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How to Liberate the Library Catalogue (without waking the cat)

I joined the Goldsmiths Library team in January as a Cataloguing Assistant. Immediately I launched – like a leaking ship – into the bewildering new world of pandemic-induced working practices and a screen-shaped sea of colleagues’ miniature (and very lovely) faces. I’ve not set foot on the campus yet (as an employee; I was a shy but adoring English student at the start of the century) but I’m already impressed and excited by the Liberate our Library project, and this remote initiation has allowed me time to research the subject of Critical Librarianship #critlib (those trolleys bursting with uncatalogued books will have to wait, sorry).

Take a break, take a #critcat

In the name of professional development (and in order not to disturb the softly snoring cat on my lap), I took this free Decolonising Education Course on Future Learn, created by the University of Bristol. Through videos, articles and interviews it covered the history, theory and contemporary impact of colonialism in academia, but what I took away as a librarian was the message that decolonisation of the university is an ongoing and evolving process, which needs to be a rooted in the wider community. Even more importantly, it should be a collaborative effort, with input from staff, students and groups outside the university setting. The key message seems to be ‘thinking otherwise: outside of the categories, hierarchies and binaries of coloniality’ in favour of a more relational approach.

Who made the handy-but-boring-and-faintly-perplexing library record for the latest ebook / research paper / thesis / journal article you need anyway? Yes, I know they look like they are the lightly fevered dreams of machines (in many ways, they are) but they’re actually created by nerdy, book-loving, professionally-trained robots like me. And we’re always thinking about you, the reader, and how we can better unite you with the “best” information. The trouble is, we often need your input on what “best” looks like. And of course we need to think about how we can better enrich life in a broader ‘social justice’ sense too.

Results of a keyword search for ‘illegal aliens’ on Library Search

It’s too easy for ‘insiders’ not to notice how biased the system is. The 2019 documentary Changing the Subject highlighted the embedded racism and ‘othering’ in Library of Congress Subject Headings (many libraries around the world use these, including Goldsmiths). Students at Dartmouth College, with the support of their librarians, took their objections to ‘anti-immigrant’ language in their catalogue (specifically, the term ‘illegal aliens’) to the US policymakers and were met with a mixture of political assent and resistance.

But the appetite for progressive change only increases. And in libraries, everyday aspects of our work are falling under an ethical spotlight, including our cataloguing practices, for which there’s a new ‘code’. Through a critical approach to librarianship, we can consider how we can better represent a broader range of communities in the library’s collections, underpin the diversification of knowledge production at the university – sorry, pluriversity – and how far we might be able to achieve decolonisation of our library catalogue. One way we’re beginning to do this at Goldsmiths is with our Liberate! Zines collection.

But to really succeed in our project of liberation and decolonisation, we need your help. Current students or staff might like to join one of our Resistance Researching workshops to incorporate this critical approach into your own research, or suggest material for our LiberateMyDegree collection. And of course, if any person (non-robot) should notice anything offensive on our catalogue, while you’re looking for that book, please email us. Your library needs you!

So yes, there are already benefits arising from this time of great uncertainty and change. Time to reflect on how what we could do better is always valuable, but it feels like librarians and library users at are at an important crossroads together right now; one that dovetails with the burgeoning academic (and wider social) movement towards decolonisation. Ever heard of Critical Cataloguing #critcat before? Didn’t think so. But perhaps it’s not as irrelevant as you think, after all.

Written by Karen Smith, Cataloguing Assistant


We’re Back! Reintroducing on campus Library Services


When we say we’re back, we were never really away.

As with the whole of campus, and shops and businesses across the country, we closed our Library building on 23 March but throughout the whole of lockdown our extensive digital library, including 228 databases, over 40,000 e-books and over 12,000 online journals, has been available.

More importantly, our amazing staff have been available on live chat, email and for one-to-one teaching and appointments 7 days a week to support your learning, teaching and research.

We will continue to work hard providing the high-quality Library Services you expect remotely, but we also have plans to reintroduce access to our physical stock, study spaces and computers, which we necessarily couldn’t access during lockdown, but we know you have missed.

Planning for reopening

For several months now we have been planning for a phased reopening of our building and reintroduction of physical services.

It has proved to be a complex operation involving many people contributing to preparing the building, assessing risks, configuring new systems and adapting our services and ways of working into a new covid-safe shape.

Working together with Library staff, staff from across the library and HE sectors and our colleagues from Estates, Security, IT&IS, Communications, Student Support, Student Engagement and people across Goldsmiths we are now delighted to be able to gradually reintroduce services and welcome you back to the building.

How the Library will look in the Autumn Term

When you visit us you will notice that there are lots of changes to how the library looks. Some of the things you will notice are spaced out study desks, sneeze screens and lots of signage explaining social distancing and seating arrangements.

The safety of our staff and library users has been central to all of our planning, so when you are visiting us on campus we expect you to follow college guidance including wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing. You can find out more about measures we have put in place to help keep everyone safe on our Library Guide.

How you can access the Library in the Autumn Term

With all our safety and social distancing measures in place using the library to borrow and return items, to study or to use a computer will look a little different in the Autumn Term.

For borrowing books, we have now introduced a Click and Collect service so that you can access collections that aren’t available digitally. You are also able to return books to us in the Library lobby, by post or with our security colleagues.

To use a computer or study at the Library we will be introducing Bookable Study Spaces in the week commencing 21 September and do get in touch if you have questions about accessing our Special Collections and Archives.  We need to ask people to book to use the library in advance rather than just turning up and walking in because of social distancing and also because we are required to comply with NHS Test and Trace.

You can find out more details about how you will be able to access the library on campus and what you can expect from the new services and arrangements by visiting our Library Guide.

Photograph of Marilyn Clarke

Some more changes

Alongside delivering our remote service, planning for reopening and doing lots of other work to support learning, teaching and research activities we have had some changes to our teams over the summer.

We have a new Director, a realigned library management team and we are also delighted to introduce the newly re-configured Library Academic Support Team (AST).

The AST encompasses skilled and experienced librarians, study skills professionals, the Royal Literary Fellows, and our administrator. The team are dedicated to working together to offer an impactful, blended model of academic support and skills provision to enhance the student experience and support you.

The team offer one-to-one tutorials, workshops and lots of specialist knowledge to help you get a head start on your learning. You can book one-to-one

tutorials with our Subject Librarians to help you make the most of library resources or with our Study Skills Tutors  to help you improve your study skills, research skills and academic writing.

You can also meet one of our Royal Literary Fellows who are professional, published authors whose role is to help you strengthen your writing. Bookings can be made by emailing:


Tues & Weds:

Thurs & Fri:

Keeping up to date and feeding back

As with everything in the ‘new normal’ we will be revising and adapting our access to the library and services as things change and progress. To keep up to date with any changes keep checking our Library Guide and we welcome feedback on our live chat and email.