MPs call on London Met to keep Women’s Library

Pic: Diamond Geyser

Tower Hamlets MPs and councillors have joined campaign groups in their fight against plans to transfer the Women’s Library in Aldgate to the London School of Economics in central London.

The library has the largest collection of women’s history resources in the UK and has been housed in a purpose-built location on Old Castle Street since 2002.

In March the London Metropolitan University announced it no longer had the £500,000 a year funds to maintain the collection and a bid by the LSE to become custodians of the library was approved by a selection committee on September 27.

The LSE will house the collections in the Lionel Robbins building in central London.

However, the selection process that led to the success of LSE’s bid has undergone criticisms by local politicians and campaigners for its lack of transparency and insufficient consideration of public opinion.

Rushanara Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, has called for the selection process to be re-opened in a letter to Vice-Chancellor of London Met, Professor Malcom Gillies. The letter was signed by 12 other MPs and councillors.

It said: “Given that the LSE bid was the only offer on the table when the Board of Governors took its final decision, we would encourage you to re-open the selection process, which we believe may have been conducted without sufficient consultation of the public, staff or library users.

“We believe that a re-opening of this process could provide enough time for institutions to come forward with bids which incorporate keeping the library open in East London, recognising its exceptional status as the oldest and largest collection of women’s history in the UK.”

The letter also urged to keep the Women’s Library in Tower Hamlets: ‘Its current home in East London encompasses purpose-designed collections storage, education and exhibition space, and excellent reading room facilities.

“A rare monument to women’s lives, learning and scholarship designed by a woman architect, it was purpose-built on the site of an old Wash House off Petticoat Lane to provide safe housing for its unique collections, open up access to the public, and contribute to the regeneration of Tower Hamlets.”

On Tuesday EastLondonLines were told that the MP had not yet received a reply from Gillies.

The Save the Women’s Library Campaign, which was started by London Met UNISON and is led by members of the library, has asked the LSE to pause the transfer process in order to explore other funding options that could keep the library in Tower Hamlets.

The group have also called for negotiations with new sponsors to be “open, transparent and consultative of staff and other stakeholders,” and are campaigning to “keep the collection intact” and for the library to “retain its expert staff”.

After the success of the LSE’s bid, Elizabeth Chapman, Director of Library Services at LSE, said: “I am delighted LSE has been chosen to provide a secure home and future for the Women’s Library.

“This is a truly inspiring collection of women’s history that deserves to be maintained and made accessible for future generations and we look forward to welcoming all who are interested in this fine collection to the Women’s Library at LSE in the future.”

The library was founded in 1926 by as the London Society for Women’s Service and was led by suffragist Millicent Fawcett.  The collection contains books, pamphlets, periodicals, zines, artist books, audio-visuals, personal and organisational papers, objects, textiles and visual materials.

To find out more about the library visit here.

You can follow the Save the Women’s Library Campaign on Twitter @savetwl or on their website.

The letter from MP Rushanara Ali dated 18 October 2012 can be found here.

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