Spotlight on... Nazlin Bhimani

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This week we meet Nazlin Bhimani, Research Support and Special Collections Librarian at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE). Here, she chats to us about rare books, #TeacherJokes and being awarded the IOE Director’s Prize and Provost’s Teaching Award.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I support the doctoral students and researchers at the IOE and am responsible for the IOE’s rare book collections. I am also a member of the Library Services Research Support team, and I work with members of the IOE Researcher Development team.

My work with rare books involves supporting historians of education, working with external researchers - including documentary filmmakers - and curating exhibitions to promote the IOE Library’s rare books.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I have been at UCL for a little over ten years now. Prior to joining the IOE, I was the College Librarian at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge. I have worked in new universities but also in special libraries such as the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Music Library when it was part of Radio 3, and after it merged with the Radio and Television Gramophone Libraries.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

On the research support side, I am most proud of getting the IOE Director’s Prize and then the Provost’s Teaching Award, but I have also valued the various student nominations I have received over the years. The students have always been my best judges, and my teachers.

On the special collections side, I am delighted that Paper Trails: A Social History of Archives and Collections has now been published by UCL Press. I worked on it with colleagues in UCL Special Collections for my Institute of Leadership and Management award. I am most proud of the BOOC as it embodies all that I believe is important in the work I do. Paper Trails aims to bring together researchers (including students), librarians, archivists and curators and link local, national and international library, archives and museum collections.

I am also proud of the work I did with Rogan Productions on the documentary Subnormal , which truly is the biggest scandal in British education history. It was broadcast in March and is still available to view on BBC iPlayer.

And finally, I am proud to be a member of the Library Services EDI Committee. We recently won the Sarah Guise ’Catalyst for Change’ Award for our newsletters.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

I am currently updating the rare books collection profiles which is interesting work as it requires me to research and link collections within the IOE and across UCL. I am also working on an exhibition at the Weiner Library entitled We are not alone , and which highlights the legacies of eugenics. It will be showcasing some of the IOE’s rare books and also the books from the Galton Laboratory Collection.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: As a musician, I find it impossible to choose a favourite. My taste in music is eclectic and reflects the different countries I have lived in and how I feel at any particular time. I have a regular dose of the Canadian pianist Glen Gould playing Bach because they motivate me. I was brought up on a diet of African music (as I grew up in Uganda) but also American gospel music (imagine an eight-year-old attempting to imitate the likes of Mahalia Jackson - well that was me every Sunday afternoon standing in front of a black and white TV, singing my heart out!). World Service Radio introduced me to pop music and classical music. In my quiet moments, I listen to masses (Victoria’s Missa O Magnum Mysterium is still a favourite); when I’m feeling belligerent, I listen to Nitin Sawhney’s Beyond Skin or Immigrant; when I’m feeling homesick, I listen to Cuban music as that brings back memories of family holidays or Diana Krall or Leonard Cohen.

Films: I’d say I am a pushover when it comes to restored silent films of the 1920s with orchestra and/or piano accompaniments (especially if they have Neil Brand playing the piano). The one silent film that stands out for me is Abel Gance’s 1927 film Napoleon, which premiered in 2013 at the RFH. It was a five hour, 45 minute production with a score specially composed by Carl Davies. Now that was special.

Books: There are so many that I find it difficult to pick a favourite. I have read the ’classics’ but also some new authors. For some time now, I have been immersed in historical research and so all I can say is that I ’stand on the shoulders of giants’ on that front. I am currently reading Silencing the Past by the prominent Haitian scholar Michel-Rolph Trouillot. It’s a remarkable book on the use and misuse of power in the production of historical narrative.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I don’t have a favourite, but I do enjoy a belly laugh. Most #TeacherJokes on Twitter will get a chuckle out of me.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

If I could, I would invite the living and dead to dinner to discuss the issues we are currently facing in the world - and I would have my daughters with me. My dream guests would be Sara Ahmed, Arundhati Roy, Elif Shafak, Toni Morrison, Jane Fonda, Paul Gilroy and Stuart Hall. Stephen Fry would also be with us to keep order and add a bit of humour.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Just love.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

Two things: I am a part-time doctoral candidate at the IOE; and I came to this country as a refugee.

What is your favourite place?

Only one’! I have two: Havana, Cuba (in the winter) and Vancouver, British Columbia (in the summer).


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