Decolonisation Operational Group Terms of Reference
SOAS as an institution has deep colonial roots, the library having been built to serve the British colonial civil servants that first came through its doors. As a group, our remit is to acknowledge and challenge this past through a long-term process of decolonisation, of the library and special collections, its policies and internal structures. This is in concert with, and in support of, the Decolonising SOAS Vision, and seeks to aid and buttress the wider school’s efforts in this important work. We acknowledge also the Decolonising SOAS Learning and Teaching Toolkit as guidance in this endeavour.
We see this work as part of an ongoing effort to de-centre the European or Western canon of knowledge within SOAS, and other higher education institutions within the UK.
The group will commit to achieving this through the following aims:
- The decolonisation of our metadata, including reviewing and updating our subject headings, and looking to improve our classification systems where possible;
- Continuing to reach out to publishers and suppliers from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and supporting small publishers that encourage voices from the heart of these regions;
- Working with departments and people throughout the SOAS community, to build reading lists that reflect indigenous authors, and engage with knowledge from across the globe, not merely the English-speaking West;
- Facilitating the dissemination of our research to those who are the subjects of our research, particularly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East;
- To champion digital repatriation or restitution through the SOAS Digital Collections, and to work towards other forms of restitution, where appropriate;
- To assist in reviewing acquisition policies, especially in regards to donations, that will build a robust system for tracking the provenance of our collections; to refer new donations to the Collections Committee where appropriate; and to review the provenance of sensitive items already within those collections;
- To support our student body in the de-centring of Euro- and Anglo-centric epistemological structures by facilitating, as far as is possible, access to indigenous resources from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East;
- To work towards the decolonisation of our library space and collections, and access to that space and collections;
- To work with our colleagues in other academic libraries to encourage/facilitate mutual sharing of best practice, knowledge of working with Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and to collaborate with them in the decolonisation process;
- To involve the wider community in the decolonisation process, through engagement with, and access to, our collections.
Roles & Responsibilities
- All members will commit to working towards the above aims, to report any progress to the group, and to contributing to the work of the wider group.
- The group will form the Library cluster of SOAS Decolonisation Working Group (DWG), and will report to the DWG as and when is necessary.
- A co-chair will commit to attending and contributing to all DWG meetings; or, if not possible, will nominate a proxy to attend.
- All documents created by the group will be freely accessible to the SOAS community in the SOAS Library Decolonisation Operational Group Google folder.
- All progress on the above aims will be publicly made available on the operational group’s dedicated blog/website (TBA).
Membership is LLRE directorate-wide, consisting of a core group, with floating members joining as and when they are able. This allows different departments/teams within the library to have their voices heard, and to feed into the library’s decolonisation work.
Core members are:
- Ludi Price (Librarian - China & Inner Asia)
- Farzana Whitfield (Subject and Regional Librarian)
- David Pearson (Librarian - Anthropology & Sociology, Development Studies including CeDEP, Global and Media & Communications)
- Ed Hood (Special Collections Archivist)
- Jo Ichimura (Special Collections Archivist - CWM)
- Dominique Akhoun-Schwarb (Special Collections Curator - Rare Books and Manuscripts)
- Amma Poku (Reader Services Team Leader)
- Melanie Marie Haywood (Head of Library, Learning & Teaching Innovation)
- Angelica Baschiera (Manager, Regional Centres and Institutes)
For specific input on matters that may impact the whole school, or where the input of library users would be appropriate, group meetings may be open to wider membership, for example from:
- The Decolonising SOAS Working Group
- The Student Union
- The student body
- Academic staff
- Meetings will be chaired by Ludi Price and/or Farzana Whitfield.
- Meetings will take place monthly, unless otherwise stated.
- Minutes will be taken by Ludi Price and/or Farzana Whitfield. All minutes and documents will be shared in the SOAS Library Decolonisation Operational Group Google folder.
- All core members will attend each meeting; or, at least one member from each team will attend, if full attendance is not possible.
- Meetings are open to attendance from other interested parties.
The group commits to continue its work until the DWG determines that it has completed its decolonisation work within SOAS. The aim is that the group will embed decolonisation processes within the operations of the library, thus reaching a point where it is no longer needed. However, the group may decide to continue this work indefinitely, if deemed necessary, and by the agreement of all members.
These Terms of Reference will be periodically reviewed in light of the learning that we undergo throughout the decolonisation process.