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Decolonisation of the curriculum using Talis Aspire reading lists

Emma Dodd

Decolonising the curriculum is an ongoing topic of importance for universities, particularly within libraries who are the custodians of the institution’s content.

As part of our Talis Insight Webinars in November 2021, we heard from Hazel Rothera from Oxford Brookes University who presented on: ‘Using Reading Lists to Support Accessibility and Diversity’. 

Hazel explained how Academic Liaison Librarians have supported academics at the university to diversify their reading lists and include a wider range of sources. To support lecturers, a reading list for the ‘Knowledge sources for Inclusive Curriculum’ was created as part of training for the Business School to guide lecturers towards academic sources on business topics that span the globe, rather than being completely sourced from White European authors, giving students a wider range of material. 

As a way to diversify reading lists, library staff at Oxford Brookes University secured additional funding to purchase books on a range of topics on areas such as Neurodiversity and Racism. These lists and resources are available for all students, regardless of the programme they are studying on.  

Moving forward, Oxford Brookes is moving towards a new University Strategy for the next 15 years with the vision to diversify the curriculum and the library will be supporting working on this to make reading lists less ‘WEIRD’: 

  • Western 
  • Educated 
  • Institutionalised 
  • Rich 
  • Democratic

Talis are looking forward to continuing to work with Oxford Brookes and hearing how Talis Aspire has supported their diversity strategy, you can see Hazel’s presentation below.

Last month, as part of our rolling schedule of community webinars, Talis approached universities who have been completing work on Decolonisation to talk to our community about the strategy they have used, what prompted this and the barriers that they faced. 

Katherine Halliday, Academic Support Librarian at the University of Warwick shared the initiatives taking place at Warwick University to close the attainment gap of those achieving a 1st class degree between those students identified as White to Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME). 

Across the university, Katherine explained there are a number of initiatives and projects running to support overcoming this, both in the library but also through curriculum development, community and many other departments. 

At Warwick University, there have been a number of campaigns including the campaign by the Student Union to rename the Radcliffe conference centre. Students have been involved in decolonising Reading Lists, particularly in the subjects of Life Sciences and English and Comparative literature. 

To support staff, Warwick University has the Antifascist Pedagogy Learning Circle to support staff on anti-racist teaching and how to handle discussions on race and address microaggressions in the classroom. This has been valuable for both academic liaison and reflecting on Katherine’s own teaching practice. 

In the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, academics support library Liyda Plath put together this Black Lives Matter list which shows within the resources many of the issues raised in the 2020 BLM protests had been raised by Black activists many times before, prior to 2020. 

Katherine raised an interesting point about the perspective conundrum that in the position as a librarian has no control over the content of the reading list, and a position to avoid and recourse but ultimately it is the academics. 

There are a number of challenges faced at Warwick University, which in the discussion after the presentation, was clear are experienced by others: 

  • Lack of diverse suppliers 
  • Nature of cataloguing rules/language 
  • Reading list driven acquisitions 
  • Limited collections development budget to broaden the collections 

Moving forward, Katherine explained the Student Voice have Library Associates, initially starting as a small campaign in 2019/20 is now looking to expand the project to run all year. Talis Aspire will be used as part of this to collate a shopping list of new titles to be purchased.  

Sarah Akhtaruzzaman, Assistant Information Specialist from Aston University, shared how pre- 2020, the library started initially updating LibGuides and had a system of recommendations collated on a reading list. However, this was very much an ‘island silo’ and slow progress. 

The university and library had a rethink of their approach to Decolonisation of Aston University as a connected institution, through to university senior management now having an Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Diversity and inclusion, and Inclusive Aston page. There is a pilot project being run in different areas of the university including student-led projects on revisiting the reading list in the Law Department which is being fed back into programme development. 

At Aston University, the ultimate aim is for decolonisation to be embedded in all departments and modules. Where more diverse resources are the norm, rather than a ‘box-ticking’ exercise. As part of this, ambassadors are to be recruited to share best practices across the institution. The reading list on Decolonising the curriculum resources has been updated. 

You can listen to Katherine and Sarah’s full presentations below.

To keep up to date with our upcoming webinars to register to join or receive the recording, see our events page. 

Further resources and  information: 

Decolonisation  curriculum  conversation

THE podcast: what does it mean to decolonise a library?

How to support academic staff starting the journey of decolonising the curriculum

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