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.
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.
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.