A Call to Action: The University of Toronto Music Library’s Response to Support BIPOC Music Studies and Anti-Racist Programming

Submitted by shawreb on
Tim Neufeldt, Instruction Librarian and Tegan Niziol, Graduate Student Library Assistant (GSLA)

In June of 2020, alumni from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music submitted a Call to Action to the Faculty, asking it to address systematic oppression, racism, and coloniality within the Faculty’s programming and pedagogical practices. Fuelled by a growing desire for the university to decolonize Canadian education systems in wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action (2015), and the recent Black Lives Matter protests related to the deaths of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis and Regis Korchinski-Paquet on May 27 in Toronto, the Call clearly articulated how academic institutions are perpetuating injustices that unfairly advantage certain peoples over others, and that music faculties are complicit in this outcome. As a critical support structure for the research and educational programming at the Faculty of Music, the University of Toronto Music Library quickly initiated a self-assessment to identify its BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour)-related holdings and gaps in relevant BIPOC materials, come up with a plan to address these shortcomings, and ensure the availability of resources to support changing curricula.

Striving to achieve these goals has been a true team effort on behalf of the Music Library staff including significant contributions by student library assistants. On November 19, 2020, instruction librarian Tim Neufeldt and graduate student library assistant Tegan Niziol gave a presentation about the Music Library’s anti-racism initiatives at the annual meeting of the New York State-Ontario Chapter of the Music Library Association.

In the presentation, Tim discussed the on-going process of identifying the Music Library’s collection of BIPOC-related materials, as well as gaps in the collection that we intend to fill. This process involves identifying lists of BIPOC musicians, compositions, and research materials compiled by other people and organizations, and comparing their recommended materials to our holdings. Under Tim’s direction, much of this work has been accomplished by the student library assistants. Owing to their hard work, we now have an ever-growing spreadsheet of the materials found lacking in our collection. The list will be vetted by our collections librarian Trevor Deck, with a goal of purchasing materials to fill gaps once budgets become less constricted, presumably after the pandemic has run its course.

Ensuring that the Music Library actually owns a significant collection of BIPOC-related materials is crucial to our anti-racist initiative. However, almost as equally important is ensuring that students can find and access these materials. This is the topic that Tegan addressed in the presentation. The alumni’s Call to Action highlighted the difficulty of finding BIPOC materials in our catalogue. Because catalogue records do not generally provide information on race, ethnicity, or nationality, patrons must know the names of BIPOC authors and artists in order to find their music. So, the question became: how do we increase awareness of BIPOC musicians so that their music and literature can be found more easily in the catalogue? One possible solution was developing a library research guide to BIPOC materials, which eventually came to fruition through the efforts of Tegan and Tim.

The guide in its current form is titled “Guide to BIPOC musicians and related literature."

The homepage of the guide displays a statement of the Music Library’s commitment to anti-racist action, and also a call for feedback. We have envisioned the guide as a living document that will continue to grow and change as we learn more. The guide is currently organized according to source type: repertoire, bibliographies, theses, books, encyclopedias, databases, recordings, University of Toronto resources, websites, style guides and search tips. The guide cannot link to every single item in our catalogue, so the different sections contain a handful of resources to give students a starting point, as well as strategies for finding more items.

Of the many challenges we faced when creating the guide, representing People of Colour proved to be one of the most significant. Because the term “People of Colour” is used to represent an enormous diversity of different cultures and racial groups, it felt disingenuous and tokenistic to pick just a handful of sources. As a result, the guide currently contains very few resources representing People of Colour who are not Black or Indigenous precisely because we are still working out how to present these materials in a meaningful way. Based on a highly fruitful discussion regarding the appropriate use of the term “BIPOC” that is currently circulating in online communities, we are aware that a good rule of thumb is to be as specific as possible when referring to particular cultures or racial groups. However, the confines of a research guide impose limits on specificity. Clearly, the guide is a work in a progress. We imagined it as a living document, and we eagerly invite your feedback!

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