Senate House Library

Diversity & Inclusion

Senate House Library is committed to maximising the diversity of voices by reviewing past and current practices, collections and services as well as ensuring inclusivity is built into and at the heart of collection strategies and decision making in future.

Students studying in Library

Diversity & Inclusion

Senate House Library is committed to maximising the diversity of voices by reviewing past and current practices, collections and services as well as ensuring inclusivity is built into and at the heart of collection strategies and decision making in future.

Libraries and archives have an important role to play in improving diversity and inclusion. Senate House Library is committed to maximising the diversity of voices by reviewing past and current practices, collections and services as well as ensuring inclusivity is built into and at the heart of collection strategies and decision making in future.  

With over 2 million items and over 150 years of history in the Library, it is vital to review collections while recognising that this is no small task and one that is continual, never finished.   

From August 2020 until July 2021, research was undertaken to develop a Collection Development Strategy that covers three main elements assessing: 

  1. Existing collections to identify problematic and unjustly marginalised material, to maximise the diversity of the voices, authors and publishers in our printed collections 

  1. Acquisition of new material, reviewing processes to determine whether we are doing enough to proactively engage with underrepresented groups to encourage diversification of deposited material.  

  1. Terminology used in descriptions on the catalogue to ensure a more inclusive language or content warnings to emphasise historical context where appropriate.  

With a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion, Senate House Library continues to evolve and seeks to ensure collections represent all Library users, regardless of race, gender,  sexual orientation, physical ability, age, and political or religious beliefs.

Case Studies

Exploring Senate House Library’s Anglophone Caribbean Literature Collection

An Overview of the Anglophone Caribbean Literature Collection 

Spineless wonders

Senate House Library’s Anglophone Caribbean Literature Collection (ACLC) contains a mixture of primary texts such as novels, poetry, plays as well as secondary, critical works. The collection holds a number of key texts for the study of Caribbean literature, and also includes some which are less well-known, including from some smaller, non-academic presses. There is a strong emphasis on twentieth-century writers.  

The collection is arranged via country, using the Library of Congress classification system. The current location of the collection is not conducive to serendipitous browsing and discovery. The collection is currently underutilised as a resource for both research and leisure reading, and its distinctness as an Anglophone Caribbean collection has been somewhat subsumed within the wider Latin American designation. 

Beyond the ACLC, this review project will also consider and bring together Anglophone Caribbean Literature where it exists in other areas of the SHL collections. There is some overlap between the ACLC and the English Collection in the area of Black British Writing, and also the Ron Heisler Collection, the journals collections and the ICOMM collections and archives.  

Enriching The Collection 

The objective of the project is to make Anglophone Caribbean Literature a more distinct, visible and valuable resource within SHL for both research and leisure reading by: 

  1. Reviewing the ACLC holdings noting strengths and gaps: authors, publishers, key texts, movements. Bibliographies will be created as a first step as will a ‘wish list’ of items to purchase. 
  2. Reviewing sympathetic collection areas within SHL to bring together key resources: such as the Ron Heisler Collection, the Journals collections, and the Archives. Bibliographies will be created as a first step. 
  3. Adding books and other items to fill the gaps where possible and appropriate - using aforementioned ‘Wish List’ 
  4. Promoting the strengths to Researchers & Leisure readers 
  5. Scoping the possibility of building the collection into the 21st century, with particular emphasis on developing relationships with Caribbean (and Caribbean diaspora) publishers.  

Progress & Achievements

  • Online guide to the Anglophone Caribbean Literature collection
  • Bibliographies of key texts are continuing to be checked against our holdings and noted for strengths and gaps. 
  • More items have been purchased and added to the Anglophone Caribbean Literature collection. 
  • Blogs and events promoting the works published by Anglophone Caribbean diaspora community presses such as Bogle L’Ouverture, Black Ink and Centerprise have featured in Being Human festival 2020, LRBS Spineless Spotlights event 2021Blog written for SHL 2020;  
  • SHL150 online gallery celebrating 150 years of SHL’s collections features highlights from the Anglophone Caribbean Literature collection. 
  • Events & blogs in for 2021 include the forthcoming Spineless Wonders project and a blog to celebrate ‘Proud To Be’ Black History Month October 2021.  

Project undertaken by Leila Kassir, Academic Librarian for British, US, Commonwealth, Latin American and Caribbean Literature 

The eugenics legacy in psychology as reflected in the Library collections

The eugenics legacy in psychology as reflected in the library collections 

Psychology played a special role in the legitimisation of eugenic ideas, largely because of the development of psychological testing designed to measure intelligence. In Britain, intelligence testing came to prominence through the work of two psychologists, Charles Spearman (1904) and Cyril Burt (1909), both strongly influenced by Francis Galton. Many members of the newly formed British Psychological Society (1901) were also interested in eugenics. Among them, Robert Armstrong-Jones, Cyril Burt, William McDougall, Frederick Walker Mott, and Charles Myers were all members of the Eugenics Society. 

