Prof Thom Blair reflects on use of Internet and social media by Black communities and scholars to disseminate ideas, and calls for this material to be captured and preserved as part of Britain's cultural heritage.
With more internet and social media users every day, Britain’s minorities are creating a mass of gigabytes of news, opinions and ideas. But, information professionals have yet to capture and preserve the digital production of Black communities and scholars. My three-year study, Decolonising Knowledge, suggests a high-impact agenda to embed the Black Experience in national programmes for heritage enhancement. Digital Black culture and politics are important representations of British Culture, and deserve a place in the conservation of knowledge. The impact agenda offers two initiatives relevant to "Third Sector" community development and regeneration.
Affirm community action for change
One is to affirm that "within every community there is a wealth of knowledge and experience which, if used in creative ways, can be channelled into collective action to achieve the communities’ desired goals". [Quotes from the Social Welfare Portal, British Library]. Practical examples include:
- Black families are sourcing opportunities to survive and advance in often-hostile urban environments. Education, jobs and affordable housing top the preferred list, even in the most deprived districts such as St Paul’s, Bristol and Brixton, London.
- Teenagers and schoolchildren are prodigious multi-taskers: Googling information for better grades, downloading their favourite tunes and chatting on their smart phones and tablets.
- Moreover, academic high fliers are spreading their ideas in eBooks, while others are posting their lecture notes, manuscripts, commentaries and book reviews online.
- A range of voices are on the digital frontiers -- from cyberscholars and high-level writers and artists to protesters, community leaders and citizen journalists – all using social networks to get vital views out and bring about change
Engage with Black communities and scholars
The second initiative confirms the need to "build relationships with third sector organisations and their volunteers in public service delivery, and the Big Society agenda". However, it is crucial to recognise that the Black Experience is a template for archiving and researching other "minority voices". An Archival/Curatorial Digital Fellowship Programme could serve this purpose by:
- Identifying content producers and users
- Devising appropriate "surveying" technologies.
- Crowd sourcing and crowd-funding across major devices, operating systems, web browsers and different language versions.
Librarians, professionals, technocrats and media moguls are central to implementing the impact agenda. With community collaboration, they can embed the digital Black Experience in national heritage enhancement programmes. Moreover, they can promote the broadest scholarly and public understanding of policy issues in the multi-cultural information age.