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This framework has been by produced by the Cambridge University Libraries Decolonisation Working Group (DWG).  It will be reviewed annually or more frequently as wider circumstances require.  A version statement is provided at the end of the document.

Purpose of framework

This document aims to provide a framework for new decolonisation work in libraries and archives across collegiate Cambridge.  Working within this framework allows librarians and archivists to be put in contact with others who might be working on similar projects or have useful experience they could share, and ensures that an aligned approach is taken.  We recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach is not always appropriate since decolonisation work might differ according to different collections, but an awareness of the context of similar work should always be helpful.

Note: it is important to acknowledge the crossover of decolonisation work with equality and diversity work.  This framework refers to decolonisation, which has been broadly defined by the DWG (description provided at the end of this document).


Cambridge libraries and archives have led and been involved in decolonisation work for some years now.   Much of this work has been gathered together on the online platform coordinated by the cross-Cambridge Decolonising through Critical Librarianship (DtCL) group.  That site continues to be the main location for recording such work.

The Cambridge University Libraries Decolonisation Working Group has been in operation since September 2020 and aims both to commission specific decolonisation projects and activities and also to provide more strategic direction for decolonisation work within library/archive collections.  This framework has been created by the DWG and signed off by the DtCL, who are represented on the DWG.


Decolonisation work takes all kinds of forms in libraries and archives, such as:

  • collection development (eg purposefully broadening collections to ensure diversity; confidently providing decolonisation-related resources for subjects across the board)
  • contextualising historical collections (eg providing appropriate context in exhibitions)
  • metadata work (eg ensuring use of appropriate language)
  • critical information literacy (eg collaborating with students to re-assess how we engage with different forms of knowledge)
  • broadening access (eg providing access to Cambridge-held national archives of Commonwealth countries to citizens of those countries), within the limits of copyright legislation
  • arrangement of print collections (eg re-classification or the use of more prominent space for a specific collection) 

Such work is central to Cambridge University Libraries’ strategic commitment to diversifying collections and collecting practices and supported by its Leadership Team.  Some of these activities start organically and are gradually built up; others are more clearly defined projects. 

It is important that staff feel supported and connected when they embark upon decolonisation work.  It is also important that major projects in particular are planned and carried out in conversation with others in Cambridge, to help us all share experience and discuss possible collaboration, allowing us to embed decolonisation as an active and standard part of our work informed by academic discourse and curriculum change.  The DWG and DtCL group are there to help ensure this connected and collaborative approach.

If you are starting to plan or deliver decolonisation work, please contact your DWG rep and let them know what this work involves.  (The DWG has College reps, A&H/HSS/STEMM reps, and main UL reps; their details can be found on the DWG page here.)  Your rep can then liaise with the convenor of the DWG, who will contact you and put you in touch with any other potentially relevant colleagues to initiate discussions.  If you and the convenor agree that it would be useful to consult the wider DWG to canvas opinions, the convenor will do this.  The DWG currently meets on a monthly basis but can be consulted by email between meetings if desired.

The DWG’s aim is that discussions and processes should happen as promptly as possible so that your decolonisation work doesn’t have to be delayed.

The DtCL platform remains the main site for collecting and sharing the results of Cambridge-wide decolonisation work and useful advice and tips.  The DWG convenor will put you in touch with the DtCL group.  Please do consider writing up a summary of your decolonisation work for them to add to the site.

Appendix: The DWG’s working definition of decolonisation in the library/archive setting (from the DWG’s Terms of Reference)

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.







Decolonisation framework

CUL Decolonisation Working Group

Mel Bach


10/05/2021, updated 1/9/2021 to add collection arrangement as an example