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Physical & Digital Collections

Decolonisation LibGuide: Decolonisation and Cambridge collections

Decolonisation work has been happening in Cambridge collections for many years, often inspired by and in collaboration with student activism.  In recent years, two groups have formed that work on decolonisation.  The groups work closely together.

The cross-University Decolonising through Critical Librarianship Group (DtCL) formed in 2018 and helps arrange and facilitates hands-on workshops for library and archive staff to encourage the sharing of knowledge and ideas.  DtCL capture the work they are involved in (and more) in their blog.  In 2022, the group published a chapter about cataloguing and classification (shelfmarks) in Narrative expansions : interpreting decolonisation in academic libraries edited by Jess Crilly and Regina Everitt.

In autumn 2020, the more formal Cambridge University Libraries Decolonisation Working Group was set up at the instigation of Dr Jess Gardner, the University Librarian and Director of Library Services.  The DWG has a more rigid structure – one that includes Students’ Union and academic reps among its non-library members – and works on various overarching things like relevant policies as well as commissioning good examples of practice.  The DWG has a number of webpages, with their terms of reference included on their front page.  The terms of reference include a definition of decolonisation that the DWG agreed at its first meeting, which the first tab of this LibGuide also includes:

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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