Newly created tests (e.g. the Binet-Simon test) were administered to people presumed to be intellectually inferior, which provided quantitative confirmation of this view. This created a central role for psychologists and psychiatrists to identify masked ‘defects’ of the mind, and diagnose ‘feeble-mindedness’ and insanity. Psychology thus became central to the schooling, housing, treatment, and control of those deemed ‘mentally defective’, contributing to the spread of eugenic thinking in places such as asylums, mental hospitals, training schools for the ‘feeble-minded’, and prisons. ‘Mental deficiency’ and ‘feeble-mindedness’ were seen by eugenicists as a major cause for socially undesirable features leading to criminality, violence, poverty and poor parenting. 

Many voices from inside and outside academia argue that eugenics remains a quiet but powerful background influence in modern-day psychology and psychiatry. Despite a long-standing lack of agreement between psychologists on what intelligence is and what it involves, there is, seemingly, still a strong practical reliance in many fields on intelligence measuring for classifying people. Therefore, it is vital to look critically at the history of ‘intellectual disability’ as a broader category within psychology in order to understand the depth of dehumanising experiences individuals and groups labelled with the many different labels associated with eugenicist views have been facing. 

The recent recommendations following the inquiry into the pivotal role University College London played in the history of eugenics in the UK, and its connection with ‘scientific racism’, are a good example of how we can also begin to address this difficult past within our own collections. The link between the University of London and the eugenics movement goes back to July 1912 when the University held the first International Eugenics Congress in its South Kensington location. This may help to explain the many holdings of prominent figures connected with eugenics Senate House Library has across several modern and special collections (e.g. psychology early texts, psychology tests, psychology monographs and periodical publications, and archives).  

This case study aims to identify the psychologists who shared eugenicist views and practices, their works, and their research networks, as reflected in our library collections. Outcomes of the project include: 

  • an annotated bibliography on the subject to be made available on the library website  
  • an analysis of the terminology used in the library catalogue and replacement of legacy terms with American Psychological Association approved terms, as appropriate 
  • opportunities for the library to offer a space for dialogue between social, clinical and educational psychologists, researchers across disciplinary boundaries, and people interested in sharing personal stories of stigma related to intelligence testing and intellectual disability 

Project undertaken by Mura Ghosh, Academic Librarian for Psychology, Philosophy and Social Sciences, in collaboration with the British Psychological Society. 

Enslavement in the archives at Senate House Library

Title image for enslavement in the archives at Senate House Library

Out of its over 1,800 archival collections Senate House Library holds a small but significant number of archives with connections to enslavement. The earliest archival material related to enslavement entered the collections as part of the manuscripts of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature, which was presented to the University of London in 1903. The holdings were subsequently enhanced with additions throughout the 20th century. Further complementary materials were added through the Institute of Commonwealth Studies’ archive. The archival material in question takes on many forms, including papers of people and companies involved with business and trade supported by enslavement, documents related to colonial administration as well as letters and other materials from campaigns supporting the abolitionist movement. 

We are currently undertaking a case study on these archival holdings with the goal to examine how and why these archives have entered Senate House Library’s collections and to improve the transparency, description and accessibility of these collections.

Aims of the case study 

  • To search for and examine previous documentation of our collections with connections to enslavement
  • To examine the archival holdings themselves and to conduct further historical and contextual research on them 
  • To examine donor agreements available for these collections and investigate the feasibility of adding the provenance information uncovered to the archival catalogue 
  • To expand upon and suggest amendments to the current subject guide Senate House Library provides for collections related to enslavement to enhance their visibility and accessibility 
  • To review what actions other institutions have taken involving their collections with connections to enslavement and gather knowledge of best practice of how to describe and provide access to these archives

Progress & Achievements 

  • We have examined over 60% of the 45 archival collections identified that relate to enslavement and conducted additional research on them. 
  • We have tagged records in the back end of our archives management software encountered by collections staff which contain materials on enslavement and enslaved people including records which contain terminology describing enslaved people that we now would consider offensive. 
  • We have reviewed our donation agreements and started some additional cataloguing to provide more information on the donation processes that have led these collections to be incorporated into the Senate House Library archives. One example is a newly catalogued entry on correspondence and research relating to the Hewitt and Newton collections (MS522 and MS523). 
  • We have published an updated subject guide for our archival holdings on enslavement, expanding it by several collections previously not listed and enhancing it with contextual information. 
  • We will be adding a statement to the interface of our archival catalogue to raise awareness that some of our collections include terms, words, and phrases which are offensive and acknowledging that our cataloguing and description of records has not always been as sensitive, accurate, or as inclusive as we would want it to be now. 

Project undertaken by Argula Rublack, Academic Librarian (History), and Sean Macmillan, Archives Manager