Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Feminist Library

The Feminist Library is tucked away in a building that barely housed its collection. The small library is run by volunteers but according to the volunteer that day, they have a very good reputation. According to a publication by the Friends of the Library, they are recognized as "the most significant library of contemporary feminist material in England". Although the physical space is small, the collection was vast. The atmosphere felt friendly and informal. It did not feel like a typical library to me, it was more like a little book shop down a side street. There were three large rooms, full to the brim with books, magazines, posters and pamphlets. Sadly, their collection is on the verge of being split up because the library-you guessed it, can not get funding. For a very special, 'special library', that will be a sad day.

The picture below is an example of a 'zine' or magazine I found at the library. It is aimed at children, more specifically girls. It is sending the message of equality and imploring girls to look at themselves in a different light. Once they achieve this others will perceive them in a different way and the cycle of sexual discrimination can end. This magazine was written by children, for children, and had a very positive, strong message. I like how it played on the toys 'Bratz' for girls, and showed them how this is not a good way to be portrayed. I don't know of any kids in my life that play with these dolls so I never really thought about it, but now that I do, it seems so silly! Why would girls want to be viewed as a brat and valued only for their looks and fashion sense? What are we teaching this generation? This zine explores that concept and helps lead children to discover their own values.

One article that struck me was 'If Barbie was a Real Woman'. The article went on to describe all of the health issues Barbie would have because she is too skinny, too small and completely out of proportion. What message is this sending to young children growing up playing with these dolls? It may seem inconsequential because it is just a doll, but since being at the Museum of Childhood, I know that it is not just a doll. The article then goes on to ask children to draw their own version of Barbie-and give their thoughts on this concept. The magazine had many interesting stories and ideas.

It is interesting to see how a library with such great materials can not get funding to continue their work or even pay their staff. There is much to debate about a library at this stage. If these items are split up into different libraries, will the collection maintain it's intended message? Will another library hold these items in such high regard as the Feminist Library? On the other hand, if they go to a bigger library with more funding, perhaps the collection on whole can benefit from more exposure. The overall goal is to make these items more accessible to patrons, so maybe the public will have better usage of these great resources. Only the future will tell...

Currently, the libraries collection is jammed packed into rooms like the one pictured above. There were hand made labels and signs for everything. I could see this as being confusing and unorganized, but the staff seems to be able to find things when they need them! Why is space always an issue for libraries?

They do not have a website, but if you are in London you can visit them at 5 Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth London, SE1 7XW. Call ahead-remember they may split the collection and not even exist in the near future!

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