Unsilencing the Library

Dr Ozak Esu poses for a photo at the Women's Library at Compton Verney

3 December 2018

Author: Ozak Esu


Since winning the IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award 2017, I have enjoyed participating in various activities that engage young people, parents, and teachers in engineering. One of such memorable experiences is working with the ‘Women’s Library’ at Compton Verney.

Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park is a nationally-accredited art gallery run by an independent charitable trust in Warwickshire. In June 2017, in collaboration with (and partly funded by) Oxford University's English Faculty, they opened the 'Women's Library' – a restoration and re-imaging of the statement library created at Compton Verney in 1860 by Georgiana Verney, the wife of the 17th Lord Willoughby de Broke. Georgiana was a tireless campaigner for women's reading, women's education, and women's suffrage.

The library invited six curators, ranging from Prison Reading Groups to Emma Watson, to curate the six empty bookshelves by nominating their own book choices. This year, Service Women in the British Army, Dementia Café, and I were invited to curate book titles. I nominated 30+ book titles mainly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) aimed at the pre-16 age group. This dovetails nicely with The UK’s Year of Engineering 2018, as well as The Marvellous Mechanical Museum, a major exhibition staged at the gallery that reimagined the spectacular automata exhibitions of the 18thcentury and invited everyone to explore the boundaries of what is lifelike and what is alive, where artists, inventors and engineers collide.

I also chose a few non-STEM titles by authors whose words have encouraged and inspired me, as well as those that reflect the best of my Nigerian heritage and ethnicity. The books can be taken out and read in the library, and each carries a bookmark explaining why I chose the title. Copies of all the choices are also available to buy in the gallery shop.

As a child, I experienced the impact a lack of engineering can have on a society first-hand, which inspired me to pursue a career within the sector. Thankfully, here in the UK, children are not affected by an absence of engineering in the same way. Although, equally, this means that they may not be as driven to consider a career within the sector. I believe getting children involved in STEM reading and challenges is one way of tackling the industry’s long-term skills-shortage.

The books I chose introduces new technical knowledge in fun and engaging layouts, which I hope will encourage learning, spark interest, boost confidence, and ultimately translate into real participation in STEM subjects at school. I also hope that the books will provide role models to inspire creativity and ingenuity in both young girls and young boys.

I wish you all a lovely winter of reading!

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