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Reflections at Stuart Hall Library by Stefano Cacaveri

Stefano Cacaveri image

Stefano Cacaveri with publication ‘The Other Story’.

Stefano Cacaveri reflects on his time volunteering at Stuart Hall Library to retrain as a librarian and learn about librarianship.

I joined Stuart Hall Library (SHL) as a volunteer with the hopes to gain experience to enter a different professional career in librarianship. The volunteering opportunity offered at iniva seemed an exciting starting place for those who are willing to undertake a similar path. My desire to pursue a career as a librarian came from my personal interest in the arts and humanities and working at the junction between intellectual production and public accessibility.

As a volunteer, my first task consisted of documenting artists present in group exhibitions by listing the artist’s name to create catalogue records or update bibliographic records. ‘The Other Story’ is one of the first exhibition catalogues I worked on. Curated by Rasheed Araeen at the Hayward Gallery in 1989, it features many artists of African, Caribbean and Asian descent active during the British Black Arts Movement. The exhibition revealed the discrimination, marginalisation and inequality inherent in British society and cultural life in the late period of Thatcherism.

This activity, for example, gave me an insight on the work of a librarian who has the aim to create a catalogue record that is easily accessible for its users.

Another activity I was engaged with was the listing of the audio-visual collection of the library held in the archive. Among the material catalogued was the film ‘Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History

featuring Sonia Boyce and Brenda Emmanus exploring the history of Britain’s artists of Afro-Asian ancestry whose contribution to British art history remained unrecognised for decades. Searching through the public art archives, they revealed how many of these artworks are publicly owned and yet question why the majority of them have not been displayed or briefly so. Through this activity I learnt the importance of representation alongside the organisation of collections and archives with their power to foster or hinder social justice on gender, identity and race. 

Through conversations with Assistant Librarian Sae Matsuno, I was introduced to the basis of cataloguing to gain understanding of library cataloguing concepts. But also I was shown how a cataloguing practice, in itself a technical procedure, can be embedded with and still maintain a racial structure. Traditionally, UK libraries have utilised the US Library of Congress subject heading which can include outdated terminology. In this respect, watching the documentary ‘Change the Subject’ during my training – a film made by a group of students from Dartmouth College to denounce the continued use of the term “illegal alien” for classification – was instructive in highlighting the systemic racism inherent to subject heading practices within the Library of Congress classification. This was insightful on how a library can always be an active space of questioning rather than merely a repository of sources. It has shown me the responsibility within the profession of librarianship and the importance to always be vigilant and ready to challenge what often is taken for granted and, therefore, how to commit to equality and representation in everyday practices.

Other activities of my volunteering experience included re-shelving the material left on trolleys/desks by users; recording donating materials into spreadsheets such as books, magazines, CDs/DVDs; stock checking for duplicates in the library management system and browsing the shelves.

Stuart Hall Library stands out to promote the works of historically underrepresented people through its specialist collection but also by being an active cultural hub for iniva with a commitment to foster marginalised voices and tackle racial practices in contemporary society. Having been given the chance to help the library in its work alongside iniva’s staff has been a great pleasure and element of pride.


Stefano Cacaveri is a volunteer in Stuart Hall Library since August 2022. He has previously graduated in International Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London and further obtained a postgraduate certificate in Continental Philosophy at the University of Warwick. He recently took an MA module at Birkbeck University in the modern history of the Mediterranean ranging from colonial history to the current environmental crisis. He is looking forward to retraining as a librarian. Meanwhile, he works in hospitality.