The Library is open – why the British Library marches with Pride
The British Library is home to the national collection of published, written, audio and digital content, and has a duty to collect a copy of everything published in the UK. It’s a collection of extraordinary diversity and richness, unfiltered and bursting with heritage and stories of every kind. This includes a wealth of LGBTQ+ stories, ranging from well-known literary UK icons (such as Oscar Wilde and Maureen Duffy) to unexpected international perspectives (such as LGBTQ magazines and trans memoirs from Lebanon), through to iconic campaign literature and oral testimonies of the fights for freedom and equality, both printed and online.
The collection then, is the starting point for our participation in Pride festivals. The British Library’s Living Knowledge vision sets out our mission to make the UK’s intellectual heritage accessible to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment. Being at Pride gives us an opportunity to talk about our collections and to raise awareness that the Library’s services really are for everyone.
This is still a relatively recent initiative for us; in many ways catalysed by the successful Gay UK: Love, Law, Liberty exhibition in 2017, which told the story of decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. This exhibition prompted an employee-led initiative, strongly supported at the highest level of the organisation, to participate in Pride in York, London and Leeds (reflecting the Library’s two physical location in Boston Spa and St Pancras, London). The Pride flag now flies at the Library ahead of each event to signal our support.
Off the back of our participation in 2017, we established an employee network which prompted us to think more broadly about what we want to achieve and our roles and responsibilities as both a public and a memory institution to ensure that we promote diversity and inclusion. This has helped all of us to understand the wider reasons why participation in Pride events is such a positive thing for the Library. Partly, this is about the Library being an inclusive employer and actively working toward making this a place where people can ‘bring their whole selves’ to work. As part of this the network has contributed to a review of the organisation’s new Recruitment strategy, and been consulted on new training materials for the Equality and Diversity course. Participating at Pride is a visible way for the Library to show it fully supports its LGBTQ+ employees, as well as promoting it as an organisation that values diversity and inclusion.
So visibility is really at the heart of why we do Pride – both in terms of visible support for our LGBTQ+ staff, allies and users, and in raising awareness of the Library and its incredible collections as a unique public asset. We want everyone to be proud of our national library and its unique role as the custodian of the UK’s published, written and digital content, making sure that diverse voices are heard not just now, but also for generations to come.