Save Our Unique Libraries
by Thea Lenarduzzi
Since, just under a year ago, we pounded the pavements (of the TLS office) to reveal how people (in the TLS office) had been nurtured by their local libraries, the threat to our institutions has not lessened. Cuts and closures have increased. Imagine, if you will, a beast of almighty height and girth, with tentacles reaching into every corner of every library and archive; add to its tentacles sharp secateurs to sever financial lifelines . . . .
The Women’s Library in East London is one of the latest to have its funding, from the London Metropolitan University, cut. Unless it is able to secure alternative funding by the end of the year, it will have to reduce its opening hours from five days a week to one. Its unique collection – which includes books (dating back to the sixteenth century), feminst magazines, pamphlets, and oddities – could be dispersed across other libraries, with limited access. (A public meeting to discuss this will take place tomorrow.)
Does a similar fate await the other libraries we have at times, perhaps, taken for granted, such as – to pluck at random – Westminster Central Music Library? Stuart Hall Library, whose visual arts collection includes more than 4,000 exhibition catalogues from around the world? Or the Saison Poetry Library on Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall? (Their collection dates back to 1912; and I once found an unopened tube of fruit pastilles while searching for David Jones’s and Elizabeth Haines’s Sketch Book from the Somme).
These are just a few of the more unusual libraries that contribute to London’s cultural resources. But the cuts are, of course, nationwide (as this map shows: http://libraries.fromconcentrate.net/ ) and, given the “current economic climate” (etc, etc), one can only assume, worldwide. Is it time for a list of endangered libraries and, if so, which libraries should be on it?
History suggests an acronym might concentrate support. I would suggest S.O.U.L but it seems Chicago’s book lovers beat me to it with “Save Our Urban Libraries”. How about we make it “Save Our Unique Libraries” instead and join forces?