Parallel Session 5

Parallel Session 5 – Embedding Equity and Diversity in Daily Operations

Moderator: Sylvia Koukounidou, University of Cyprus Library, Cyprus
Location: Tassos Papadopoulos – Room 101 (1st Floor)

5.1) Improving Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Postgraduate Research at the British Library and Beyond

Presenter: Alice Marples, The British Library, United Kingdom

There are a number of known equality, diversity and inclusion needs in postgraduate communities across academia and galleries, libraries, archives and museums in the UK. There is a disproportionately low participation of UK Black, Asian and non-white minority ethnic individuals in arts and humanities doctoral research, as well as in the cultural, heritage and library sectors due to systemic factors. There is significant under-representation of disability in higher education and the cultural sector. Mature students, those with caring responsibilities or young families, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds face a wide range of barriers to progress through doctoral studies and into future employment. Despite this, there is an ongoing lack of sector-wide research and accessible information around postgraduate social backgrounds, identities and potential barriers to attainment and progress.

Focusing on a PhD Placement project undertaken at The British Library in 2023-24, this paper will explore the structures and value of collaborative staff-student research in Independent Research Organisations (IROs) in the UK and how these link to institutional strategies and public activities. It also demonstrates how such research can be used to improve the infrastructure of libraries and the cultural sector, and developing equity beyond cultural programming. It will outline the methodology, findings and recommendations for improving equality, diversity and inclusion support in collaborative postgraduate work at the Library, and link this with broader contexts and trends such as career pathways. It seeks to demonstrate one of the ways in which progress and leadership can be fostered through reflexive research activities in libraries and other cultural heritage organisations.

5.2) Practical interventions in collection acquisition, description, and presentation to foster a more inclusive library environment at VU Amsterdam

Presenters: Michèle Meijer and Esther Nijland, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

How can libraries effectively contribute to the process of decolonization? What domains should we focus on and what actions can we undertake?

Like numerous European university libraries, we struggle at VU Amsterdam with the inherent colonial biases in the ways we collect, describe and present our materials. Our collections are biased towards western values and perspectives, lacking important but marginalized voices and containing outdated and offensive metadata. This directly influences students’ first contacts with academia. What do our collections say what good research is and who is allowed to participate in academia? VU Amsterdam has one of the most culturally diverse student populations in The Netherlands. Many students and staff might not feel represented and at home in our library while searching our online catalogue or browsing our shelves.

In early 2023, a team of subject librarians and a metadata specialist started working towards a more inclusive library environment. We took inspiration from the case studies in Crilly and Everitt’s Narrative Expansions. Interpreting Decolonisation in Academic Libraries (London, 2022), showing that librarians can contribute to decolonization through practical interventions, collaboration with students and staff, and developing criticality about their own role in continuing colonial practices. We furthermore aim to help creating awareness of coloniality both within our own library as the wider VU community through talks, discussions, and a website.

Our paper will first outline interventions we aim to carry out for more inclusivity at our library, focusing on the domains of collection acquisition, description, and presentation. We will then discuss our progress, in particular with respect to the description of our collections, explaining in detail how we identified harmful subject headings and replaced them with respectful alternatives by using a tool from OCLC. We will also share our experiences in discussing decolonization within the library. The paper ends with addressing the challenges we are facing in creating more diverse and inclusive collections while having to navigate between student and staff needs, constrained budgets, and wider academic power structures, including the publishing industry.

Given similarities with other European university libraries, we think that the issues we raise in our presentation will be relatable to conference participants and that the practical interventions we offer might be applicable in their own libraries. By discussing concrete examples and acknowledging challenges, we aim to foster an open discussion, inviting colleagues across Europe to share their own experiences and ideas.

5.3) Current state and next steps for strengthening and enhancing repositories in Europe

Presenter: Eloy Rodrigues, OpenAIRE, Greece

Open Science is ushering in a new paradigm for research; one in which all researchers have unprecedented access to the full corpus of research for analysis, text and data mining, and other new research methods. However, a prerequisite for achieving this vision is a strong and well-functioning network of repositories that provides human and machine access to the wide range of valuable research outputs. In addition, repositories represent critical community-based infrastructure, as they are mainly hosted and managed by universities and their libraries, and therefore should be properly protected from commercial capture – and they ensure equity as they do not charge deposit or access fees for users. A more strategic approach to repositories in Europe will help to ensure they are moving in the right direction. In January 2023, OpenAIRE, LIBER, SPARC Europe, and COAR launched a joint strategy aimed at strengthening the European repository network. As a first step, a survey of the European repository landscape was undertaken in February-March 2023.

The survey found that European repositories acquire, preserve and provide open access to tens or possibly hundreds of millions of valuable research outputs. They are used for sharing articles that may be paywalled in published journals, but also for providing access to a large variety of other types of research outputs including research data, theses/dissertations, conference papers, preprints, code, and so on. A large proportion of repositories are based at universities (mainly libraries) making them relatively sustainable and, by every indication, their collections are being well-used by the research community and beyond. However, the survey has also exposed a number of important areas where the current repository landscape could be strengthened. In particular, we found that repositories struggle with three main challenges: (1) maintaining up-to-date, highly functioning software platforms, (2) applying consistent and comprehensive good practices in terms of metadata, preservation, and usage statistics; and (3) gaining appropriate visibility in the scholarly ecosystem.

This presentation will provide an overview of the results of the survey, and present the joint strategy developed and being deployed by LIBER, OpenAIRE, COAR and SPARC Europe. Audience members will be asked for their feedback in terms of priorities and effective activities for strengthening repositories in their country / region.

53rd LIBER Annual Conference