EDI Hub Bulletin 2: Meet Helen Worrell

Helen Worrell is the Archaeology and Anthropology subject librarian within the Bodleian Libraries and has recently taken on an exciting additional role as EDI Co-ordinator for Academic Library Services, which will allow her to extend the valuable work she has already done to diversify the Libraries’ collections. To Helen’s knowledge, hers is the first dedicated EDI post in the Bodleian and demonstrates the Libraries’ commitment to this work. 

Helen is enjoying working with colleagues across the Bodleian Libraries (and the wider University) on EDI. “I’ve been part of lots of interesting meetings and conversations with the aim of moving forward in EDI related areas: for example, a stakeholder workshop on ‘Race and Collections at the Bodleian’ organised by a colleague in the Public Engagement team. I’ve also been part of important departmental conversations on rethinking reading lists and curricula.” 

Helen is particularly proud of the Changing the Narrative project that she led in 2020-21. The aim was to encourage subject librarians to think critically about the collections they hold, so that they are aware of the gaps and the narrative that those collections tell. The project has been very successful: “I added an equality statement to our collection policy, secured strategic funding to purchase three major e-resources on EDI areas, and argued for setting up a ring-fenced budget specifically for EDI-related titles that don’t fall into a particular subject area.” Helen also put together very comprehensive and useful reading lists relating to anti-racism and LGBT+ studies.

Following her degree in Edinburgh, Helen’s first job was at the National Library of Scotland. Twelve years ago she moved down to Oxford, not knowing anyone in the city, to take a job at the Social Science Library, and has worked in the Bodleian Libraries ever since. A highlight for Helen has been seeing her EDI role formalised within the library structure: “I think it’s important for EDI work to be a dedicated part of someone’s time, rather than just an add-on.”

From June, Helen will have more time to focus on her EDI role when the Anthropology Library that she currently manages becomes part of the Social Science Library. “There are several things I would like to do in the Libraries, such as setting up a forum for subject librarians to discuss EDI matters, and supporting departments’ work on rethinking reading lists. I’m also looking forward to talking to staff and students about what they would like me to do in my new role.”

Helen’s interest in EDI stems in part from her background in activism, both when growing up and at university: “I approach my work from a point of view of addressing injustices.” She is also a member of the LGBTQIA community and first got involved in EDI activities through organising a local queer social. Her commitment to LGBT+ inclusion began to influence her work a few years ago: “The EDU were encouraging colleges and departments to fly the flag for LGBT+ History Month. I was working in the Social Science Library at the time, and although we didn’t have anywhere to fly the flag, I decided to put together a LGBT+ booklist.” Helen is currently Vice-Chair of the University’s LGBT+ Advisory Group and helps host the 1st Thursday social for the LGBT+ Staff Network.

Helen is very aware of the challenges that come with working in an EDI role – in particular, how to ensure we are enacting real change. “It’s been great to see more attention paid to EDI in the University, but we also need to ensure that it's not just a box ticking exercise. We need to have the resource, ability and will to make things happen and make changes.”

There is also a question of how we enact these changes within our departments or organisations for all groups that come under the EDI umbrella. “I'm aware that as a white cis queer woman, I only represent a specific section of society. I try to actively reflect on how I am making sure that I use my privilege to advocate for others, but not take up space where I am not the best person to speak to something, offer expertise or address an issue.”

Outside of work, Helen is a keen cyclist and an accredited British cycling coach. She sits on the women’s committee of a local cycling club, the Cowley Road Condors, and works to encourage women to get involved in cycling. She also runs a local LGBTQIA social once a month. Helen is currently learning to drive, “which I’m finding quite terrifying, but slowly getting there! It helps that I have good road awareness from cycling.”

For more information about Helen’s work, see the webpages for the Changing the Narrative project and the LGBT+ Advisory Group.