Open for climate justice

Welcome to Birkbeck College’s virtual research symposium, drawing inspiration from Open Access Week 2022.

This year’s OA Week theme is “Open for Climate Justice”, and the Library’s Scholarly Communications Group has coordinated contributions from speakers around this. Birkbeck is committed to Open Access, and acknowledges the importance of “connection and collaboration among the climate movement and the international open community”, along with “the rapid exchange of knowledge across geographic, economic, and disciplinary boundaries.” Both these ideas are very much in keeping with George Birkbeck’s assertion that ‘now is the time for universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge’. This continues to underpin the mission and culture of the institution as it approaches its two-hundredth anniversary in December 2023.

Although originally planned as an “in person” event, the pivot towards a virtual symposium has enabled a more fluid, dynamic approach. Our contributors evince a clear academic interest in climate justice, and outline how it intersects with the open access movement.

The future of open access
Dr Caroline Edwards, Director, Open Library of Humanities

Dr Caroline Edwards is Director of the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) at Birkbeck, University of London and a Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature. Caroline co-founded the OLH with Prof. Martin Eve in 2012 as a project bringing scholars, librarians, publishers, and computer programmers together to build a fairer, not-for-profit model of open access publishing; the OLH launched its publishing platform in 2015 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Caroline’s first monograph is Utopia and the Contemporary British Novel (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and she is currently writing her second book, Hopeful Inhumanism: The Elemental Aesthetics of Ecocatastrophe. Her research has featured in a number of non-academic publications, broadcasts, and venues, including the New Statesman, the Times Higher Education, the Guardian, SFX Magazine, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, BBC One South East, the Barbican Centre, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Whitechapel Gallery, and in a dedicated exhibition at the Museum of London.

In this talk, Dr Edwards outlines the origins of OA, draws parallels to the green new deal movement, and explores how the Open Library of Humanities is helping to define its future directions.

Sympathy for the ‘little things that run the world’
Dr Janette Leaf, Associate Research Fellow, Cultural Entomologist.

Janette is an Associate Research Fellow at Birkbeck, working predominantly in the specialist area of Cultural Entomology, establishing a reputation as an international expert.

Her research investigates how insects are represented in fiction, museums, and material culture, particularly in the nineteenth century; and how insect imagery intersects with the Gothic, Egyptology, xenophobia, speciesism, and environmental concerns.

Janette’s PhD thesis, titled ‘Locating the Sympathetic Insect: Cultural Entomology, Egyptianised Gothic and Emotional Affect in Richard Marsh’s The Beetle’, will be available in BIROn after an embargo period.

Dr Leaf is an active Member of the Victorian Popular Fiction Association (VPFA); the British Association of Victorian Studies (BAVS); The British Society for Literature and Science (The BSLS); and the International Society for the Study of Egyptomania (ISSE).

She is regular presenter at conferences, has appeared in podcasts and international reading groups, and has recently published as a co-editor, Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird (British Library Publishing, 2021) (eds Daisy Butcher and Janette Leaf).

Staff-student collectives in higher education climate activism 
Kayleigh Woods Harley, Birkbeck Climate Network 

Kayleigh Woods Harley is a project support coordinator in the Planning and Strategic Projects department. The Climate Network is a student-staff coalition working to make Birkbeck fulfil its responsibilities and ambitions around climate justice and was instrumental in the decision of the careers department going fossil free in 2022, making Birkbeck the first university in the UK to do so. 

Climate journalism, social justice and open access 
Dorothy Stein, MA Journalism 

Dorothy Stein is a Birkbeck student studying for an MA in Journalism in the department of Culture, Media and Journalism.    

Their background is in the IT industry, where they worked across different sectors before starting a green IT company – GreengageIT.  With lifelong concerns about climate and the environment having heightened – they are aiming to become a climate journalist, to better communicate the crises and ways forward.       

Dorothy’s research examines the current state of climate journalism and its place within our institutions, culture and power structures which are premised on fossil fuel use.  They plan to look at climate journalism’s failure to put the brakes on the escalating climate and ecological crises, and describe what climate journalism might look like in an alternative model, where it plays its part in our project of climate justice and “world building”.   

Closing comments 

After watching the presentations from our speakers, it’s clear that there are many ways in which we can talk about open access and climate justice. Open access to information and scholarly research is key for tackling climate change and promoting climate justice. These presentations showed that it is not only the STEM subjects or natural sciences, but also the humanities, which can raise awareness about the environment and help us, and future generations, make informed decisions. 

This virtual symposium has hopefully served as a great reminder of the need for action and collaboration on climate change, by enabling open access to build a more just and sustainable future. 

We’d like to thank all our speakers, and Barnaby Booth in the Digital Education team, who recorded and edited the videos in the Birkbeck Recording Suite. The suite is open to all Birkbeck staff, and can be booked via their Moodle page.

This event was organized by the Scholarly Communications team in Birkbeck Library.  

