Decolonising implications in Reader Services

A workshop

Thursday 9th September – 3.00 – 4.30pm

Wednesday 22nd September – 10.30am – 12pm

We are very excited to announce our next workshop (with 2 repeat sessions) about Decolonising implications in Reader Services. This workshop will look at different decolonising issues in the day-to-day work of user-facing staff from colleges, departments and faculties libraries, archives, and the main University University. The workshop will be facilitated by the Decolonising Through Critical Librarianship group and is also part of the Transforming Library series of events. 

We ask participants to familiarise themselves with the issues by reading beforehand some relevant article excerpts and questions arising from them.

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Postcolonial print cultures

On the 8th June 2021, Cambridge Digital Humanities (CDH) hosted a roundtable discussion on ‘Postcolonial Print Cultures and their Digital Afterlives’. The event was chaired by Prof. Caroline Bassett (the Director of CDH), with the speakers being Prof. Neelam Srivastava and Dr. Jack Webb – both from Newcastle – and Dr Siddharth Soni, the Isaac Newton Trust Research Fellow at CDH.

Prof. Srivastava firstly spoke on the topic of ‘Understanding Empire: Ethiopia in Global Print Cultures.’ Together with Dr. Webb, she was in the process of producing an online archive of print culture material of the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia by fascist Italy. The ephemera used as examples were extremely varied, including propaganda from Italy which presented the invasion of Ethiopia as a ‘civilising mission,’ conversations between political activists through ephemera, and international perspectives to the invasion, including some sympathetic humanitarian – rather than imperial – responses to the invasion from the English. One example was of a cartoon in Punch of an Ethiopian man fleeing from poison gas dropped by Italians, with the quotation being: ‘The Dawn of Progress: but how am I to see it? They’ve blinded me.’ (In an Italian counter-cartoon, this ‘humanitarian response’ was in turn ridiculed as hypocritical, demonstrating a dialogue of sorts conveyed through ephemera.) The conversation was again complicated by Ethiopia’s status as an empire itself within Africa. The archive overall aims to present a holistic print culture and as such relies heavily upon its online archive: digitising the content allows us more easily to understand pathways across the movement and across these separate communities, providing a richer understanding of the invasion.

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Pembroke College Library history collection

As with many other library classification schema, the in-house scheme at Pembroke College Library was designed to reflect the way subjects were taught. As the institution dates back centuries, this resulted in a number of legacy sections across the Library that would now be considered outdated or just plain wrong. The history section was a prime example and had been flagged as a priority for updating for some time.

Our recent overhaul of the classification was prompted by two sections in particular:

113 History of the British Empire and Commonwealth

114 Expansion of Europe [i.e. the history of the other European colonial powers]

At the same time, we realized that there were no sections at all for the history of Africa, South America, or Oceania: books on the history of those regions were either subsumed into the history of Britain and the European colonial powers, had been lumped in with “general historical works”, or simply had never been acquired.

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