Living Knowledge blog

26 January 2022

Enacting change – rolling out our Race Equality Action Plan

Over the course of 2021, staff at the British Library engaged in an unprecedented and powerful conversation about race and equality.

The Anti-Racism Project (ARP) involved members of staff drawn from all levels, across all areas of the Library, with the aim of enacting a generational shift so we become a more representative and diverse organisation that is welcoming and empowering for everyone.

Last autumn, the six working sub-groups of the project submitted their recommendations, which form the basis of a Race Equality Action Plan (click to download) which was presented to the Library’s Board and Strategic Leadership Team, for their input and endorsement.

Sponsored by our Chief Librarian, Liz Jolly, and strongly supported by all of our senior leaders, the project is now moving from the planning and analysis phase to an organisation-wide process of implementation.

In his preface to the Race Equality Action Plan, our Chief Executive Roly Keating wrote: “We have listened to many voices that were previously unheard, and have had challenging conversations about the experiences of staff and users that highlight things that urgently need to change.

“We’ve taken time to reflect on how to make these changes permanent, and how we take the whole Library with us as we transform our processes, practices and culture.

“The Library’s senior leaders will take forward this work over the next three years, and will be accountable for turning these recommendations into reality,” Roly added. “From the way we recruit and develop our staff, to the material we collect for current and future generations of researchers, to the way we engage with new audiences – we have identified high-level actions that provide a road-map for measurable, concrete and lasting change.”

Taking forward the high-level actions

The working sub-groups generated a wide range of recommendations, from the immediate to the long-term, covering areas including:

  • People and HR Policies
  • Behaviour, values and experiences
  • Audiences
  • Data, research and insights
  • Collections and content
  • Cataloguing and metadata
  • Communications

The relevant senior leaders across the Library will now look carefully at these and talk with their teams about how they can implement them over the coming months.

From the start, the Anti-Racism Project has been about the need for real and sustainable change, that reaches every part of the Library – the next phase is when that work goes beyond what the Project has done, and becomes something that’s owned and implemented by senior managers, their teams, and by everyone working at the Library.

Next steps in the coming months

In the months ahead, the senior leaders will refine their top-level objectives and establish metrics for measuring progress in delivering the Race Equality Action Plan, for which the Library will hold itself accountable.

As an initial example, a key focus for our sponsor department, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is diversity within our senior management structure. We aim to address the long-standing lack of representation in senior management at the Library by recommending provisional targets of increasing black and minority ethnic representation in key areas over the coming years, including a proposed headline target of 15% of SB4 staff and above by 2027.

We also want to be able to engage with peer organisations, diverse communities and the media, to talk positively and confidently about why this work is so important, and what progress we expect to make at each stage. We have lots to learn from other organisations, but we also want to become a role model ourselves, and demonstrate how it’s possible to effect meaningful permanent change in our culture and activity.

Roly Keating observes that: “It will take time, energy and leadership, but this is a vital part of fulfilling our wider commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, ensuring that we become a great national library for everyone.”

We are looking forward to sharing more about the progress we make through future updates on the Living Knowledge blog.

Hugh Brown and T. Rajukumar

Co-Chairs of the Anti-Racism Project at the British Library