Precarious ‘nature’ of women’s space and history

It never fails to surprise me, regardless of how many times I’ve seen it, just how precarious the space for women and women’s history seems to be. Every time, it appears to have rooted itself in a little bit of more stable ground, it turns to shifting sands quicker than it set roots. Or so the story goes.

With the recent news from London’s Feminist Library, about it getting access to a suitable home, stable for at least quarter of century, hope seems to be the word of the day. Hope for a lasting change. Hope that the vicious circle that seemed to be the path of women’s history will be broken. Hope for a brighter, more feminist future.

The Feminist Library has been around for 43 years, but has never had a both stable and fit for purpose home. It has been in the same location for some 32 years, and yet, for much of that time, has had to fight unsustainable rent increases, threats of eviction, not to mention against the element – at one point, the collection itself was threatened by flooding and severe damp.

What is even more disheartening is that the Library still counts itself one of the ‘lucky’ ones in London! How is that, you might ask?

It takes some digging into the feminist history of London to discover that spaces such as the Feminist Library used to be much more common, during the era of its birth – the second wave. In fact, the Feminist Library shared nearly all of its previous spaces with 3 of these – Sisterwrite Bookshop, the Spare Rib and A Woman’s Place. All of these, and more, organisations provided vital resources for the feminist community, including meeting space. But the Feminist Library is now the only one of its kind in London. (Read more about this in my earlier blog here).

Summer Benefit 2016 at the current space occupied by the Feminist Library
Summer Benefit 2016 at the current space occupied by the Feminist Library, photo courtesy of Library’s Eva Megias

The Feminist Library is a buzzing hub for the feminist movement, and one of only a handful of its kind left, across the UK. It provides a space for women not just to do research and find out more about their own herstory, but also to meet other like-minded feminists and to talk and enjoy themselves in a non-sexist environment.

Yet, despite its unique and precious nature, the Feminist Library is hugely undervalued. It has survived most of its 43+ years (nearly 44 now!) nearly exclusively by the good will of supporters and volunteers. Hundreds of volunteers! Which is a statement to the commitment of feminist activists, archivists and librarians, but also, sadly, a reflection of how far our society still has to go.

It is now running, what is set to be a very successful crowdfunding campaign. But it shouldn’t have to. The amount of money that the Library is crowdfunding for is about the equivalent to a salary of a librarian elsewhere – and yet it is a matter of survival for the Feminist Library, because herstory is still seen as a non-essential, ‘nice-to-have’, supplementary part of history.

The Feminist Library shouldn’t be struggling. It should be celebrated as the home of women’s history that it is. Did you know that the Feminist Library holds, apart from its estimated 7,000-strong book collection, a collection of periodicals that are mostly not available online. Some 1,500 titles of them! And that’s not even to mention the archival collections, the posters, flyers, badges, totes, stickers, and other items that the Library has collected from the feminist movement as it was happening over the years.

One of the most, if not the most, extensive, comprehensive and unique independent collections of second wave material in the UK and internationally. And yet, it has to fight and beg for its survival…

Yet, the bright light at the end of this grim tunnel seems to be getting closer and closer now. The Feminist Library has reached almost 50% of its crowdfunding target now! – support it here and now and be a part of making a beautiful, fit for purpose, sustainable new home for the Feminist Library at last!:

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