Decolonisation and Russia’s war against Ukraine

When the Cambridge University Libraries Decolonisation Working Group was set up in September 2020, its members agreed that the group’s terms of reference should include the following: “We recognise that while the primary colonial legacy in Cambridge libraries relates to the British Empire, Cambridge also holds material relating to other colonial powers, past and present, and this is also part of our decolonisation focus.”  The wording came about because I was keen to ensure that non-British colonial legacies should not be overlooked when we hold such extensive collections from all around the world.

The Library of Congress authority name heading for Kyïv, previously listed as Kiev.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a devastating reminder of these other colonial legacies.  Putin has openly compared his “military operation” against Ukraine to Peter I’s wars of expansion (or, more specifically, wars of reclamation, in Putin’s narrative).  In the library context, decolonisation work to address the colonial past and its violent embracing in the present involves many areas of library activities.  This post provides just a few initial suggestions, and I hope that future posts will pick up specific defined and achievable projects that come out of these. Continue reading

#LibrariesWeek: Cataloguing, Classification, and Critical Librarianship at Cambridge University

Typographic image with the Libraries Week logo, page title, and the cover of Narrative Expansions: Interpreting Decolonisation in Academic Libraries.

This year’s Libraries Week, the annual showcase of what the UK’s libraries have to offer, is centered around the theme of Taking Action, Changing Lives, with the aim of “highlighting the diverse ways that [libraries] take action with and for their community and make a positive impact on people’s lives; to showcase their central role in the community as a driver for inclusion, sustainability, social mobility and community cohesion”. 

Within this initiative is featured the upcoming Facet publication Narrative expansions: interpreting decolonisation in academic libraries, edited by Jess Crilly and Regina Everitt. The book “explores what is specific to colonial contexts that has impacted knowledge production, how these impacts are still circulating in our libraries, and what we can do about it.” 

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Dutch resources on slavery and colonialism: an update

Earlier this month the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam finally opened its doors to visitors for a major exhibition which examines the history of Dutch involvement in the international slave trade.  This exhibition, first conceived four years ago, was delayed due to COVID-19 but was officially opened in May by King Willem-Alexander and now runs until 29 August, with a powerful online version for people not able to visit in person. The exhibition tells the stories of slaves and the Dutch people who enslaved them, homing in on ten individual people and using oral history alongside historic objects and documents. There is a Cambridge connection as a plantation bell displayed at the entrance was until 2019 on display at St Catharine’s College. We have a copy of the accompanying exhibition catalogue: Slavernij: het verhaal van João, Wally, Oopjen, Paulus, Van Bengalen, Surapati, Sapali, Tula, Dirk, Lohkay (C216.c.9769)

News of this exhibition reminded me that a year ago I wrote about online Dutch titles on race and decolonisation. Since then we have looked out for relevant new titles to buy; already in October I reported on new Dutch books on race and identity. Here I will highlight some more new titles, mainly on slavery, along with a few older titles in print that we already had, now more accessible than a year ago. Continue reading

Uncovering Official Publications

Some of the OP class catalogues.

One of the rare bright notes of the lockdowns has been the chance to embark on projects that we would otherwise have struggled to find time to do.  Chief among these has been our department’s retrospective conversion cataloguing of some Official Publications (OP) material.  The collection contains governmental publications from around the world, and the lion’s share of this enormous collection can be tracked down only through the subject-led OP card catalogue in the Rare Books Reading Room. Continue reading

A successful project supported by the University Diversity Fund

I recently completed a four-week internship with the Decolonising Through Critical Librarianship group. The project was to overhaul the group’s WordPress blog. The aims included improving accessibility and user engagement. It would also require reorganising the content whilst ensuring it was expandable and straightforward to maintain. I was to work closely with the whole team, particularly my two supervisors, with whom I would meet regularly via Zoom as the internship was entirely home-based. Additionally, there were to be opportunities to engage with various faculty members and graduate trainees on ideas around librarianship and decolonisation.  

The new platform
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