Wednesday, 18 July 2012

CILIP in London: Women's Library

On 4th July 2012 I went to a CILIP in London talk by Dianne Shepherd, the Information Librarian at the Women's Library. The talk was about a mixture of professional issues, what the library does and what her job is like, and a bit about the current situation over the future of the Women's Library.

I hadn't been to any CILIP branch events before, despite finishing my chartership over three years ago. In previous areas where I've lived (East Midlands and Thames Valley) they were hard to get to as there was quite a lot of travel involved, but it turned out CILIP in London's talks are only 15 minutes walk from where I work, and timed to make it easy to go to them after work.

Dianne described the history and background of the Women's Library collections. The collection is Designated and documents every aspect of women's lives, mainly in this country, although there is some material from overseas. It was originally founded in 1926 by the suffragist, Millicent Fawcett, with the name Library of the London Society for Women's Service. By 1953 it was known as the Fawcett Library, and it moved to City Polytechnic, (which was later known as London Guildhall University, and which is now part of London Metropolitan University). A Heritage Lottery Fund grant meant the library could move to purpose-built accommodation in 2002. I visited there last year, with the CILIP Library & Information History Group, before the threat of closure was announced.

Various other collections were acquired, including the Cavendish Bentinck Library (in 1931) and the Josephine Butler Society Library. Donations are still accepted now (donations information is here). The library has become a very well-used collection, starting out with only 5 readers a day in 2002 and increasing to over 4,000 visits in total in 2011, and over 14,000 enquiries. This is testament both to the excellent reader facilities they now have there, reader development schemes and also a lot of work that has been done on cataloguing the collections to make them accessible (catalogues of the library, as well as archive and museum are available here).

The staff are divided into the Collections team (librarians, library assistants and an archivist) who create documentation, catalogue and conserve the collections, run the reading room and look after acquisitions (their Collection Development Policy is here) and Events staff (a learning co-ordinator and events co-ordinator) who organise study days and children's activities. Volunteers are used to undertake tasks which professional staff don't have time for and are always professionally managed and supervised.

And as for the future? Well, London Metropolitan University announced in March that the Women's Library would need to find a new custodian. Support would be provided until Christmas 2012, after which the service would be cut to one day a week opening. The current situation (July 2012) is that formal bids have been tendered and an announcement will be made by the end of September over where the library will go and what will happen to it. The list of bidders is here. You can keep up to date with the campaign to save the Women's Library on this blog.

I took away a lot of ideas from this talk. It was useful to pick up hints and tips on managing a large cataloguing backlog, as well as promoting your collections, dealing with donations and increasing the number of readers. I was also very pleased to learn that there have been a number of bidders interested in taking on the collections, as it would be awful if such a well-used and vital collection were to be split up or become less accessible.

A nice surprise right at the end was that food is provided at CILIP in London talks too! A good way to chat and network with other professionals. I'll definitely be looking out for more of these events in the future.

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