Apr 24 2014

Developing the Women’s Library collection

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The Women’s Library collection contains over 60,000 books and pamphlets, 3,000 periodical titles and 5,000 museum objects making it the most comprehensive archive on the lives of women in the UK over the past 150 years. Following its arrival to LSE from London Metropolitan University in January 2013, this blog post looks at how the Library is investing in the development of this collection. 

Equal Pay for Equal Work petition

Maintaining the unique character of the Women’s Library collection has been a guiding principle for LSE Library’s Collection Development team at since it arrived here last year. Our main focus has been on political and social activism materials, and the campaigning aspects of the struggle for women’s rights, underpinned by a policy of collecting material from all historical periods and in all formats.

A key priority has been acquiring material in electronic format, which has the potential to reach a wider audience and offers a favourable cost-to-benefit ratio. Specifically, the Library intends to extend the profile of the collection’s contemporary materials, using LSE’s Digital Library platform to begin to capture born-digital material on feminism and women’s rights, expanding the progress already made with the launch of The Women’s Library @ LSE. The Library will continue to collect in all formats and grow the number of zines and ephemera, a strong part of the collection throughout its history.

The Women’s Library collection will be developed using the Library’s existing acquisitions budget, and we have been pursuing an active policy to acquire new material. Examples of new additions are the rare catalogue of the 1869 exhibition of the Society of Female Artists, and materials related to the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage, including a Report Book of suffragette organiser Kate Frye. At the other end of the spectrum, the Library has also bought the Gerritsen collection, a major international full-text database of over 4,700 publications on women’s history from 1543-1945.

In terms of collection policy the selection and purchase of monographs and secondary literature will continue to reflect all aspects of women’s lives and experience in the UK and Commonwealth, while being supplemented and supported by the wide ranging international collections acquired for LSE Library.

This is what a feminist looks like t-shirt, 2005


The arrival of the Women’s Library has almost doubled the size of LSE’s Archives and Special Collections and has acted as a catalyst for the review of how the cataloguing of all the Library’s material is managed. The Women’s Library catalogue has already been integrated with the current catalogue, and can be searched alongside all of the Library’s resources via our resource discovery tool. We will be implementing a new Library management and resource discovery system over the summer 2014; this will further improve the discoverability of all of the Library’s materials.

From the moment the Library signalled its interest in taking on the collection, LSE academics offered their active support as we successfully pursued our bid. This has manifested into significant interest from academic departments across the School as they begin to incorporate material from the collection into courses- the Economic History department is considering a new course featuring material from the collection, and the Gender Institute is in the final stages of developing an 18 lecture course, open to all second and third-year undergraduates, which will use the resources in the Library to explore the ‘woman question’ as it has been discussed and framed in the UK since the end of the 18th century. This is an early example of how the location of the collection in the LSE Library building and the integration of its catalogue will lead to greater use of the collection by LSE students.

The Library plans to increase its work with academics on incorporating our collections more closely into teaching. As part of the second phase of works associated with transfer of the Women’s Library, Teaching and Activity Room will open later this year where organisations, members of the public, students, school groups and others can interact with the Library’s collections.

Posted by: Posted on by Graham Camfield Tagged with: , , ,

Apr 23 2014

Case study: How LSE Library created an online exhibition for The Women’s Library collection

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Following the arrival of the Women’s Library collection in January 2013, The Women’s Library @ LSE online exhibition was the first major project to utilise LSE’s range of capabilities to showcase the collection. The exhibition, which launched on LSE’s Digital Library in September 2013, created a digital resource featuring 155 rare materials alongside 35 rare books as complete eBooks. A total of 309 items were made digitally accessible on the text-searchable platform, creating free access to the collection for audiences around the world.

The Digital Library was established in 2011, part of a wider Library strategy outlining a long-term commitment to providing a level of digital access to the Library’s collections that would equal existing print resources. One of the first projects launched was the fully text-searchable digitised versions of Beatrice Webb’s diaries, one of LSE’s co-founders. This was followed shortly afterwards by the digitisation of the entire run of The Beaver, the newspaper of LSE Student Union founded in 1949, in an important act to help preserve LSE’s heritage.


She Walks in Battledress, Auxiliary Territorial Service book, 1942.

The Digital Library then completed a number of smaller scale digital projects  before it embarked on a plan to create an online exhibition for the Women’s Library collection. The collection, which arrived at LSE from previous custodians London Metropolitan University in January 2013, is one of the oldest and most extensive collections of women’s history in Europe, with the wide variety of materials providing a rich basis for the online exhibition.

One of the core objectives of The Women’s Library @ LSE project was to bring a representative and accessible sample of the collection to a wider audience. The desired outcomes for the project were threefold: to act as a pathfinder to new audiences by increasing access to materials from the collection; to provide an opportunity to expand and grow the capabilities of the Library staff on a high-profile digital project; and, finally, to act as a precursor to future projects which analyse the Library’s collections on a deeper level.

