This post is by Nick Sheppard and Sally Dalton from the Research Support Team. Thanks to Brenda from the Leeds11 Network for her support while writing this post.

It will surprise no one but should shock everyone that in the 21st Century, people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are still systemically disadvantaged, in Britain and globally.

BAME populations have been disproportionally affected by the coronavirus pandemic and are under-represented in Higher Education, phenomena that are not unrelated and reflect a deeper socio-economic inequality.

Research from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) (2017) found that, in 2015–16, 91.1% of UK academic staff were white while 8.9% were from a BAME background. Among senior academic staff the percentage drops to 2.9%. There is also disparity between different ethnicities, with black scientists and researchers far less likely to become professors than people of Asian or Mixed heritage.

The problem shows little sign of improving, with a 2021 report commissioned by the Royal Society hitting the headlines just this week: Black scientists say UK research is institutionally racist

The University of Leeds is addressing these issues through an unflinching examination of a “broken” research culture that can fail women, minority and intersectional groups.

What about the Library?

We know we have a problem. The fact that we share with our institutions and with our profession a notable lack of diversity does not in any way negate our own individual and collective responsibility for bringing about change.

BAME staff experiences of academic and research libraries, SCONUL, 2019

ECU data shows a similar disparity for professional and support roles – which will of course include academic libraries – with 90.9% white and 9.1% BAME. For senior professional and support staff the percentage from a BAME background drops to 5.9%.

There is also a marked lack of diversity in the library profession more generally, with data from 2015 (CILIP and ARA, 2015) showing that of the estimated 86,000+ professionals working in the library and information profession, 96.7% identify as white…so in 2015, fewer than 3000 people identified as non-white across all public, academic and commercial libraries in Ireland and the UK. With the closure of so many libraries since 2010 this figure is almost certainly lower in 2021, in number if not proportion.

A 2019 report from SCONUL found that 44% of BAME staff surveyed had experienced racism at the hands of either a work colleague or service user or both (BAME staff experiences of academic and research libraries, SCONUL, 2019).

We need to talk

Black History Month is an opportunity to start a conversation, to talk about the problem, to each other and to our BAME friends and colleagues. For me as a white man, and many of my white colleagues, this isn’t necessarily an easy conversation. Which is the reason we need to have it.

At Leeds University Library the leadership team is committed to being an inclusive library for our staff and our students. It is an important component of the strategic vision with a new framework being developed before the end of 2021.

In the meantime we have begun to explore some specific initiatives to address racial bias in our resources and in the scholarly publishing industry more generally.

Of course, when October ends, the conversation will have only just started. The problem will not be solved. Nevertheless, the Library is Proud To Be supporting Leeds11 and Friends Celebratory BHM 2021 programme.

Racial bias in scholarly publishing

As with Higher Education and Libraries, there is a lack of diversity among people working within the scholarly publishing industry with a 2016 survey showing that the majority of the people who work in the industry identify as white. Leading journals are mostly edited by people from Western countries, which can reinforce the exclusion of underrepresented voices, while few journals focus on the issue of race and trying to publish research on black people can result in rejection.

Researchers of colour also receive less scientific and health funding than white researchers, both in the UK and the US

Many of the large ‘mainstream’ databases still mostly contain research published in North America and Europe and only cover a fraction of research published in areas such as Africa, and Latin America. This map shows the extent of the problem, with the world scaled by the number of documents published in 2017, in Scopus, with authors from each country:

World scaled by number of documents published in 2017             
with authors from each country (publications counted once per country) 

Finding research from underrepresented voices

We have redesigned our literature searching sessions to challenge researchers to think about these issues and encourage them to consider how they can find research published from people in marginalised groups to ensure their review of the literature is truly comprehensive, by searching a wide range of sources for example, and not just relying on Scopus or Web of Science. Searching for grey literature can help find a more diverse range of voices or you can use databases such as PakMediNet or SciELO that index research from regions other than Europe or North America.

To help researchers we have added a large number of databases, that highlight research from all over the world, to the Library subject pages and created some new guidance on finding grey literature.

This collection of databases was created in June 2021 to showcase and highlight research produced by underrepresented groups, with a particular focus on the Global South. The collection was developed by a Twitter community of interested professionals across the world. If you have suggestions of databases to add, please contact research@library.leeds.ac.uk.

Access the collection in Primo

From Student Educational Development you can also find resources and information on the steps you can take to decolonise your teaching including how to discuss inclusive citation.

Diversity in reading lists

I believe that the project has an important role in increasing accessibility, representation, and feelings of belonging, and will expand the narratives that we engage with as a university.

Esta-Rose Nyeko-Lacek (History student and project intern)

The Library supports staff to make items available for students with the Minerva reading lists tool but how diverse are the authors cited on reading lists across different modules? The Library is investigating this with support from Leeds Institute of Teaching Excellence (LITE) and Educational Engagement and an initial report from the Reading Lists, Decolonization and Student Success Project can be found here. We look forward to sharing more on this as the project develops over the next 12 months.

In the meantime we’ve put together this reading list to highlight a selection of the Library’s works that explore historical and contemporary experiences of being Black in Britain.

Access the reading list in Alma

An editathon for Black History Month: citing African scholars on Wikipedia

As a university library, we have a responsibility to address bias and promote information literacy skills, not only to our staff and students, but also to wider society . Most people won’t use specialised databases but Google it instead and very often the first result for any subject you care to mention will be from Wikipedia.

Once again, because Wikipedia is powered by humans, it is also vulnerable to human biases and there are huge discrepancies in the site’s coverage. Only 18 per cent of biographies are about women and major gaps persist in the percentage of Wikipedia content written by and about black people. There are more articles about the Netherlands than the whole continent of Africa!

We have partnered with the Leeds University Centre for African Studies (LUCAS) and Wikimedia UK to run an editathon on the afternoon of Friday 22nd October. Join us to learn how to edit Wikipedia and help increase the representation of African scholars on the online encyclopedia:

An editathon for Black History Month: citing African scholars on Wikipedia

What next?

More information about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and related initiatives will be coming from both the University of Leeds and Leeds University Library. A survey in November will ask whether users personally feel welcome in the Library and if they feel our collections are representative. We want to know how we can improve and, hopefully, what are we doing right already. Future posts on this blog will look at Leeds history and culture and related research as well as updates on our new literature searching sessions and the reading list project.

If you have any comments or questions about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Leeds please get in touch.