Farewell to the Women’s Library

3rd May 2013

Boarded up Women's Library London Met site

After eighty-seven years, thousands of visitors and months of a very long campaign to prevent this happening, activists last night bid farewell to the Women’s Library.

Founded in 1926 as the Library of the London Society for Women’s Service, it housed artefacts from women’s history spanning four centuries.

In 2012, it came under threat of closure by London Met, who argued that too much of the library’s use came from outside the university. The London Met branch of UNISON fired into action to save it, with a petition against the closure gaining over 12,000 signatures.

A saviour of sorts was eventually found in LSE, who will house the collection within a reading room and a planned exhibition space within the British Library of Political and Economic Science. The purpose-built East End site – bought only ten years ago with a £4.2 million lottery grant – will remain in the hands of London Met.

A small party was held at the now defunct site, to celebrate the library’s achievements and document the efforts of those who campaigned to keep it open.

For Books’ Sake popped our head round the door fairly early on: a dozen or so people gathered round still cellophaned-over bowls of crisps and yet-to-be-opened bottles of wine. Quite at odds with the photos displayed on the walls behind them of sit down protests and chanting crowds.

For Books’ Sake has previously covered the campaign, but it didn’t seem quite right last night to quote-seekingly intrude on what felt like a very private goodbye. It perhaps could be argued that a lament wasn’t totally appropriate: the collection is being preserved by LSE and will still be accessible to the public.

But putting that to the party-goers, whose resigned, quiet faces were still as passionate as the protesters of the tacked up photographs, would have only got the only response which seems appropriate to this: the Women’s Library will no longer be a library, but a reading room.

It will no longer be on its own, purpose-built site. Members of the public will have to trudge through a university library to access the collection, an off-putting prospect however wide open the doors to the reading room at the other end are.

There are museums in this country dedicated to pencils, lawnmowers and garden gnomes. We spent £46 million, as a country, repairing what is essentially a lorry from the 17th century.

That a relatively small group of campaigners had to fight hard just to keep the only space dedicated to the women’s movement going – in a few reading rooms – isn’t just London Met’s failure, but everybody’s.

Rebecca Winson

Image by Rebecca Winson, used here under a Creative Commons licence.