Diversifying Reading Lists and Content Acquisition

Earlier this week, I attended one of the Proquest Books Week online talks ‘Diversifying Reading Lists and Content Acquisition’ (the programme is available here). I hope that sharing my notes from this valuable event might be useful as my own institution and others around the world work to decolonise our campuses and libraries.

The speakers came from three London-area university libraries, as well as within Proquest itself, and their talks offered an exploration of a range of ways to approach diversifying library collections. The event opened with Áine Rice, Proquest Books Sales Director, discussing the gaps in e-book provision: not all books libraries want to purchase are available as e-books, and this is is especially true of books by Black and Global Majority authors, or books produced by publishers in the Global South. The final two talks of the event addressed some of the ways Proquest is committed to addressing this problem.

The first speaker, Sam Piker, discussed the Liberated Library campaign at Brunel University, which has run annually for the past few years. The campaign asks students to suggest authors and titles to add to library collections, and each day of the launch has a different theme. The whole of the library gets involved: the customer services team sets up displays and collects the suggestions, the acquisitions team orders books not in library collections, and the subject librarians offer advice and guidance on promotion to academics. The Liberated Library project is now entering its second stage, with further development of library collections and wider promotion across the university. The next step is to work to embed diverse resources into the curriculum.

In the second talk, Simon Collins and Anna Englund spoke about Kingston University’s commitment to reducing the BAME attainment gap. An inclusive curriculum allows students to see themselves in their studies, and Simon Collins introduced their initiatives for the co-creation of the curriculum by students. Kingston University has also created a year-round inclusion calendar, which offers a programme of events to help raise awareness of inclusion and equality, and to help with event planning (for example, the calendar notes where students and staff might need adjustments to their university routine in order to meet religious obligations). The university is currently embarking on pilot projects to analyse and diversify reading lists in English and sports science.

Anna Englund spoke about some of the things Kingston University does to welcome their diverse body of when they arrive at university: a cultural diversity and inclusion reading list is promoted to all new students, and the library has also developed its wellbeing collection to contain a range of titles, authors, and formats. In the COVID-19 world, they have worked to develop online resources to support wellbeing, including an online reading list available but so far uptake has not been very high–users seem to prefer browsing the physical collection. The library also engages in regular promotion of diverse resources via Twitter.

Davina Omar, from the University of West London, spoke next. Her library has added diversity and inclusion to its 2018-2023 library strategy, specific training on diversity and inclusion is now incorporated into UWL’s PGCert programme in professional academic practice (a training and certification programme for new lecturers), and the library is part of the university’s access and participation plan. In response to active interest from their academic colleagues, the UWL library targeted specific modules to revise from the perspective of making of making reading lists more inclusive, and analysing the inclusiveness of reading lists is also becoming a part of validation and revalidation processes for new modules and degree programmes. Thus, UWL librarians are seeking existing opportunities to have these conversations as a natural part of current workloads.

The final two speakers were both from Proquest. Tash Edmonds, Senior Books Specialist, opened her talk by saying that Proquest as a company seeks to promote social justice, civil rights, and equality–information is a tool for education and sustained change. Moving the conversation from the books themselves to the publishers who produce them, she introduced the audience to the problematic lack of diversity in the publishing section: not only in terms of who works within that industry, but also in terms of the contradiction that the industry itself is dominated by the Global North while its subject matter increasingly focuses on the Global South. Leigh Wright, Books Product Manager, addressed some of the intiatives Proquest itself is undertaking including the formation of a global advisory board for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The board is currently undertaking a project to assess the contents of E-Book Central and is gathering recommendations for e-books to add to this collection.

The event concluded with a question period, where one of the issues that came up was a metadata gap: lack of information about authors can mean that it is difficult to assess the diversity of library collections, an issue which has also been addressed in recent articles (here) and conference reports (here). The issue of how precisely libraries carry out analysis of their collections was the theme of most of the question attendees asked. Many of the speakers elaborated further on the pilot projects they mentioned in their talks, and shared resources that their libraries have found useful. A list of these is compiled below.

 

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