Ed Fay, Digital Library Manager at the time of the launch of the exhibition, saw the project as an opportunity to demonstrate the evolution of the Digital Library’s online experience. ‘The attraction was presenting old material in a new way, and positioning The Women’s Library @ LSE within the Digital Library for the longer term. It also highlighted the potential for longer projects which investigate parts of the Library’s collection on a deeper level, harnessing the knowledge of our curators and archivists.’

Anna Towlson, Project Manager for The Women’s Library @ LSE, added that ‘the timeline is visually so much more exciting than searching or browsing content on a traditional catalogue, and you can also browse and discover content in lots of different ways.’

Indy Bhullar, Information Assistant at the Library, also agrees that a timeline is a natural fit for the collection. ‘The timeline reflects changing user habits. By adapting to innovations and opening up the possibilities of presentation, we were able to make the most of the collection; it is so broad and has the potential to be used in a number of interesting ways.’  Indy added that the timeline design also accommodated the ‘reframing of the collection, allowing the audience to get a better feel for the women’s movement through visual presentation. The way that it places both the contemporary and historic materials on an equal footing is important, as this will help challenge the perception that the collection is strongest in the suffragette era, when it is in fact much broader than that.’

Millicent Fawcett speaks at a rally, c1908. From The Women’s Library @ LSE

The first stage of the project involved the creation of a working group including academics, external digital humanities, women’s history experts, archivists, librarians, and those involved in outreach work at the Library. Roberta Marchesin, Digital Library Assistant, particularly enjoyed this stage of the project: ‘working with colleagues from a number of areas was challenging, but I found pooling our experience and expertise was very useful to bring together a meaningful collection and highlight the importance of the original materials.’

The working group began to select content individually, meeting regularly to confer and share ideas for submissions for the exhibition. Each of the materials that were eventually selected were required to have both a historical relevance to the project and work well with the aesthetic demands of online digital presentation. Heather Dawson, Academic Support Librarian, enjoyed the challenge of ‘working with the new material within the context of a new technology, sourcing visually interesting materials that would engage audiences online.’

The project began midway through the physical transfer of the collection to LSE Library in March 2013. Because the collections were being relocated during the project, digitisation work was completed at locations at both the Women’s Library’s former premises in Aldgate and later at LSE Library. A guiding principle during the digitisation process was the demand that the quality of the images should be of the highest standard, as the Library aimed to provide a digital alternative for the physical collections that would stand the test of time. Ellie Robinson, Assistant Archivist with responsibility for digital archives, was tasked with co-ordinating and managing the consistency and quality of the digital selections: ‘Ensuring that the quality was maintained while using such a large quantity of source material was a big task. I think many of those involved in the project team really thrived at being challenged to work with a new collection; integrating the variety of museum objects into a digital experience was a brand new area for many of us.’

When the digitisation process was complete, the task of applying materials to the online framework began.  To achieve this goal the project team developed a timeline widget, using a technique that was successfully developed during the digitisation of the Webb diaries to create a digital page turner for ebooks. Andrew Amato, Digital Library Developer, who was responsible for design implementation and enabling content on the project, said ‘I think this software allowed us to work with the source material in a novel and engaging way; as the project progressed it became clear that the timeline format was highly suitable for the material.’ The timeline was also search-optimised so that users can easily find items of interest, with each material featuring a description and context provided by the Library’s experts.

After testing and adjustments, the timeline was launched as planned in autumn 2013. Its conclusion was marked by a number of notable achievements- the Digital Library, already a well-used online resource for research, saw a 200% increase in visitors in the days following the launch. User responses were also highly positive, and the online exhibition has been cited as a potential template for an expanded digital profile for the Library in the future.

Digital Library Screen Shot 2 April 2014#

Screenshot of the The Digital Library homepage

Ed Fay stresses that The Women’s Library @ LSE should not be viewed in isolation, rather an addition to the physical and catalogue-based resources available at the Library. The new Exhibition Space for The Women’s Library @ LSE scheduled due to open in autumn 2014 will increase the synergies and interactions between the Digital Library and the physical collection. Furthermore, the project will interact with the Library’s existing and future other digital projects, such as the Emily Wilding Davison Online Exhibition and Women’s Walks (due to launch later in 2014), as the Library continuously builds, develops and grows a comprehensive online presence for the Women’s Library @ LSE alongside its world-class social science collections.

Posted by: Posted on by Peter Carrol Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Apr 23 2014

What is Europe really thinking?

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The Central Library of the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union is not just the library with the longest name I’ve come across; it’s also home to a really useful resource for monitoring the work of the major European Think Tanks.

The Library’s Think Tank Reviews (TTR) is produced each month and is a digest of publications from some 180 European think tanks, giving you an insight into what policy wonks are taking from the political and socio-economic landscape of the European Union (It’s also taught me that the French for “perspectives” is regards croisés, but I’m betting you knew that already).

