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British Library aims to ‘decolonise’ displays launching a racial 'state of emergency' plan

Liz Jolly, the British Library's chief librarian has said to her staff that "racism is the creation of white people".

She made the claims as she urged white members of staff to help the institution's 'anti-racism action plan', which was put in place last month.

These statements come as the British Library gets ready for a cultural renovation, after that some members of the staff called for a racial 'state of emergency'.

In a video clip, Jolly explicitly told her colleagues: "I think, as I have said before, that we need to make sure some white colleagues are involved because racism is a creation of white people."

The British Library. The building was designed by architect and former naval officer Sir Colin Wilson, and evokes the shape and character of an ocean-going craft. Image credit Anadolu Agency

Although it's not known exactly how the renovation will take place, or whether some displays will be removed altogether, a similar process is in place at the British Museum - where curators asked for some of the items to be returned to their countries of origin.

The Decolonising Working Group, which is part of the library's BAME network, reported concerns with many artefacts on show, such as busts of the founders and a portrait of Mr Punch.

Earlier this week, the library put an end to some comments where employees had urged colleagues to donate to Black Lives Matter and black Labour MP, Diane Abbott.

The suspected comments made by Ms Jolly have divided Twitter, inspiring massive fierce debates - with also one user calling for the institution to be defunded.

Some have called Ms Jolly "pig-ignorant", with one comment declaring that "Anyone with this level of defective knowledge of world history has no place as chief librarian of any library, let alone an institution of this standing."

On the other hand, other people say that the library is taking "important steps" to address the problem of racism.

To this regard, one user stated: "I support the British Library, and Liz Jolly, in their engagement with anti-racism."The library is taking important and wholly sensible steps."

This debate comes after that the library’s bosses including chief executive Roly Keating called for an urgent need for a change in the way the library operates. This developed into an action plan to tackle institutionalised racism, where the staff were invited to an online meeting.

Liz Jolly, the British Library’s chief librarian. Image credit WSBuzz

Mr Keating said: "The killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement is the biggest challenge to the complacency of organisations, institutions and ways of doing things that we're likely to see in our lifetimes.

"There have been incremental changes over the years, but this is a wake-up call for the library's leadership that it's not enough."

Therefore, the library has announced it is "reviewing" its Sir Hans Sloane manuscripts, and the removal of a pedestal of Sir Hans, as the 18th-century philanthropist partly funded his collection of 71,000 artefacts with money from his wife's sugar plantation in Jamaica, which used slave labour.

Eventually, a spokesperson for the British Library declared: "Our commitment to anti-racism is a matter of basic human decency, founded squarely on our values and our publicly-stated purpose to advance knowledge and mutual understanding."


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