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Library Champions: supporting inclusive education through reading lists

by Alan Fricker on 2022-05-26T16:31:38+01:00 | 0 Comments

When the Collections Design & Delivery (CDD) team received a request to lead a project for the Library Champions scheme, Charlotte Low and I were happy to get involved. Part of our work in CDD centres around making sure the teaching needs of faculty staff are accommodated through reading lists, so we wanted to do something aligned with that objective. Reading lists can also help to deliver an inclusive curriculum to students, and what better way to achieve this than by involving them directly in the process? After some initial planning, we invited students to participate in a project that encouraged them to scrutinise a reading list of their choice. More specifically, they would evaluate the range of authors and perspectives on show - potentially in collaboration with their module convenors. In doing so, they would gain a better sense of what an inclusive curriculum might look like, the result of which could bring about some brand-new recommendations for the library’s collections. 


To kick things off, we designed an audit tool that would help us measure the extent to which reading lists were shaped by an inclusive curriculum. Its look was partly influenced by the tools already used by other HE institutions, but also by the literature available through the scholarly community. The first section required the titles of works appearing on reading lists, together with their formats and importance settings (i.e. ‘Core’, Recommended’, or ‘Additional’). For those unfamiliar with reading lists, importance settings are a useful guide when it comes to prioritising which works students engage with, particularly if they form part of an assessment. Highlighting importance settings was significant as it would enable students to understand the value and currency attached to some works, as well as to others. Accordingly, students might be interested to see how far ‘Core’ works were made up from certain authors and perspectives, before looking to integrate other voices and viewpoints to sit alongside them. 

The second section of the audit tool asked students to record tReading List Audit Toolhe gender and ethnicity of the authors included in reading lists. We spent a lot of time looking up suitable gender and ethnicity categories from ONS data but struggled to settle on anything 100% appropriate for our purposes. Although we did eventually manage to come up with a range of options for gender, we decided to let students describe ethnicity via free text. By opting not to categorise ethnicity in an enumerative fashion, there was less chance of minority groups being overlooked as a result. We also knew that the task of identifying gender and ethnicity would be difficult if the information wasn’t made explicitly clear. Instead, students would need to rely on the clues available from institutional websites, LinkedIn profiles, and other sources. The methodology for capturing this data was therefore not without its flaws - at various points, students would need to use their own judgement, with all the cultural biases that came with it. 


In line with some key concerns intrinsic to building an inclusive curriculum, we wanted the audit tool to be able to contextualise the perspectives contained inside the reading lists with their geographical origins. This meant a work’s place of publication and/or an author’s institutional affiliation became especially relevant as sources of information. In other words, they might indicate if a work was a product of the global north (North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand), or south (Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Pacific Islands). In the end, we left it up to students to decide if they wanted to record either place of publication, institutional affiliation, or both. In fact, right from the beginning, we made it clear they were free to use as much or as little of the audit tool as they liked. It was there to lend support as necessary, and whatever direction students chose to take their own methodologies was up to them.   


Group sessions

In our first introductory session, Charlotte and I shared the CDD team’s vision to facilitate an inclusive curriculum through reading lists. In an open discussion, we explored what an inclusive curriculum might look like, while also thinking about why the work was important. We speculated on the challenges that lay ahead and acknowledged they would be different depending on which academic discipline was under the spotlight. Work of this kind tends to gain more traction with the arts, humanities, and social sciences, for example, while the perceived “neutrality” attached to the sciences has left them largely unchallenged. For this reason, we were pleased to welcome students from the Faculty of Life Science & Medicine, the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, and the Faculty of Natural, Mathematical Engineering Sciences. We agreed the project would run between November and March, and students would commit approximately 10 hours of their time towards it.


Midway through the project, Charlotte and I ran another session that covered how best to strike up a dialogue with module convenors with the data obtained from the audit tool. As stated previously, we wanted students to take a collaborative approach to this work, not least because module convenors were ultimately responsible for the reading lists and their contents. We anticipated many would share our enthusiasm for providing an inclusive curriculum and would be willing to communicate their thoughts and insights to students. Crucially, if both parties requested any new works as a result of their conversations, these requests would automatically be considered for purchase by the library. In the same session, we also turned our attention to the 1500-word case study report due for submission by the end of the project’s lifecycle. This would be an opportunity for students to do the following: 1) explain why they chose the reading lists they did, 2) reflect on the experiences they faced, 3) pass on their recommendations to others.      


Slide on Open Access publishingAt the beginning of March, we organised a final session based around searching out new works for reading lists. Jane, one of our Learning & Teaching Librarians, delivered an excellent presentation on publication biases in the global north. Meanwhile, Dan (Open Research) and Manuela (Archives & Research Collections) introduced students to the principles of Open Access. With the help of Aleksander, a Library Champion from another project, Dan and Manuela showcased a selection of repositories where the global south played a significant role in research outputs. If you haven’t heard of SciELO, CORE, DOAJ, and dLOC, they’re definitely worth checking out, since they’re free to access and not restricted by geography, or, in some instances, language. Charlotte and I would like to thank Jane, Dan, Manuela, and Aleksander for helping students with their projects, and for equipping them with valuable research skills for the future.         

Case study reports

The first student to submit their case study report examined a reading list belonging to a postgraduate taught module in the Department of Psychology. The data in the reading list revealed that, of the 81 works produced in the 21st century, 36% of authors were female and 64% were male. Although the data reflected the growing numbers of women in STEM subjects, the student stressed it was still essential that women feel ‘encourage[d] […] to enter academia, conduct research, and publish their findings’. Elsewhere, the student found that most authors came from the global north - the UK and the United States in particular. This could be down to the hegemony of English-speaking journals, as well as the correlation between the proliferation of academic research and the economic development of a nation state. The student also commented on the related problems associated with determining an author’s gender and ethnicity, so it was reassuring to see the data’s limitations being recognised here.


Another student to complete the project was a member of teaching staff in the Department of Political Economy and the Department of Philosophy. Their work actually combined the analysis of two reading lists: one for each department; both at undergraduate level. The first was dominated by white male authors, largely because it included a number of historical works, but also because political theory ‘remains a discipline with few people of colour or female authors recognised as leading authors’. By contrast, the reading list from the Department of Philosophy had female authors accounting for 3 out of every 4 works labelled ‘Core’, while authors of colour also featured, albeit to a lesser degree. The student argued that building an inclusive curriculum required faculty staff to ‘move beyond the established canon in one’s field’. Addressing this challenge would involve actively seeking out the ‘perspectives of scholars from other parts of the world, beyond the UK and the United States’.


Overall, Charlotte and I regard this project as a success, and we hope students found the work interesting and worthwhile too. We plan to carry forward their recommendations to a newly set up task and finish group, so the potential is there to influence future service development in the library. Any services we do develop will be available to faculties all-year round, thus ensuring this type of work is not limited to coincide with the Library Champions scheme. We also fulfilled the one new request we received for the library’s collections (!): Lee McIntyre, Nancy McHugh, and Ian Olasov, A Companion to Public Philosophy (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2022). Charlotte and I would like to thank all students who participated, and we’re grateful to Anna-Lena for organising and keeping us all on track throughout. If you’re interested in undertaking similar work yourself, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via  

Chris Fripp

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