EDI as a package of work – A case study from University of the Arts Libraries
EDI as a package of work – A case study from University of the Arts Libraries
As with many areas of the University, our Libraries have been involved in anti-racist, social justice, and decolonising initiatives for several years – including our role in funding the production of, and contributing articles to the Decolonising the Arts Curriculum Zines; the hosting of Panel Discussions; Exhibitions; Lunchtime talks; Screenings; Film Premieres; Decolonising activity; Workshops; Reading Groups; Book Displays and Interviews within our spaces; as well as the production of the special edition of Spark Journal and involvement with the LCC Changemakers Programme. In June 2021, UAL published its Anti-Racist action plan. In doing so, the University committed to a series of collaborative actions aimed at tackling and dismantling systematic racism within our University and the creative industries. This is a complex and many faceted process and below we outline some of the ways we have identified to address it.
A core of our commitment to this goal is our work to decolonise the Curriculum.
Decolonising the Curriculum focuses on the concept that curricular design has been historically male and white. In decolonising the curriculum, we seek to redress biases in traditional course content which disproportionately focus on white, western authors and thinkers, or which present an unfairly positive picture of their contributions. It is, ultimately, about presenting a fair and balanced picture that represents knowledge and ideas from thinkers and authors of all nationalities, cultures and ethnicity. This work permeates all areas of our business and service provision.
Decolonising and Diversifying is deeply embedded into our Collection building practice.
In the 2020/21 Academic Year, our Librarians purchased over 8000 Items for our Collections, many of which were sourced to support diverse narratives.
As part of our commitment to broadening the diversity of our collections we also took up subscriptions to the following new resources: · LGBTQ+ Source (Ebsco) · Ethnic Diversity Source (Ebsco) · Diversity Collection (ProQuest) · BIPOC Design History · LGBT Magazine Archive · LGBT Thought and Culture · Contemporary World Drama · Drama Texts Collection (which includes Black Drama, Asian American Drama, Latin American Drama and North American Indian Drama among the collections) We also subscribe to Critical Collective, covering the visual arts in India, Drama Online (including Black Theatre as a genre), and Ebony Magazine Archive.
Students and Staff can suggest new Books, Zines or other resources for Libraries to purchase either via the Library Catalogue or by contacting Your Librarian. Please see our Decolonising Reading Lists Tool that might help you identify suitable titles!.
As with our Libraries, we recognise that our Archives have historically been curated from a white western perspective. We therefore commit to proactively collecting materials for or Archives and special collections that document black culture and support the institution in decolonising the arts, including the collection of Zines and other non-mainstream publications; in auditing the UAL Arts Collection and other collections of student work, and taking action to ensure these collections are representative of the diverse student community.
The reading list is a familiar way of directing students’ reading. Although these lists are not equated to ‘learning’, they often offer ideas and language that shape how course discourse is created, forming perceptions of the types of knowledge that are valued or given most prominence. Most reading lists included in course handbooks and unit guides reflect white male western-centric perspectives (Still Waiting Discussion Group, 2017).
Decolonising reading lists is an intrinsic part of the work of decolonising the curriculum and enables all students to explore and reference different cultural histories and narratives in their work. This can also increase a sense of belonging within the university and so ultimately contribute to the work of closing awarding gaps.
As libraries prioritise the purchase of resources from reading lists, more diverse reading lists will result in more diverse library collections overall. At UAL we have developed a Toolkit to guide the work of our librarians and academic staff in this are of work.
Promotion: Activities and Events
During the last few years we have held popular regular in person and online reading groups at Chelsea. These are led by a librarian in conjunction with academic colleagues and allow for exploration and discussion on the establishment and curation of our collections, their content and the representation of potentially marginalised groups.
UAL Libraries recognise that our collections, in common with most of UK HE, are dominated by Publications originating from Europe and the United States (recognised as the “Global North”) and have been historically curated from a white western male perspective. We, therefore work hard to diversify our collections through new acquisitions and revised Acquisition practices; to host events that examine and critique our collections; to educate ourselves and our colleagues; to platform new initiatives; to highlight titles via our subject guides on Black History and on Race and Racism and Anti-Racism; to sponsor and mentor decolonising residencies; and to examine and refine the terminology we use in our Catalogues. This first Decolonising the Arts Curriculum Zine was printed and published in June 2018. Zine2 followed in Autumn 2019. The zines aimed to be a tool for raising awareness and opening up conversations for Staff and Students that allowed allow people to take things further in their creative and pedagogic practices. Each Zine launch was accompanied by a series of events (Launch events; Panel Discussions; Exhibitions; Lunchtime talks; Screenings; Film Premieres; Decolonising activity; Workshops; Reading Groups; Padlets; Book Displays and Interviews with Zine creators) that took place across UAL spaces.
As well as the University EDI training we have tried to focus on critical Librarianship to develop staff support for this work. We have recently run a half-day session on “Exploring the Role of Librarians in Decolonising the Curriculum”. This re-visits a session that we ran in 2020 covering topics such as:
Exploring Terminology, Origins of Decolonial movements in HE and at UAL, What is decolonising the Curriculum, Thinking Through Knowledge construction in Libraries, Accessing and incorporating
diverse knowledges, Adopting a Decolonial Praxis, Decolonising Reading Lists Exercise, Case Study: collaboration to decolonise reading lists with a course. We also ran a discussion and Q&A event with Jess Crilly, co-editor of “Narrative Expansions”.
Within the past 6 months UAL Library and Archives Colleagues have produced new subject guides specifically on Black History and on Race and Racism and Anti-Racism. We have, additionally, been working on revamping our Religion and Belief LibGuide in consultation with the UAL Religion and Belief Community of Practice.
All LibGuide resources are “live” and evolving. We regularly review and update our content and hugely value staff and student input into which resources and themes we include.
Diversifying the profession: In UAL’s Anti-Racist action plan, the University has, with a target of 30%, committed to increasing the proportion of BAME staff to mirror and exceed the percentage of BAME “home” students studying at the University at present (28%).
We are reviewing all recruitment practices, and researching all the best practice guides we can find, as well as beginning to scrutinise our requirements for qualifications and experience for our entry level and professional posts. We also work with the Decolonising the Arts Institute to practically and financially support the Decolonising the Archives Researchers in Residence Programme that we co-created. There is much still to do, and we are recording it and collating useful resources on our webpage.
We hope some of these resources will be of use to other professionals!
Associate Director for Content and Collections at University of the Arts London.