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What was the activity?
The Mind the Gap survey, undertaken by Brookes Union, researched the experiences of Black students at Oxford Brookes University. These students reported a lack of diversity within the content of their courses, and expressed a desire to engage with diverse literature and content.
The results of this survey – together with feedback from previous collection development initiatives around activism, anti-racism, LGBTQ+, neurodiversity and wellbeing – proved to be a catalyst for a more structured approach to both the decolonisation and the diversification of Oxford Brookes University Library collections. A Library Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group was created to look at decolonising our collections which the Mind the Gap survey demonstrated was required.
The Group also looks more widely at diversifying the collections to more fully represent all marginalised voices. This work covers a number of aspects of our Library Service, from identifying new material, to the amplification of marginalised voices already within our collection, to acknowledging outdated and offensive language within our catalogues.
Working to identify and promote material from marginalised and under-represented groups, we hope to counter the structural and selection biases within our collections. Our focus is on all of the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act (2010), namely age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
In beginning to counter the structural and selection biases within the collection, the Library is taking steps to increase awareness of resources such as the Journals Online Project and Global Index Medicus which promote quality research originating from the Global South. We highlight these resources to individual students who are wanting to decolonise their literature searching, and have also begun integrating them as part of our ongoing Library training for all students. Our hope is that they will become a natural part of the students’ literature searching journey.
In addition, we have created a number of reading lists highlighting resources in our collection from underrepresented groups, such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and LGBTQ+ groups. Book suggestions were sought from members of staff Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) networks and through the student suggestion scheme ‘More Books’. All EDI reading lists are promoted regularly by Academic Liaison Librarians through the relevant subject pages and in information literacy sessions.
In the Scholarly Communications team, we are committed to promoting Open Access as a primary publishing route for Oxford Brookes researchers. To this end, the library has various Read and Publish agreements in place to enable Brookes research to be free-to-read. Doing so removes barriers to accessing research. This is particularly advantageous for researchers in the Global South and researchers from lower economic backgrounds who may otherwise not have the means to afford access via traditional routes.
Acknowledging outdated and offensive language within our collections and within collection descriptions is something that our Archival and Metadata teams have taken steps to address. We are also committed to identifying updated terminology and more inclusive language.
How did it impact you or your students?
As Library staff, responding to the needs identified by the Mind the Gap survey has raised our awareness of resources such as the Journals Online Project and Global Index Medicus. We have adjusted our professional practice to more actively promote such resources and we are taking steps to continue to identify and fill gaps within our collections.
We have been greatly encouraged to see engagement with the Lists that we have created:
- For the academic year 2020-2021, the Anti-racism Reading List was the 10th most used reading list for the whole University.
- Material purchased for our Anti-Racism, Neurodiversity and LGBTQ lists has since been put onto other University reading lists.
Material is being requested, borrowed and included in taught modules.
Stone and Ramsden (2013) demonstrated that there is a positive relationship between both book and e-resource use and degree result (p. 554). By purchasing and promoting a more diverse range of materials we hope that we have reached a more diverse range of students and that a more diverse range of students are engaging with materials to an extent that they were not before. As engagement with library material is positively associated with higher degree attainment, it is hoped that a more diverse range of students will attain higher degree results.
The evidence that we collected has also had the impact of emboldening us. We used this data to build a case to take to our senior managers to allocate funding to this area of collection development. We now have a dedicated Equality, Diversity and Inclusion budget.
Any advice for others?
- Engage with your organisational staff and student diversity networks or affinity groups. The broader the range of people involved, the broader life experiences reflected in the suggestions made and the resources purchased.
- Obtain buy-in from senior staff by gathering evidence of impact and updating them regularly. We presented our work at the highest level library management meeting and we have two senior staff on our Group.
- Keep momentum by scheduling regular meetings. We meet every two months and at each meeting we run through our task list.
Stone, G. and Ramsden, B. (2013) ‘Library impact data project: Looking for the link between library usage and student attainment’, College and Research Libraries, 74(6), pp.546-55.