LGBT+ History Month/Love Data Week

At the heart of the university, an academic library space offers fertile possibilities for interdisciplinary research, cross-department discussion and serendipitous discovery. At Birkbeck we offer a variety of study spaces, diverse print and electronic resources, and specialist staff to support researchers. Since our refurbishment last summer, we’ve also been able to provide a space for teaching and events – something that had been lacking before.

This February, we utilised this new space to run a series of events celebrating both LGBT+ History Month and Love Data Week.

Slide advertising the Evening of Queer Poetry event. It reads, "An evening of queer poetry at Birkbeck Library. Valentine Carter, Keith Jarrett, Fran Lock, Golnoosh Nour. Thursday 20 February, 10:00 to 20:00 in the Library training room. Search 'Birkbeck events' to book a place.
Slide advertising the Researching LGBT+ Communities event. It reads, "Researching LGBT+ communities. Love data week event at Birkbeck Library. Dr Fiona Tasker and Ralph Day will discuss their potentially sensitive data. When: Wednesday 12 February, 10:30 to 20:00. Where: Library training room. Search 'Birkbeck events' to book a place."

Founded in 2005, in the wake of the abolition of Section 28, LGBT+ History Month is well embedded in the UK library world, particularly in public libraries. At Birkbeck, we’ve celebrated the month with displays of LGBT+ books from across disciplines.

Love Data Week is an annual celebration of research data. It’s an international event, which has been hosted in the College by the Library for the last three years. Previous events have included interdisciplinary panels, workshops, and cross institution collaborations.

Library staff were able to draw from the wealth of experience of our academic staff and students to produce some enjoyable and thought-provoking events, culminating in a cross-over LGBT+ History Month/Love Data Week event.

The LGBT+ History Month events celebrated Birkbeck’s poets and writers from our Creative Writing department. Course Director for the MA in Creative Writing, Julia Bell, read extracts from her new book of essays Radical Attention. This was followed by a lively conversation with fellow lecturer Richard Hamblyn. Later in the month, we hosted an Evening of Queer Poetry with poets Fran Lock, Valentine Carter, Golnoosh Nour and Keith Jarrett. We hold many of the collections by these writers, as well as the full run of the Mechanics’ Institute Review, an annual literary review published by Birkbeck’s Creative Writing department.

Keith Jarrett's performance at an Evening of Queer Poetry. He is dressed in black and wearing a black trilby.

For Love Data Week 2020, we ran two training sessions: An Introduction to Research Data Management, and Data Management Plans for Postgraduate Students. Both were organised in collaboration with the Birkbeck Graduate Research School.  

The LGBT+ History month/Love Data Week cross-over event was titled Researching LGBTQ+ Communities: openness, ethics and consent, and explored the interplay between open research and participant groups who may require anonymity. Two Birkbeck researchers, Fiona Tasker, an academic in the Department of Psychological Sciences and Ralph Day, a doctoral researcher in contemporary history, presented their work.

Image of a presentation slide: Birkbeck Library. Researching LBGTQ+ Communities. Openness, ethics and consent. Dr Fiona Tasker. Ralph Day. Hash tag Love Data Week, hash tag LGBT History Month.

Fiona talked about her work with LGBT+ parents. She took us through the three ‘waves’ of research on same sex parenting mothers, then presented some ideas from her work on a fourth wave. She also showed very interesting data from the Empowering Adoptive Families survey on adoption for non-traditional parents, and alternative data from the family mapping exercise. A copy of Fiona’s slides are available at the bottom of this post .

Ralph provided insight into the early years of the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. He presented data from the log books, described the challenges faces by the operators, and the sort of information they would record while facing these challenges.

Despite Ralph and Fiona drawing from different disciplines and consequently using a different set of methodologies and research assumptions, it was a useful discussion, in part due to these very differences. The audience was made up of students, academics and library staff with differing interests and research backgrounds, and our new teaching room provided an inclusive space for exploration and sharing of experiences.

Fiona is currently running a LGBTQ* UK COVID-19 Lockdown 18-35 Experiences Online Survey. This is a short survey for those in the 18-35 age group, which looks at experiences during the current pandemic and lockdown. If you are interested in taking part in this timely research, you can follow this link to the survey and information sheet.

Flyer promoting Fiona's lockdown survey. It reads: LGBTQ+ UK Covid-19 Lockdown. 18 to 35 Experiences Online Survey. We want to hear about your experiences - good or bad or both! We have a short, anonymous online survey which we'd really appreciate you taking a look at. The survey is designed for LGBTQ+ people aged 18 to 35 years, especially to find out about your experiences with the virus pandemic and lockdown measures.

Our UK data will also be added to an international study on LGBTQ+ responses to the pandemic.

You can find out more information and access the survey at

Or please email the research team for more details: Fiona Tasker and Marie Houghton. and

Both Love Data Week and LGBT+ History Month will return in 2021, as well as many other exciting events hosted in Birkbeck Library. Look out for updates on our News and Updates page.