Monday, April 25, 2016

London's Feminist Library


A volunteer browses through the books at The Feminist Library.
A volunteer browses through the books at The Feminist Library
Feminist Library
Location: London, England
Opened: 1975
Closed: Not closed yet, but endangered




From a longer piece at Womens Enews:

London’s Feminist Library Faces Eviction, Fights to Preserve History

LONDON (WOMENSENEWS)—When Sheila Hanlon was given the signal she began reading from Zadie Smith's "The Embassy of Cambodia." Magdalena Oldziejewska recited text from an academic book on women's leadership. Others in the crowd of about 80 also followed the conductor's prompts, sometimes reading in unison, other times not; loudly and then quietly.

They read together in protest outside the Southwark Council office, a local city council in central London, in late February to try to save The Feminist Library. The small, 41-year-old volunteer-run library boasts a large collection of women’s liberation movement literature, especially second-wave materials from the late 1960s to the 1990s.

"The Feminist Library is a dream space, a really special space," Hanlon recently told Women's eNews. "The idea of it is so powerful. It's something that everyone who identifies with feminism wishes they had in their city."

But now the library is feeling the same kind of economic pressure that is making London uninhabitable for many. Late last year the Southwark Council, which oversees the library’s borough, said the annual rent would rise to around $43,000 from $17,000.

In response, rally goers were asked to bring feminist books for a "read in" to protest the major rent hike. Those arriving empty handed could choose from a suitcase of books. Some also brought homemade banners, reading "Save the Feminist Library, Save Our Communities" and "Don't Erase Our Herstory."

Earlier that day Gloria Steinhem voiced support for the library, tweeting for it to "keep its home." Margaret Atwood tweeted support the week before.

The demonstration, part of a campaign that includes a petition and appeal for donations, worked. It won the library some time. But the fight for the library's future is far from over.

"What we achieved in a short time is amazing, but in six months what's going to happen?" said Caroline Smith, a volunteer and writer in residence at The Feminist Library, in an interview in the library's cramped office.

Housed on the first floor of a low-rise brown brick building that bears the sign "Multi-Purpose Resource Center," the library over 7,000 fiction and nonfiction books and 1,500 periodical titles from around the world. The library, which has been in this particular space for 30 years, is also an event and meeting space, runs a weekend bookshop and supports research, activist and community projects.

The Feminist Library is unique, Smith said, as it's used by both international researchers and local community groups. It's also fully accessible. "This is a safe space for women that exists in the public realm," she said. "These spaces are so few and far between."

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