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The remit of the Decolonisation Working Group (DWG) is “to formulate guidance and policy for decolonisation work within Cambridge libraries and commission specific pieces of work to help encourage and embed best practice” (from the group’s Terms of Reference).  A good deal of practical work has already been undertaken in Cambridge libraries, much of it captured by the Decolonising through Critical Librarianship group, and the DWG aims to work with that group and with existing practitioners to help grow decolonisation across University collections.

The DWG is made up of library staff from across collegiate Cambridge.  It also has among its member representatives from outside the library section; their presence as critical friends is crucial to help identify problems and identify solutions.  The DWG currently has one representative each from the University's Race Equality Network and from University of Cambridge Museums, two student representatives, and three academic representatives.

The group first met in September 2020 and will meet on a roughly monthly basis in the first instance.  Decolonisation in Cambridge libraries relates to all collections and most services and – existing examples of decolonisation work notwithstanding – there is a huge and arguably endless amount of work to be done.  The DWG aims to lead by example by identifying and openly acknowledging areas of work while commissioning related projects that can at least start to tackle the issues identified.  Among the first projects being commissioned by the group are:

  • Staff education
    • To provide all Cambridge library staff with clear and relevant training, including opportunities for further development, eg through workshop attendance and peer learning.
  • Targeted cataloguing
    • To provide catalogue records for certain groups of material of particular interest for decolonisation purposes which otherwise lack any or adequate records.
  • Collection development policies
    • To ensure that decolonisation practice is embedded in subject-specific collection development policies currently being drafted.

The DWG’s convenor is Mel Bach (  The group’s Terms of Reference follow below.

DWG Terms of Reference

Decolonisation and libraries

Decolonisation has become an important global debate in libraries and archives, and is stimulating librarians, archivists, and library users to question existing policy and practice, and see their collections in a new light. Interest in the subject is widespread in the University, influencing research and teaching, curriculum design, and library practice.

The term “decolonisation” is subject to various definitions, and it embraces a number of different, but related, aims. In the context of the working group, we mean by this term something closer to “decolonial practice”:

  • the active identification of and critical engagement with historical and modern power relations that are rooted in colonial views of the world and its peoples, as these are found in our libraries (chiefly in collections and their description), by being transparent about and actively re-contextualising library holdings which are a legacy of colonialism and occupation;
  • greater facilitation of access to library collections as a global resource;
  • providing support and partnership in the University’s decolonial activities as they affect teaching and learning (eg reading list updates), as well as research and public engagement; and
  • a deliberate broadening of collection development, the better to provide a greater variety of voices and grow more representative collections.

Our decolonisation work aims to benefit readers locally and globally, providing access to a wide range of library material that has been appropriately described and contextualised, and to inspire confidence in librarians in local decolonisation activity across Cambridge and beyond.

We recognise that while the primary colonial legacy in Cambridge libraries relates to the British Empire, Cambridge also holds material relating to other colonial powers, past and present, and this is also part of our decolonisation focus.

The role of the working group

The Cambridge University Libraries Decolonisation Working Group aims to formulate guidance and policy for decolonisation work within Cambridge libraries and commission specific pieces of work to help encourage and embed best practice.

The group’s remit covers decolonisation in the following activities of Cambridge University Libraries (CUL): collection development policy and practice, collection description and organisation, and collection curation and interpretation. The work of the group therefore relates to the operations and collections of four CUL directorates: Academic Services, Research Collections, External Engagement, and Digital Initiatives. Workforce equality and diversity are the focus of a separate project led by Chief Operating Officer (COO).

The Deputy University Librarian, Alastair Flett, is the sponsor of the group’s activities which are part of CUL’s commitments under the framework of the University’s Race Equality Charter, and the convenor meets regularly with him.  The group reports its activities to the CUL Leadership Team through the Deputy University Librarian.

The group will:

  1. Research best practice in libraries and collections relating to decolonisation and contribute findings to policy development through relevant library committees, including the CUL Leadership Team, Library Research Committee, Collection Strategy Group, and Cambridge Cataloguing Advisory Group.
  1. Develop and maintain contact with and harness the enthusiasm of other groups looking at decolonisation of collections across the University and across the national and academic library world, and liaise regularly with the CUL EDI Forum led by the COO.
  1. Follow the progress of other University groups looking at decolonisation in general (eg the Legacies of Enslavement Advisory Group), engaging members of such groups in conversation where their input on collection-related work could be crucial.
  1. Develop an advisory structure for decolonisation work across Cambridge University Libraries (CUL), in discussion with the Decolonising through Critical Librarianship group among other interested parties.
  1. Develop policies and guidance relating to decolonisation across CUL, working in collaboration where appropriate with the college libraries.
  1. Co-ordinate and commission specific projects relating to decolonisation across CUL. 
  1. Share best practice and relevant resources for libraries and librarians relating to decolonisation through events, webpages, and other appropriate channels.
  1. Contribute to skills development within the library community relating to the theory and practical application of decolonisation by highlighting training opportunities, events, and key resources. 
  1. Report regularly to the CUL Leadership Team on the work of the group and on relevant decolonisation developments more widely.

Convenor: Mel Bach, Head of Collections and Academic Liaison


In May 2021, the group agreed that ordinary membership where the member is representing another group or cohort should be up for renewal every two years, with the exception of those whose membership relates to an appointment changed more regularly (eg Students' Union members who serve one year in their SU roles).

Library members

  • Dr Mark Purcell (Deputy Director, Research Collections) (joined September 2020)
  • Research Collections representative (Dr Katrina Dean (Archives and Modern Manuscripts)) (joined October 2023)
  • External Engagement representative (Laura Greenfield (Deputy Director)) (joined September 2020)
  • Decolonising through Critical Librarianship representative (Chris Greenberg) (joined July 2022)
  • Head of World Collections (position currently vacant)
  • A&H libraries representative (Olenka Syaivo Dmytryk (Architecture and History of Art)) (joined September 2020)
  • HSS libraries representative (Sarah Hammond (Squire)) (joined September 2022)
  • STEMM libraries representatives (Frances Marsh (Plant Sciences Library and Cory & Herbarium Libraries)) (joined October 2023)
  • Cambridge Colleges Librarians Forum (CCLF) representatives (Genny Grim (Pembroke) (joined September 2020), Rosie Austin (Homerton) (joined September 2022))

Other members

  • Race Equality Network representative (Jenni Skinner (also Library Manager at Centre of African Studies)) (joined July 2022, having previous been HSS rep)
  • Cambridge Students' Union representatives (Maroof Rafique (BME Officer), Vareesh Pratap (PG President)) (joined October 2023)
  • Academic representatives (Dr Mezna Qato (History), Dr Amanda Brunton (UCU Equality Officer)) (joined October 2023);  third position vacant until January 2024
  • UCM representative: Danika Parikh (Research and Engagement Fellow) (joined March 2021)
  • co-opted member: Tyra Amofah-Akardom (President of Black Cantabs) (co-opted September 2022)
  • co-opted member: Jimmy Tsou (PG student) (co-opted April 2023)


Page uploaded 11/02/2021; last updated 23/10/23 to reflect name change of Cambridge University Students Union to Cambridge Students' Union