used as a foil to ignorance and prejudice against Africa and those of African origin by those who live in the diaspora.



Liberating the curriculum

Lesley Pitman8 October 2015

I have recently joined a new UCL working group called “Liberating the Curriculum”, which is part of the Connected Curriculum initiative. The aim of this group is to come up with ways of making the curriculum more inclusive of viewpoints which are traditionally marginalised in UK universities. The focus is on becoming both more global and more inclusive of minorities whether they are defined by race, gender, sexuality or other characteristics, The group includes representatives from across UCL, including academics, other representatives from Professional Services, and students, and will be working towards formal monitoring procedures that will in due course be implemented across UCL as part of a new curriculum review tool.

The group would like to know of case studies where departments have managed to implement change that has broadened the curriculum in this way. If you know of anything going on in Library Services that you think might be relevant, or you have any ideas about initiatives that we could consider taking, do let me know. To start off the discussion, I think that one practical way in which we could help would be to publicise a wider range of freely available academic content than we currently do. While it is true to say that we are very good at making available the resources that academics ask for, they also build their teaching around the resources that we make easily available, and I think we could play a more active role in breaking through this cycle. My primary interest is in making the curriculum more truly global, and publicising relevant high quality academic research available in open access repositories across the world would be one way to do that. The benefit of this approach is of course that it does not involve any additional cost for resources, although like any new initiative it does take staff time. But you might have other ideas. I would love to hear them.