Commonwealth Studies Collections

Julio Cazzasa will introduce us to the collections of Commonwealth Studies.

Julio Cazzasa

Julio studied Museums Studies and later Librarianship. His first position in Senate House Library was in Special Collections, after that he became a cataloguer and dealt with most of the subjects represented in the library. In 2009, he went to ISA (Institute for the Studies of America) and was part of the team working in the merger between the Institute collection and SHL. Later he became a Special Collections cataloguer and finally won his current position in 2019.

How has the pandemic impacted your day-to-day work?

The pandemic and the lockdown had a deep impact on the way I work. I suddenly (like others) needed to rethink my approach and found effective ways to answer the challenges of this new reality. Fortunately, we already had some of the tools we needed in place and the University as a whole, and the SHL in particular, put even more resources towards them.

Before the pandemic, most of my work demanded to be done in situ. Today, most of my task are done online supported by an important development of e-resources which, to be honest, was already a work in progress anyway.     

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

There are many aspects: to be in touch with the students and researchers, to understand the issues around the subjects they are developing and to give the support they need. Of course, I work in close contact with my colleagues who help me when necessary. Above all, the whole process has a component of discussion and learning for all involved and that makes the whole experience very exciting.

The Commonwealth Studies collections hold a variety of items ranging from personal papers to records of organisations. Do you have any tips on navigating the collection?

My main tip is to start to think “What do I need to do for my research?” and “What kind of information is necessary for doing that?”. Once you have done that go straight to the catalogue and search for authors, titles, keywords, etc. Explore the databases list and the online resources available. And above all remember that there is a team of librarians you can contact, and we are all always very happy to help. 

Is there a theme, topic, or item that is most used by students?

Usually, they have very particular subjects but, you could see those subjects are also (sometimes) influenced by current affairs like Grenfell Tower or the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s very difficult to say if there is a main subject in Commonwealth Studies. However, gender, racism and the post-colonial era are very important topics.

Thinking of the post-colonial era with regards to the current reforms and efforts to decolonise the curriculum, how have these aspects influenced the collection and your work?

We at Senate House Library are in close contact with our patrons and we try to make sure we work in similar ways. The Commonwealth Collection is not an exception and was always related to the Institute. It’s a permanent work but, I could say the collection is in line with these requirements.

What does Brexit mean for Commonwealth relations and how has it impacted this field of study?

I think this is a question to be answered mainly by the researchers in the Institute. From the collection point of view, I would say we are in a very early stage and is no very clear, yet, how it will affect the collection development.

Are there any hidden treasures in the collection and what is your personal collection highlight?

I would like to mention just one title. It is a little treasure of 4 pages “Satyagraha” a translation of the original in Gurajati by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (later better known as “Mahatma” Gandhi) published in Bombay in 1917. I like it because is a very humble and simple publication with a beautiful and strong content. The idea of non-violence resistance is central and would be at the core of the powerful movement he would build up along the years. 

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