A Voice for the Voiceless: Improving Provenance Practice for Working-Class Books

O'Hagan, Lauren (2021). A Voice for the Voiceless: Improving Provenance Practice for Working-Class Books. Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 53(1) pp. 16–28.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0961000620909160


In recent years, libraries have become increasingly aware of the need to present a more diverse representation of society in their collections. While some efforts have been made to improve gender, race and sexuality representation, little attention has been paid to the working classes. The purpose of this research is to encourage a debate about the social class make-up of institutional collections and how fair representation and lack of diversity can be addressed. The research entails three stages: (1) Interviews with the 36 members of Research Libraries UK to investigate current challenges that prevent them from recording provenance information for working-class books; (2) The inclusive and fair cataloguing of the Janet Powney Collection – a working-class prize book collection in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives; and (3) The organisation of impact and engagement events to promote the Janet Powney Collection. The study highlights that, while librarians face many challenges in terms of time, money and resources, as well as differences in guidelines and practices, the correct recording of provenance is essential in recovering the voices of working-class individuals, giving them agency as autonomous writers, and developing new narratives of working-class life and culture that challenge myths perpetuated by those in higher positions of power.

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