Yasmin Smith reflects on her time volunteering at the Stuart Hall Library and how this has developed her confidence to pursue a career in librarianship.
I have come to the end of volunteering at Stuart Hall Library and it brings me great sadness to leave a place that is so astounding in its reception of typically ignored voices. I came to the library during a time of flux in my life and it was only when entering the library that I was given a sense of accomplishment. This library has done more than just give me the confidence to pursue a career in librarianship that is often dominated by middle-class attitudes and policies, but it has educated me on ways I can commit to equality in my everyday life.
I began my library experience by writing abstracts for journal articles to be indexed and re-shelving items both of which gave me insight into the collection. I expanded my knowledge on artists such as Jade Monserrat and fell in love with her recent publication ‘A Reimagining of Relations’. This then led me to more challenging tasks such as coming up with my own topic for a blog post related to the collection. This experience of successfully finding a publication and/or exhibition that relates to me gave me the assurance that the Stuart Hall Library enforces representation in all its forms.
Although I could have learned these skills in other libraries, I believe the first-hand experience with the Stuart Hall Library collection is what made this volunteering opportunity all the more fascinating. Rather than being books or artists I had come across before, everything I was reading felt new, and just like the exposed brick walls, I too was exposing gaps in my knowledge that I didn’t know existed.
This positioning and trust from Library Manager Tavian Hunter gave me the freedom to research and make mistakes within my own processes. After researching for a reading list on Middle Eastern female artists, I was able to learn the importance of naming. Many of the artists I researched stated that being defined by their ‘Middle Eastern’ background went against their motives to create art or be seen. Therefore, I changed my title and focus on solely creating a bibliography on the Veil publication. I believe by doing so, I put the power back into the artist’s hands and allowed the work, not the cultural/geographical background, to speak for itself. It is this type of personal questioning and learning that a library like Stuart Hall Library not only allows for but promotes. This is because the information is easily accessible; simply being in the library space develops an excuseless need to be better.
I have left Stuart Hall Library having learned that constant questioning and openness to reconsidering all that I have learned from a society that is still racist, sexist, and homophobic, is necessary to eradicate the repetition of age-old prejudices. With spaces like this library being at the forefront for this type of change, I now see a future where discrimination is less possible. I am proud to say I have volunteered here but I am even prouder to say it has taught me how to better myself and those around me.
Yasmin Smith is a recent graduate of BA English Literature at Goldsmiths University. She recently volunteered at the Stuart Hall Library and is an aspiring writer and researcher. Her writing usually concerns cultural heritage, the past, and a queering of the modern-day experience.