Changes to our Library: the Gender, Relationships and the Family section 

2 sets of 4 rows of partially filled bookshelves under a large sign reading Race Relations Gender Relationships and Family.

Since the summer of 2021 we have been undertaking a project to audit all of the print holdings of the RACE Centre with the aim of ensuring that the content remains diverse, relevant and current. Last year we spent some time focussing on the ‘Gender, Relationships and the Family’ section of our library, and this post summarises the process and what decisions we made as a result. 

Reviewing the section 

We started the process of reviewing this section by looking through and assessing what was already in the library. In particular we were interested in the following: 

  • Authors. We researched the authors of our existing holdings to establish who was writing on any particular subject and consider their credentials for doing so. Their writing may have developed from the perspective of relevant academic qualifications and research, a more popular or ‘journalistic’ research approach, or through lived experience.  

We wanted to ensure that the books held by the Centre are produced from a variety of approaches. This ensures that the subjects covered encompass a range of viewpoints, perspectives and experiences. It also means that we can ensure that our holdings include material aimed at both academic audiences and the general public (including children and young people) which makes our collections more accessible. 

  • Book subjects and themes. We have also been looking at the subjects and themes covered to establish whether we have comprehensive coverage, or whether there are any obvious gaps or areas where there isn’t fair representation amongst the topics and themes. We’ve also looked at the content of the texts to see where books contain ideas and/or language that have now been recognised as racist or offensive in other ways, or have been superseded by new knowledge.  
  • System of arrangement. The RACE Centre uses a bespoke subject-based system for arranging the book on the shelves rather than the more traditional Dewey Decimal system. This is in part because when it was founded, the library didn’t have access to professional librarians to catalogue the books, but it was also a deliberate rejection of the highly problematic values and discriminatory perspectives inherent in the Dewey Decimal system. However, as our library has increased in size and the range of subjects, the arrangement scheme has evolved in a fairly organic way alongside it, meaning that it largely reflects what IS included in the library – subjects and categories which are missing may not be accounted for in our existing arrangement systems.  

Updating what’s on the shelves 

After reviewing and auditing the section we had a good sense of what we had and what was missing. We began with the easy part, which was to do some shopping and buy some new material to fill the gaps! 

The audit revealed a number of books that held ideas or language that would now be deemed as offensive or racist. While we prefer not to have these on the open shelves, we recognise that they are an important part of the story of race relations in the 20th century. Therefore we took the decision to move these to the archive, where they can still be accessed upon request. We also identified some material which has become damaged or worn over time but was difficult or impossible to replace – this too was moved to the archive. A small number of items which were either in very damaged condition or covered themes that were not relevant to our collections were removed from circulation completely, with plans to either replace them like-for-like or with something more relevant. 

Reviewing the system of arrangement 

By identifying gaps in subject areas and thinking more deeply about the subjects within this section we could spend some time thinking about how fit for purpose our system of arrangement is and where it may need reviewing and adjusting. We felt that there were many problems with the ‘Gender, Relationships and the Family’ section that needed addressing. 

At the start of the review, the sections were as follows: 

Feminist theory and activism GE.1 
Experiences GE.2 
Women’s experiences GE.2.01 
Men’s experiences GE.2.02 
Relationships GE.3 
Family relations GE.3.01 
Sexuality and Gender GE.3.02 
Domestic violence and Sexual abuse GE.3.03 
Reproductive rights GE.3.04 

We felt that broadly speaking, this section was out of date and doesn’t reflect current thinking and terminology in relation to sexuality and gender identity in particular. More specifically, we felt: 

  • Section GE.1 was dedicated to feminist theory and activism but there was no space for queer theory and LGBTQ+ activism 
  • Section GE.2, ‘Experiences’, only covered men’s experiences and women’s experiences only (and through this, it was implied that these categories referred to cisgender men and women only). Trans, non-binary and other gender diverse experiences were not included. 
  • Section GE.3, ‘Relationships’, contained a number of problems, chiefly that the subsections within it (Family relations, Sexuality and Gender, Domestic violence and Sexual abuse, and Reproductive rights) didn’t really have a great deal in common with each other, and using ‘Relationships’ as the umbrella for all these categories doesn’t work as they don’t all occur within relationships. 
  • The subsection GE.3.02, ‘Sexuality and Gender’ definitely needed changing, as conflating sexuality and gender is problematic, and including them under the umbrella term ‘relationships’ implies that sexuality only exists for people within relationships. 
  • Including the subsection GE.3.03 ‘Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse’ under ‘Relationships’ also seemed problematic as sexual abuse and violence isn’t restricted to taking place within relationships 
  • We had a subsection, GE.3.04 ‘Reproductive rights’ but found that most of the books we had on the topic could actually be found in a different part of the library relating to women’s health  
  • Lastly, we found we had a number of books on topics which we didn’t have clear sections for, for example, parenting, different family structures, and interracial and intercultural relationships 

Based on this thinking, we decided upon a new structure of arrangement. Among the key decisions we made were:  

  • Adding subsections within the theoretical approaches for queer theory and activism, and approaches encompassing multiple intersections 
  • Adding a subsection for trans, non-binary and gender diverse experiences within the ‘experiences’ section 
  • Removing the ‘Sexuality and Gender’ subsection and create a new subsection: GE.4, Sexual Identity. We were undecided whether to break this down into further subsections (such as heterosexual, LGBT sexualities, and so on). We felt that breaking the section down further may risk perpetuating a binary between heterosexuality and all other sexual identities. Also, on a practical level, trying to replicate very quickly evolving terminology in our arrangement scheme may leave us in the position of having to re-classify material again in a few years which would be very difficult to do with limited resources. Ultimately we decided that just having one section for sexual identity allows a less rigid approach to sexuality, and we can share more nuanced information in other ways, such as study guides and blog posts.  
  • Removing the ‘Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse’ subsection and creating a new section: GE.5 ‘Gender-based violence’.  
  • The remaining books in GE.3 (originally listed as ‘Family Sections’) have been broken down into three subsections (adoption and parenting, family structures, and interracial and intercultural relationships) 
  • Moving books on ‘Reproductive Rights’ to the Health section  

The new arrangement can be seen below in full: 

Theoretical approaches GE.1 
Feminist theory and activism GE.1.01 
Queer theory and activism GE.1.02 
Approaches encompassing multiple intersections GE.1.03 
Experiences GE.2 
Women’s experiences GE.2.01 
Men’s experiences GE.2.02 
Trans, non-binary and gender diverse experiences GE.2.03 
Relationships and the Family GE.3 
Family Structures GE.3.01 
Interracial and Intercultural Relationships GE.3.02 
Adoption and Parenting GE.3.03 
Sexual Identity GE.4 
Gender-based Violence GE.5 

We’d love to get your feedback on this piece of work, so if you have any thoughts about the new way in which we’re arranging this section, or would like to suggest any titles we should be adding to our shelves, please let us know. 

Thanks and acknowledgements

Lots of people helped with this piece of work – auditing books, making recommendations, undertaking the cataloguing and metadata updating work, and relabelling books! Our grateful thanks go to Zaynah Ahmad, Emma Allen, Vanessa Allen, Kes Chauhan, Manu Das, Jo Gammon, Pam Gregory, Raul Gutierrez-Loya, Tia Harriott, Jasmine Lau, and Veronica Pizzarotti. 

Useful resources 

Metadata Best Practices for Trans and Gender Diverse Resources, Trans Metadata Collective (TMDC) 

The Homosaurus – an international linked data vocabulary of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) terms designed for use in conjunction with broad subject term vocabularies such as Library of Congress