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Physical & Digital Collections

Decolonisation LibGuide: Introduction

Welcome to this LibGuide about decolonisation activities and resources in libraries in the University of Cambridge.  This guide was put together by the Cambridge University Libraries Decolonisation Working Group.

Decolonisation in libraries and archives can be understood and interpreted in different ways.  Much of the time it is based on our collections. 

For historical and existing collections, decolonisation activities might involve:

  • discovering and being open about where they came from and how we acquired them
  • making sure that they are accurately and appropriately described
  • giving correct and honest context to them, especially in any exhibitions
  • improving access to them and the ability to engage with them, especially for the communities they originally came from or that they relate to

For new books and other materials, decolonisation activities might include:

  • selecting titles to ensure increasingly diverse collections, especially to provide readers with voices from areas and communities that have traditionally been represented mainly through books by people from outside them
  • cataloguing new material and classifying (giving a shelfmark to) print books in non-discriminatory ways

In the next tab, we go into more detail about the group that put this guide together, the Cambridge University Libraries Decolonisation Working Group (DWG).  For its own work, the DWG came up with the following wording about decolonisation and libraries in the Cambridge context.

The term “decolonisation” is subject to various definitions, and it embraces a number of different, but related, aims. In the context of the working group, we mean by this term something closer to “decolonial practice”:

  • the active identification of and critical engagement with historical and modern power relations that are rooted in colonial views of the world and its peoples, as these are found in our libraries (chiefly in collections and their description), by being transparent about and actively re-contextualising library holdings which are a legacy of colonialism and occupation;
  • greater facilitation of access to library collections as a global resource;
  • providing support and partnership in the University’s decolonial activities as they affect teaching and learning (eg reading list updates), as well as research and public engagement; and
  • a deliberate broadening of collection development, the better to provide a greater variety of voices and grow more representative collections.

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