Shelf protection

October 11, 2012

It is indeed sad that the successful bid by the London School of Economics to take over the Women's Library does not include the purpose-designed building in Old Castle Street, Whitechapel, currently managed by London Metropolitan University ("LSE is fine, but it's not a room of their own", News, 4 October). But what are the alternatives?

London Met has said that it cannot afford to continue paying the £500,000 annual cost of running the library, and given the current economic situation in higher education, few universities would contemplate taking on such an expense, especially if they were operating the building at a distance. As far as I am aware, London Met initially contacted the British Library about taking on the archive and the reply was negative. It then cast its net wider to attract other bidders. All the bids save one, that submitted by the LSE, were withdrawn. Turning down that bid would have left the Women's Library limited to opening just one day a week and slowly dying from a thousand cuts.

The current situation, while not ideal, offers all supporters of the Women's Library hope for the future. The LSE will take on the staff at Old Castle Street, look after the library's collections (including its various artefacts, such as a bust of Victorian feminist Josephine Butler and suffrage banners and badges), increase access hours, provide additional resources for expansion, and link up with other major holdings in women's history. The university is also in a central London location that is accessible to national and international scholars - as well as the public.

I am confident that the LSE, which already runs an excellent library service, will cherish and look after this unique, irreplaceable collection. And perhaps one day in the future of this library, originally founded in 1926, we may once again have another building of our own.

June Purvis, School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies, University of Portsmouth

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