Broaden My Bookshelf is an initiative started at the University of Huddersfield in 2018 between the library, Students’ Union, and BAME Ambassadors, aimed at increasing diversity in library collections. In this article I will explain the background to the initiative and progress so far. The initiative has focused on increasing representation in library collections and giving students opportunity to help build collections which feature their voices and stories. Our project began with a focus on increasing books by BAME authors, and was later expanded to include books by LGBTQ+ authors. By giving students the opportunity to request books, both fiction and non-fiction from academic and trade publishers, we have begun the process of making our library more inclusive and diverse.
We are not the first university library to undertake such an initiative, and this project is in no way original or innovative on our part. Huddersfield is by no means leading the way in this work, however we were inspired by campaigns from other libraries. These include Liberate our Library at Goldsmiths and Liberated Library at Brunel University, amongst others. These projects prompted us to look at what action could be taken within our own institution to diversify collections and support marginalised voices. It is important to state that this project is a small action, feeding into a wider agenda through collaboration with student networks who are pushing for change. Ian Clark makes this point well in a blog post published earlier this year about the role libraries can play in decolonisation stating it is crucial that we use of our position to “help to build connections and solidarity”1.
Broaden My Bookshelf forms part of a set of initiatives aiming to address this BAME attainment gap. At the University of Huddersfield there is a 25.5% gap between UK white students and UK Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students achieving a First Class Honours2. Finding ways to contribute to tackling this issue is crucial and as a library we are in a central position within our academic community to help advocate and take positive action. Whilst the BAME attainment gap was a starting point of our project, we felt it was important that our work focused on diversity in a wider context. Hence the decision to make our make our campaign about student voices from other marginalised communities, reflecting the move by the Students’ Union to set up Liberation Campaign Networks including LGBTQ+.
The issue of diversifying library collections is currently a key question within the library and wider higher education sector. This is a response to the growing movement in Higher Education focused on questioning whiteness and the attainment gap. At Huddersfield we have recognised the importance of making steps towards change within our institution. Broaden My Bookshelf is a small step towards highlighting this important issue within education. In 2011 the National Union of Students published its Race for Equality report, the result of a research project exploring the academic experience of Black students in Higher Education. The report recommended that to foster equality “institutions must strive to minimise Euro-centric bias in curriculum design, content and delivery and to establish mechanisms”3. Campaigns challenging the whiteness of university curriculums and diversity of reading lists were started by many different universities including libraries.
Broaden My Bookshelf was run as a collaboration with the Students’ Union. The library took responsibility for running the campaign with support from the Students’ Union in developing the idea, planning events and generating student interest. The Director of Computing and Library Services was incredibly supportive of the idea,
allocating a budget of £20,000 to ensure we could purchase new books for the library. To launch the Broaden My Bookshelf campaign the library and the Students’ Union hosted a week of events, featuring book readings, panel debates, and a high profile keynote speaker.
We are still evaluating the impact of Broaden My Bookshelf at the university and plan to collect feedback from students about the campaign. In the first 20 weeks of running Broaden My Bookshelf over 100 new books were purchased for the library. New stock acquired for Broaden My Bookshelf has proved incredibly popular with 95% of available new titles being borrowed. This rate of borrowing is high compared to regular library stock indicating a demand from students for books which are more diverse, representative and relatable. The project tied in with the HudReads leisure reading collection which launched at the start of the 2018/19 academic year. It is interesting to note that 68.5% of books purchased through Broaden My Bookshelf were added to the HudReads collection rather than the main library collections. Students were also given the option to indicate if they would like a book they were suggesting for purchase to be added to a reading list, however nobody requested this.
Broaden my Bookshelf is just a starting point. There is more work to be done and further action is needed. The library aims to continue working in collaboration with the Students’ Union and the different Liberation Campaign Networks which has evolved at the university. Decolonisation, diversity, questioning the whiteness of the academy are complex issues on which I am not able to claim expertise or deep knowledge. I am still trying to learn and develop my understanding, which has been a key part of working on the Broaden My Bookshelf campaign. For librarians or academics working on an initiative of this nature, it is crucial that we take responsibility for educating ourselves on the issue. There are others writing on this topic in a more nuanced way than I can do it justice with this short article, my advice is to seek our as many perspectives and voices as possible. Read widely, ask questions and collaborate with others.
About the Author
Laura Williams is the Subject Librarian for Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Huddersfield. Prior to this she worked on a reading list project at the university with Business School. Laura is interested in user experience, visual literacy, collection management and the art of serendipitous discovery through browsing library collections.
1 Clark, I. (2019, Mar 26). The role of the library in decolonising [blog post]. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@ijclark/the-role-of-the-library-in-decolonising-f749a6bc912a
2 Huddersfield Students’ Union. (n.d.). BAME Ambassador Scheme. Retrieved from https://www.huddersfield.su/bame
3 National Union of Students. (2011). Race for Equality: A report on the experiences of Black students in further and higher education. Retrieved from https://www.nus.org.uk/en/news/race-for-equality/