Library Services


Liberating the Collections

18 October 2021

Rozz Evans, Head of Collection Strategy, outlines the aims of the Library’s Liberating the Collections Steering Group.

Books on shelves within the Donaldson Reading Room, UCL Main Library

For some years colleagues with responsibility for managing collections across UCL Library Services have been actively addressing concerns about the lack of representation of diverse voices within our collections.

In November 2019, we convened a meeting for these colleagues to come together and discuss how to develop this work most effectively. Following this, we formed the UCL Library Services’ Liberating the Collections Steering Group (LLTC for short), co-chaired by myself and Kate Cheney (Head of Site Library Services).

The group’s purpose is to identify and oversee progress with a strategic set of actions intended to enrich the collections, increasing visibility of, and access to, works by authors who have been marginalised (and thus less heard) because of factors such as race, sexuality, gender and disability. We also want to make sure we promote this work within UCL and to the external community.

We gave a great deal of thought to the name of the group. Many libraries are undertaking work in this area with projects and strands of work being described as decolonising or decolonisation. Some of these projects are specifically about race and racism and dealing with the ongoing impact of the colonial legacy. However, increasingly this terminology is being appropriated as a shorthand for a wider EDI focus. The use of “Liberating” also reflects activity across UCL (including the Liberating the Curriculum project) so already has some institutional currency. We will be looking to work with other groups within UCL in this area.

The membership of the group comprises senior staff with responsibility for sections directly involved with collections. As a group we acknowledge that we reflect the general lack of ethnic diversity in our profession at a senior level. However, we are in a position where we can use our privilege to drive the implementation of lasting and sustainable change. Identifying appropriate channels of communication, and methods of engagement with colleagues, stakeholders, potential partners (within the library and beyond) will be crucial.

UCL has been open in recognising that as an institution it reflects the inherent bias and structural inequalities in our society. Our work will necessitate engaging with some difficult histories (as in the case of the Eugenics Inquiry). It’s not all doom and gloom though, as we hold significant amounts of uncatalogued material within our collections which will go some way to begin to redress the balance. For example, our Retrospective Cataloguing Team have recently finished cataloguing a collection of Comparative Education pamphlets which contains important historical publications relating to education systems and policy for many parts of the world including the Global South. We will be ensuring that other historical collections like this are prioritised for cataloguing, as well as ensuring all our collection policies are reviewed to ensure diversity in our newly acquired material.

We have made a public commitment to this work as one of the Library’s Deans and Professional Director’s Race Equality Pledges 2020. This states that we will:

“Take action to acknowledge and address inherent historical bias and structural inequalities in the provenance, development and discoverability of UCL’s library collections. Engage with stakeholders, support UCL’s de-colonisation initiatives, and adopt best practice to future-proof the Library’s collecting strategy.”

This is a long-term work and needs to have a long-term impact. It is not about quick or superficial fixes and one of our challenges is in prioritising activity in line with staffing availability and financial resource. We will be actively seeking funding towards enabling our ambitions. 

Rozz Evans (Head of Collection Strategy and Co-chair of the LLTC).