Here Marilyn Clarke, the IALS’s new Head Librarian, who was appointed in September, responds to some of our probing questions, as we try to explore what has motivated her in her career thus far….
What first made you want to become a librarian?
My career in libraries began as more of a ‘I was looking for a job and then I found a job’ which happened to be a trained on-the-job cataloguer role at Senate House Library, back in the early 90s. I had no idea I’d stay in libraries and make a career of it (30+ years), but that first role engendered a strong sense of wanting to serve a diverse range of learner/reader communities, create inclusive spaces, and support research, as well as build excellent collections.
Has your career path met your expectations? Have you been pleasantly surprised in any way, or have you found any barriers to your progress?
An interesting question. I’d say Yes - and No.
I am really pleased to be in my second leadership role at IALS. Before that, I was Director of Library Services at Goldsmiths. As with many sectors, HE has issues when it comes to equity and representation for those with protected characteristics, and I’ve had my share of discrimination based on my race as a black woman, which has affected my advancement. In recent years some of these issues have begun to be addressed with a new focus on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategies and pursuit of the Advance HE Race Equality Charter. But as with everything, action is what counts. What’s been extremely pleasing for me most recently is discovering myself as a writer due to my social justice work. That was a surprise!
What inspired you to join the library of the IALS and focus your skills on managing a library of legal texts?
First and foremost, IALS is a prestigious national research centre for law with an excellent national and international reputation within both the academic and the legal profession, nationally and internationally. Something that attracted me to this role was the diverse range of reader communities, from University of London law students and legal researchers, to visiting professors and associate research fellows. The library is one of the world’s leading comparative research libraries, holding significant material not otherwise available in the United Kingdom. The collection contains many rare items; for instance, a full set of the original papers of the Nuremberg Tribunal donated by Lord Birkett, and records of the Legal Education Archives. So, for me, it’s about the communities IALS serves and building on our excellent services. I also look forward to developing an EDI focus with the team.
You’ve developed expertise in leading projects that work on the ‘decolonisation’ of libraries – both in structure and professional practice. Could you explain what this involves?
When at Goldsmiths, I identified the need to engage with students calling for change in the form of decolonising higher education. This movement took off in South Africa with Rhodes Must Fall and spread to the UK, the US, and beyond. This work became the Library our Library initiative, focusing on decolonising and diversifying collections and how we practice. For collections, this means looking at historical biases because of the legacies of Empire, be that in the form of collection focus, classification and description. There’s also a huge question around archives and migrated archives when it comes to the question of decolonisation – and we are seeing the same conversation in the GLAM sector as a whole. Equally, professional practice must be viewed with the same critical lens, particularly when it comes to representation in a predominantly white sector.
What most excites you about your new role at the IALS?
I’m excited about working in such a specialist library with a unique subject focus which touches on all our lives as citizens. Most of us probably don’t know enough about our rights as citizens, or don’t know how to access that information, so I feel the public engagement aspect of my role is hugely important, alongside serving our user communities - LLM students, legal researchers, and the legal profession. I’m also excited about working with such a talented and dedicated team. And, as IALS is part of the School of Advanced Study, I’m excited about the collaborative work with the other SAS institutes and Senate House Library.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I am proud of my EDI work. I’m one of under a handful of black and brown library leaders in the UK, but equally and deeply aware this is not good and much more needs to change to build a racially diverse workforce, particularly at senior level.
Is there anything you feel needs to change in the way libraries are managed in the UK? Where might there be room for improvement?
Libraries - as with many sectors - are ever-evolving and they are moving within and towards digital in an increasingly open world. I think this brings huge possibilities for greater inclusivity, but we must also be mindful of our communities by ensuring our services remain user-focused and equitable.