When I found the Feminist Library of London on the directory website London Libraries, I immediately knew that I wanted to visit it on my own. I didn't really know what to expect; I knew that it was only open on Saturdays from 11 pm - 5 pm or by appointment, but I hadn't surmised how dire their financial situation was. Located at the end of Waterloo Rd., not that far from our flat, was a treasure trove hidden in a dilapidated building.
The sign itself indicated that the groups housed in this building were mostly historically marginalized groups (not sure what the London School of Law was doing there - the building isn't huge). I pressed the button labeled Feminist Library on the side of the door, and Jenn, Kendra and I waited a moment to be buzzed in. Natasha, a volunteer, met us at the front and led us upstairs. The library consisted of about four rooms, total, but the collection is far from small: there are about 7,500 nonfiction books and 2,500 fiction books, 1,500 periodical titles, and 500 poetry publications, not to mention zines and thousands of pamphlets. The collection is archival in nature--it is not a lending library--and the dates range from 1900-present day; the collection's strength lies in the Women's Liberation Movement and women's history, but there is an incredible amount of variety in subject matter. Their main subjects include: History, Education, Politics, Health, Crimes Against Women (includes violence against women), Sexuality, Lifestyles, Work, Law and Rights, Communications and Mass Media, Arts, Leisure, Sport, Women Travellers, and Society, Customs, and Beliefs.
They do not have an online catalogue (although according to their March 2009 newsletter, they are working on it), but a card catalogue, and the cataloging system it is a non-patriarchal system of their own creation. In the past couple of years they been holding cataloging sessions for volunteers. Speaking of volunteers, the entire staff is voluntary; there are a few librarians and library students within the volunteers. They are primarily funded by personal donations. For the past 2 1/2 years, the focus of the library has been on keeping the collection alive, and finding a more suitable place for all of the irreplaceable materials, even if it means splitting the collection (a last resort).
One of my favourite periodical titles was "Bitches, Witches, and Dykes," a publication from New Zealand. I also enjoyed the following book:
I know they have so many treasures worth exploring; I wish I could've spent more time there. I absolutely loved the posters they had hanging on the walls, and know that there are many more amazing posters in the collection.
The Feminist Library is an incredible resource, an irreplaceable historical gem; even if the future of the collection means separation, I hope each piece is adequately preserved and cared for.
For more information, and to make a donation to this incredible resource: