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Postscript: liaison with the Anti-Racism Community of Practice at King's during the project

Due to the focus and subject matter of this research - hidden voices of the colonial world - the curator of this exhibition, Tom Mitchell, and the staff supporting him in the Foyle Special Collections Library thought that it would sensible and valuable to share findings, methodologies and aims with the Anti-Racism Community of Practice at King’s.

Its Co-Ordinator within Libraries and Collections at King’s College London is Ebony Burke and we met with Ebony and colleagues to consider the research from the perspectives of anti-racism and representation. The text below is taken from a talk that Ebony gave to the wider Library community at King’s, in a meeting in which Tom outlined the research he had undertaken in his internship and which is now showcased in this online exhibition.

By Ebony Burke, Anti-Racism Community of Practice Co-Ordinator.

We were invited to come and meet with Tom and the Special Collections team to hear about the project; and to have an open discussion about the material, the themes of the research and to consider some of the details of the content.

As we discussed the collections and the theme of ‘hidden stories’, we addressed the tension in the processes of the work, in that Tom is a white male researcher and the supporting librarians are also white. We asked the question:

What impact can this have on the African experiences and stories that Tom is trying to showcase, celebrate and advocate for within the project?

The tension is felt due to the sensitive nature of the work and the desire and commitment to counteract the original narrative. The work is aware of and highlights themes of language and expression, systemic and institutional racism, lived experience, and justice versus unintentional harm.

This opened the discussion further and enabled us to critically reflect on how we engage with the material, our individual positioning, the privilege of being able to share someone else’s story, and our power as librarians and researchers in opening the door for the reader and audience to see and feel a deeper sense of truth, which would not have been reflected at the time of publication. Part of the reflective journey about seeking this deeper truth is also about acknowledging the injustices of colonial power, racism, and economic agendas.

Tom, in his research process, focused on these African stories from a humanistic perspective rather than a subjective point of view. The value of this approach and Tom’s intentions and reflection process, allows the reader and audience to gain a more holistic view of an African person's story, from that time. 

Learning outcomes

So what can we learn from this humanistic approach to research and using our collection and resources with a sense of integrity, honesty, critical reflection, purpose and social justice?

The project and its themes of hidden voices contribute to the global conversation on inclusion, social justice, and anti-racism. If we bring it back to the role of libraries in this conversation, we have an essential contribution to make to the King’s community and wider society. By enabling access to the project and the collections, and by using different formats to bring the content to life, and finding points of connection with a fresh perspective, the project and the library resources can be an active part of the conversation and it can be valuable and impactful.

The project can be a great conversation starter with students and colleagues.

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