Visit The Feminist Library stand at History Day 2017.
As the Feminist Library’s job is to preserve the archives and herstories of feminists and their organisations, we thought we’d begin with a little bit of our own. First, an extract from the programme for our 35th anniversary benefit, held at the Round Chapel in Hackney in February 2011:
The Feminist Library – a brief herstory
In February 2011 we celebrate 35 years of existence, approximately 10,000 books, 1,500 periodical titles, 1200 articles, 3000 pamphlets, 600 unpublished papers and a small but important collection of archives from the Women’s Liberation Movement. And we pay tribute to the multitude of women who have created, nourished and sustained an organisation which, against all odds, has not only survived over three decades but furthered the aims of the Women’s Liberation Movement by safeguarding its history.
Originally known as the Women’s Research and Resources Centre, the Feminist Library was founded in 1975 during the height of the second wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement, a period when many women became actively involved in the struggle against sexist oppression and exploitation, and it was very much part of this process of feminist self-organisation and resistance.
The Feminist Library has had a succession of ever larger homes: above Sisterwrite Bookshop in Upper Street, next to Spare Rib in Clerkenwell Close, and above A Woman’s Place on the Embankment, before moving to its present home after the GLC was abolished in 1986. In common with most underfunded feminist enterprises, the Library has faced crises and uncertainties over the years, and has not been able to afford paid workers for most of its life. However, a small group of dedicated volunteers has kept it going, adding to its collection, publishing a newsletter, running the Library, and organising events.
The Feminist Library has been sustained for 35 years by the goodwill, passion and commitment of many individual women, and can be seen perhaps as a microcosm of the Women’s Liberation Movement: still here, still struggling, and with no intention of going away.”
To show that this is still true today, here is an article reproduced from our September 2017 e-bulletin (which you can subscribe to via our website):
The Feminist Library story – preserving herstories, by any means necessary
by Magda Oldziejewska
It feels like the right time to reflect on the Feminist Library’s struggle to stay alive. The story is not just about a campaign to keep the doors of another library open. It is a story of one of the very few remaining feminist spaces around, trying to keep afloat, against all odds. And it is also a reflection of the times we live in, of the wider context of gentrification in London, and beyond.
Our story encapsulates the struggle to keep a vital community space alive, as well as to preserve and promote women’s voices, so often still unheard in our society. It is a reflection of a deeper underlying truth about how far feminism still has to go before it achieves its goals – until women’s voices are no longer marginalised – a ‘special’ interest that we seemingly cannot afford in the age of austerity… As if being a woman was some kind of a luxury…
The past 20 months have been challenging and frustrating, but also exciting and re-invigorating. Thanks to the incredible response of our supporters and the activist community since we launched our campaign to save the Library, we have been encouraged to keep going and have found a new space.
On 23rd December 2015, the Library received notification from our landlord, Southwark Council, that our rent would increase by 150% from 1st March 2016. Our overwhelming feeling was of frustration and deep disappointment with this injustice. The demanded rent was a huge proportion of our annual budget, making the increase completely unachievable for a small, volunteer-run charity. At first, the position of the Council seemed to be unwavering – they had a ‘responsibility’ to the taxpayer to get the best returns for their property, so that the money could be invested back into the community… Or at least that was their starting point.
And then we launched our campaign. Over 16,000 signatures on our petition and extensive press coverage seemed to impress the Council, as the lines of communication suddenly opened up. Despite not reducing their rent demands at first, we gained some precious time to strategise and increase our search for a new home. To their credit, the Council even offered us help with our search. Not very successfully, but they did.
After a few months, we managed to find an exciting new home for the Library by ourselves. It took us some time to mentally say goodbye to our home of over 30 years, to let go of the idea that we should stay no matter what, but with the prospect of a new home which would bring us closer to the community, we managed it.
Four massive turning points have transformed this story from one of struggle against seemingly impossible odds to one of gratitude to our community and, gradually even, excitement for the future. The first was the petition and the incredible, global, community response that it received, along with our large (and fun) demo outside Southwark’s budget-setting meeting. The second was meeting the OKRS team, who are behind the new community and creative centre that we hope will be our new home. The third was discovering Hi Vis, our – feminist! – design team who are bringing our new space together for us. And finally, just a couple of weeks ago, at our Summer Fayre, when we saw them bring the new Feminist Library space to life (admittedly, on paper) for the first time. It gave us an incredible boost of energy to see those designs for the first time. It made our future feel more real, more tangible, less precarious somehow.”
If you would like to get involved in supporting the Library you could join our Volunteering team, firstname.lastname@example.org, make a Donation, or best of all, become a Friend by filling in a Friends Scheme flyer, or emailing us at email@example.com. Now, with the prospect of our major move in front of us, we need your support more than ever.
The Feminist Library – Archiving and Activism since 1975
5 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7XW Tel: 020 7261 0879
http://feministlibrary.co.uk twitter.com/feministlibrary facebook.com/FeministLibrary