Fawcett turned full on

July 7, 1995

On August 11 1994 the world-famous Fawcett Library, in the basement of London Guildhall University's Calcutta House, came within four minutes of "major mould".

Heavy rainfall that stopped tube trains and flooded much of London that day rushed into this unique library on women's issues. If staff had not been so quick to remove and air documents, the whole collection would have been lost.

For Christine Wise, who had joined London Guildhall six months earlier as the Fawcett development librarian, the experience was "one of the worst a librarian can face". But working alongside Maureen Castens, Guildhall University's chief librarian, she was able to snatch victory from the watery jaws of defeat.

Last Friday the library was formally re-opened by Betty Boothroyd, speaker of the House of Commons. Guests celebrated surrounded by banners from the big suffragette march of 1908.

The library has recently received Pounds 16,000 from the Corporation of London education committee for three projects - a survey of users, the production of two resource guides for the curriculum and research needs of school and adult education students, and an exhibitions materials resource bank.

The British Library has also given Pounds 4,970 for the conservation of 250 photographs, many of which were donated by individual members of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.

But the big news for the library was the decision by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to award the library a total of Pounds 255,000 under its programme for specialised research collections in the humanities, following the recommendations of the Follett report on library provision.

About a fifth of this money will go on cataloguing, conserving and microfilming of much of the Josephine Butler Society Library, the largest special collection in the Fawcett Library. This is the library of the society named after Josephine Butler, a feminist of the second half of the 19th century, most remembered for her leadership of the campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts. The remaining Pounds 200,000 will be spent on improving general reader access to the collections, in particular the staff salaries that need to be paid if the library is to open longer hours.

The library may also find itself a new home. Obviously cramped in its basement, there are plans to provide it with more spacious accommodation on a new site. It holds women's biographies and autobiographies and magazines, the papers, pamphlets, flyers and publications from the early suffragette movements as well as 50 banners - the biggest collection outside the trade union movement.

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