On Monday 1st June, the graduate trainees set off for the Women’s Library, which is part of the London Metropolitan University. Once up in the Reading Room, Sonia Hope (the Information Librarian) explained that the library had moved to its present site in 2002. As the building is listed, they have had to keep the front façade of an old washhouse, but were able to purpose-build a library behind it. The library was originally set up back in 1926 to provide information for middle-class suffragettes, and was called the Fawcett Library throughout the mid 20th century, but it is now open to anyone interested in women’s history in the UK.
We discussed the library’s purpose and reader base, as well as the challenges of widening access and promoting their amazing collections. A tour of the reading room showed us that, as well as about thirty places for studying, there are some open-access journals in one room and an open access book collection in another. Next we went to the upstairs storage vault, where the library keeps many of its 300 archival collections, any books that are fragile and items like newspaper cuttings and pamphlets.
The Women’s Library is also a government recognised museum. Down in the basement, (along with more archives) the museum collections are kept, which include original suffrage banners, as well as trays of badges proclaiming slogans such as: “Women’s place is in the House… of Commons!” As everything was purpose-built for library and museum materials, the vaults are kept at a scientifically regulated cool temperature, the lights are motion-sensitive and everything still seems very new. It was certainly refreshing to see a specialist library with such amazing storage resources.
The visit was extremely interesting - the library is one of international importance, the building was built expressly for the collection and there are not many libraries devoted entirely to the subject of women’s studies. I would definitely recommend anyone else to visit it.