London’s Feminist Library Lives
A successful crowdfunding campaign saved the institution from closure and is financing its move to a new space
Founded by female academics in 1975, the Feminist Library boasts a collection of more than 7,000 books, 1,500 periodicals, and reams of pamphlets and assorted ephemera. Of these texts, about 5,000 are non-fiction books dating from 1900 to the present, while 2,500 are works of fiction from all over the world. Five hundred publications are dedicated to poetry, including that of both self-published and widely acclaimed poets.
Although the London-based library’s main purpose is to act as a storehouse for collective feminist knowledge, it also functions as a space where “researchers, activists and interested members of the public can learn about and make feminist history.” In pursuit of this mission, the library hosts community events such as book club meetings, arts and wellbeing activities, and regular social, cultural and educational workshops.
But financial woes have long plagued the institution, and the most recent threatened to shutter the library for good. Now, Alison Flood reports for the Guardian, a successful crowdfunding campaign triggered by the impending redevelopment of the archive’s current venue has not only saved the beloved institution from permanent closure, but also financed its move to a new home in London's Peckham neighborhood.
To date, more than 800 individuals have contributed £36,242, or roughly $46,232 USD, to the Feminist Library's Crowdfunder campaign, surpassing the archive’s initial goal of £30,000. The team has since bumped its fundraising goal to £65,000 to cover the entirety of costs associated with the move, as well as the development of the new space.
The library is staffed entirely by volunteers who, according to the crowdfunding page, have kept the chronically underfunded library afloat among a “variety of crises and uncertainties.”
Over the course of its 44-year history, the Feminist Library has called four different buildings home. The latest—a cozy multi-room space on Southwark’s Westminster Bridge Road—hosted the archive for the bulk of its existence, some three decades, but Londonist reports the venue has caused its fair share of problems.
From 2003 to 2007, a series of rent hikes left the library in a “state of constant emergency,” though public support and renewed calls for volunteers ultimately saved it from closure. In 2016, the local Southwark council threatened to close down the library unless it agreed to an immediate increase in rent from £12,000 to £30,000, but again, the support of 16,000 petitioners and success of a “read-in” protest saved the group from eviction.
This latest round of fundraising stems from the Westminster building’s scheduled redevelopment, which is set to begin in the spring. Although the council offered the library a new home in the Sojourner Truth Community Centre, relocation could not have happened without the crowd-contributed funds.
The library is now hoping to procure £14,000 in online donations to meet its £65,000 goal. (According to an update on the Crowdfunder portal, that number takes into account offline donations not reflected on the fundraising page.) These additional funds will go toward expenses such as archival storage, buying blackout curtains, painting and decorating.
In an interview with the Bookseller’s Heloise Wood, fundraising coordinator Magda Oldziejewska says the library is seeking more volunteers to help organize its growing collections, including some 4,000 items that have yet to be officially added to the archive’s catalogue.
If all goes according to plan, the revamped archive will open its doors on March 14, the organization’s 44th birthday.