The TTRs are thematic, covering areas such as economics, justice and home affairs, energy, defence, and migration amongst others and is not just restricted to purely EU issues; it also takes a global perspective.

The latest TTR is a special issue mark the 2014 EU-US Summit which took place in March.  The issue brings together perspectives from both sides of the Atlantic on the relationship between the EU and the US.

Highlights include:

You can subscribe to the TTRs from the Central Library’s blog and they’ll deliver them to your inbox.

While I have your attention (I do have your attention, right?), you might not be aware that the LSE Library is part of the Europe-wide network of European Documentation Centres (EDC) and is one of just two in London. As an EDC we are ideally placed to help you negotiate the somewhat complex and convoluted routes into EU information, so if you would like to know more about what information is out there, want to attend a training course on intergovernmental information or you have a specific research question, do let me know.

Posted by: Posted on by Tara-Lee Platt Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Apr 22 2014

Easter – a social science and history perspective

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To celebrate the Easter period here are some recommended resources for social science research.

Easter Traditions

Since its origins, Easter has been a time of celebration and feasting and there are many different folklore traditions associated with it .

Christian traditions 

Easter is of course an important date in the Christian Church.

  • The Church of England website has extracts  from Easter prayers and the gospels
  • The Vatican website leaflets, videos and photographs relating to the 2013 services.
  • The National Gallery has a special online feature which explores the story of Easter through nine paintings
  • Old Pathe news films trace a social history of religious services at Easter as well as secular activity such as these Easter hat parades from Luton in 1955.
  • The LSE has also recently subscribed to the Grand Tour database which has letters and accounts from British travellers in Europe during the 18th/19th Centuries. One of the topics they frequently commented on were the different religious customs in Catholic Europe. For example in 1760 John Kesler commented disparagingly  on the Good Friday practice of scourging  ’The protestants who had accidentally entered into this chapel, were not displeased with the darkness, being little inclined to shew their devotion in lacerating their bodies; however, they thought it adviseable not to make themselves known’. (Travels through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy and Lorrain. Volume 2 , 1760, p.122)

Is Easter still a religious occasion?

  • For along time there have been concerns about increasing secularisation and the commercialisation of Easter. In the Daily Mail in  April 1963 Jus Holland, asked   “Are the Producers Taking over from the Parsons?” questioning whether TV and radio was now more popular than attending church at Easter.

Here are some resources for considering the role and importance of the Church in the 21st Century.

Posted by: Posted on by Heather Dawson Tagged with: , ,

Apr 22 2014

What do you think of working women?

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What do you think of working women?

This was a self-test set for readers by Dorcas Campbell, in her book Careers for Women in Banking and Finance which was published in 1944 and is now available in the HeinOnline Women and the Law collection for LSE staff and students

Among the questions she asks are: Do you think women tellers are  preferable because they will marry and not require a pension? Or men because they will stay on the job forever!

Dorcas Campbell was the first woman vice president of the East River Savings Bank  and the purpose of the book was to raise awareness of discrimination faced by women and to offer them guidance on progressing in the industry. As she states on page 19.

‘ Are woman’s accomplishments in the banking world today a reflection of her capacity and will to do? Is it an indictment of financial institutions that she has not achieved even more?

She felt that women were particularly suited to certain aspects of banking careers. On page 22 she writes ‘With their innate interest in members of the human race, they are a natural in banking, which abounds in human relations, and is alive with problems requiring under-standing services and imagination’.
Although on the same page she later adds ‘When women overcome their handicap of pettiness about office details-and it is acknowledged at once that painstaking accuracy of detail is one of their greatest assets-they will out-strip men in similar work.’

This is just one of the full text books on the history of women’s employment which can be accessed via the new service. Others include:

Women in Banking: A History of the National Association of Bank Women. Published by Public Affairs Press, 1959.

They offer a good supplement to a number of archive collections which are now available in the Womens@Library at LSE.

For a comparison with the situation of 21st century women in banking consider the remarks made recently by the HSBC chief executive that the ‘banking industry remains ‘pale, male and stale’.  And look for recent research by consulting the websites of these groups.

Of course the women and the law collection is not primarily about banking it also contains the full text of the History of Woman Suffrage in United States (1881-1922). This work was  published in six volumes and provides a history of women’s suffrage in the United States from the years 1848 to 1922. It was written by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, leaders of the National Woman Suffrage. Association.

There are also examples of early pamphlets both for and against women’s suffrage.For instance : Why Women Do Not Want the Ballot   Woman Suffrage by Three Massachusetts Women (1894) and Susan B. Anthony & United States, An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the Charge of Illegal Voting, at the Presidential Election in Nov., 1872, and on the Trial of Beverly W. Jones, Edwin T. Marsh and William B. Hall (1874) Indictment against Susan B. Anthony.

There are also 70 titles from the 70 titles from Emory University Law School’s Feminism and Legal Theory Project.

All materials can be searched and accessed via the main HeinOnline database .

Posted by: Posted on by Heather Dawson Tagged with: , ,