What’s So Special about Our Collection?

Images of arts books

Since taking up my post at the AIU Race Relations Resource Centre back in June, people keep telling me what an important collection this is.

A couple of quiet summer months gave me an opportunity to explore the library and build up my own picture of why this place is so unique. That’s one of the reasons I’ve started this blog – to share interesting ideas and items from the collection as I uncover them. But for now here are a few initial thoughts…

There are two big messages I always highlight to new visitors when I’m showing them around the Centre:

1 – Everything is in one place!  I know this sounds obvious, but if you’re studying multiculturalism, in a bigger library you’d have to hike between the history, education, popular culture, and so on, sections to collect together your relevant resources. Here the history, education and culture sections are only steps apart, making cross-disciplinary research much easier and making browsing much more rewarding.

2 – Primary resources bring secondary resources to life!  We have a great library, but we also have an extensive and growing collection of archival material, oral history and ephemera. These provide the colour – the voices of real people who have negotiated life in multicultural Manchester. If you like, they put flesh on the bones of the theory, policy and discussion you’ll find in the library.

People sometimes ask why we don’t use the standard Dewey library classification system. As a system it is very biased towards Western paradigms of knowledge, and simply wouldn’t work for a small, specialised collection like ours.  So we just arrange books by topic (Arts, History, Welfare, etc) – much simpler and much friendlier, especially for those who aren’t used to using academic libraries.

Our journals and periodicals collection is also growing, including academic as well as community, political and popular publications. We have an almost full run of Race Today, a monthly magazine that was a leading organ of Black politics in Britain during the 1970s and 80s – there’s a great research project for someone there, to chart the development of Black political thought in Britain through its print media. Anyone?

As an art lover my favourite section is Art, Media and Sport. I recently came across a little book of postcards ‘Early Black Photographers, 1840 – 1940’ full of really striking images that I haven’t seen in other histories of photography. I was strangely inspired by ’They Still Draw Pictures: Children’s Art in Wartime’ – these non-verbal attempts to communicate horror and hope definitely transcend language and culture. The shelves are full of surprises, which you’ll hear more about in the weeks to come…

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