Like many universities, Goldsmiths is keen to decolonise and liberate both the curriculum, and the resources that we provide to support teaching and learning; for example by purchasing books under the ‘Liberate My Degree’ umbrella, which are searchable as a collection on our library catalogue, and by working with academic departments to decolonise our reading lists. Of course, much of the input to this work must come from the academics who have the knowledge and expertise to be able to decide what the best resources for their modules are, but we are also keen to engage with students to aid in this process. Much of the push to liberate and decolonise degrees has come from students, and we want to respond to that.
Goldsmiths has a very diverse student body. We have a large proportion of international students, and as of last year’s figures, 44% of the student body is of Black, Asian, mixed or other minority ethnic backgrounds. We also have many mature students, a strong LGBTQ+ student presence and a high proportion of women in our student body. It makes sense that our reading lists and our collections should be made more reflective of our makeup.
15% of the books bought by the library using the ‘liberate my degree’ purchase suggestion form (which is open to students and staff) currently appear on this year’s reading lists. Some of them appear on multiple reading lists, and several are marked as essential reading, not just relegated to further reading.
As well as trying to add a more inclusive range of resources to our library stock and reading lists as directed by academic staff, we have Student Library Reps that take suggestions directly from their fellow students and order books to be added to stock, and we are currently trialling a small number of reading lists on our system with more interactive functionality using Talis Player, specifically to try to take advantage of the diverse range of knowledge, interests, and experiences of our students by enabling them to add suggestions directly on to a reading list. They can do this by adding comments and suggestions on a document within the list itself, which we monitor and respond to. It is early days, and only a few lists with this functionality are currently available, but we have received some suggestions of books and articles to add to lists this way, and we hope to expand this in the coming academic year.
We realise that while there is an eagerness for reading lists and library collections to be liberated and decolonised, our students do not always have the time or the inclination to engage with this process, or may feel that they do not have anything they are able to add. We are very keen to respond to those that do, and hope that as students get further along in their studies, and expand into wider research for their projects, they will have more suggestions to share with us. The idea of students contributing ideas to their own reading lists will need to be actively promoted for it to be most effective.
There are some practical things to think about when trying to expand our collections in this way: Firstly, are we going to be able to acquire all the books and articles that are suggested? Of course we can input a bibliographic reference for just about anything on a reading list, but as with all acquisitions, actually acquiring a copy of that material isn’t always going to be as simple as purchasing standard textbooks from the usual publishers and suppliers. For example, at least one of the items suggested for purchase on our ‘Decolonising the Modern World’ sociology reading list was self-published, and is proving tricky to get hold of.
Is a suggested item very expensive?
Is it in English? There is no reason why every reference that is suggested will be. Does that matter? If a suggested purchase is not in English, is there is a translation available so that a wider range of people can read it?
Are suggested online resources region-locked?
Will extra copyright clearance costs be factored in if more diverse texts become essential reading but are not available as e-books, or not covered by the CLA licence?
Getting these texts onto reading lists where appropriate is one of our goals, so potential copyright costs for scans, and the administrative time needed to secure permissions might be something to bear in mind.
This work seems to be an important part of our project to help expand inclusivity and diversity in the curriculum by responding to student and staff suggestions in different ways, and we hope it will have a positive impact on student engagement with reading lists and the library.
About the Author
Rebecca Randall is the Assistant Librarian (Digital Assets) at Goldsmiths, University of London Library.
If you found this blog interesting, check out what Laura Williams had to say about the Broaden My Bookshelf initiative at the University of Huddersfiled: https://cla.co.uk/blog/higher-education/broaden-my-bookshelf