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Recognising the impact of reading lists on diversifying curricula

Natalie Naik
Inclusivity Talis Insight Europe 2019

This is a guest post from Sarah Field, Liaison Librarian at the University of Kent.


Preparing for our forthcoming presentation at Talis Insight Europe 2019 has given me, and colleague Emma Mires-Richards, an opportunity to reflect on the work we, with others, have been doing in the last year. One aspect that is encouraging for us as academic liaison librarians, with responsibility for collection development and engagement, is the acknowledgement outside of the library that reading lists play a significant role in diversifying the curriculum.

We began a collaborative project with the  School of European Culture & Languages at the University of Kent last spring, making the case that as reading lists are the mechanism for developing library collections that support teaching and learning and are therefore an ideal starting point for diversifying the curriculum. Many had already identified this point in their own institutions as part of a ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ movement.  We benefited in gaining traction internally and in guiding our approach from academic colleagues at UCL and LSE  who had already investigated this area

Our project produced a diversity dashboard for reading lists that provides a point for academics to reflect on their resource choices and kick-start the discussion with students. Initial feedback from academics showed that they all felt the process useful, prompted a review of the resources on reading lists and importantly, engage students in this activity.

“I found this fascinating, especially as I was expecting a more balanced result – particularly in terms of gender. I’m thinking of presenting the results to the students on this course in the week where we explore the concept of hegemony in colonial new Spain. I’d like to demonstrate how narratives and systems of knowledge are not neutral, even in university reading lists, and even when the subject matter is actively post-and de-colonial, in fact!  I’ll invite them to suggest titles they come across in their wider reading and add them to the Reading List where appropriate.” (SECL project, November 2018)

The initial success of this pilot has now resulted in other schools and academics at Kent using reading list review as a process for diversifying module curricula to improve student engagement and attainment.  Last week at the University of Kent we saw the launch of the ’Decolonise the curriculum manifesto’ from a student-led project, Decolonise UKC and right up there is the role reading lists play in providing a diverse pedagogic and learning experience. One law student in a focus group carried out in the project, commented;

“The only time we look at non-white material is in relation to colonialism (slavery/anti-slavery) or extremism and the material tends to be negative as opposed to positive.”(Decolonise UKC Manifesto, March 2019)

A key concept of the manifesto is the need to understand who is using the reading lists and how it is developed to reflect a range of perspectives.

It’s really encouraging to see students and staff beginning to re-examine curricula for diverse schools of thought at Kent and recognising the impact reading list in this process. For the library staff, we now need to make sure we have developed the tools and processes so this activity can become a mainstream service.

With this in mind, we really look forward to sharing the insights gained from our work, along with those of some of our student collaborators, on 1 May at Talis Insight Europe 2019 and engaging in discussion with our colleagues in the industry to enrich our knowledge and practice.



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