London's Feminist Library threatened with closure

London's Feminist Library threatened with closure

Campaigners are rallying to save London’s Feminist Library which is being threatened with eviction as the council plans to almost triple its rent.

The library, an extensive archive of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, has been housed on Westminster Bridge Road in London for 30 years. The library has said Southwark council is threatening to close it down unless it agrees to an immediate increase in its rent, the Guardian has reported.

The council intends to increase the rent from £12,000 to £30,000 a year.

The library launched a petition on Wednesday (17th February) calling on the council to withdraw its notice to evict on 1st March, the first day of Women’s History Month, and to negotiate to “gradually implement the proposed threefold rent increase”. The petition has more than 9,900 supporters.

Dr Laura Schwartz, associate professor of modern British history at the University of Warwick, said that the Library is a "wonderful cultural resource" that "needs to be defended at all costs."

"Generations of my students have used it for their academic research, as well as informing themselves about the continued oppression of women in our society and how to fight against it," Schwartz said. “The library is now the only archive in London where a wide array of feminist publications are truly accessible to the general public and available on the open shelves. It also provides one of the few spaces in central London where women and feminist activists can come together to meet and organise for a better world. If the Feminist Library is evicted from its current premises, Southwark council will not only be guilty of cultural vandalism but also of silencing women.”

The library, a volunteer-led charity, is looking for a new permanent home, and is asking for donations to help with this. The search began last year, but Una Byrne, who has been volunteering at the library for nearly 11 years, told the Guardian that “with affordable, viable properties in London in extremely short supply, the library has thus far been unable to find suitable premises. It is therefore crucial that the library be able to stay in its current location, until the money can be raised to move”.

Councillor Michael Situ of Southwark responded: “Whilst we recognise and appreciate the fantastic work done by the library, we have a very clear duty to ensure our assets are being managed responsibly and fairly, and that we are being fair to other tenants who are paying open-market rent. We have offered the Feminist Library a new lease with rent levels that reflect what other organisations in the building are paying. We have also given the library the time to find alternative premises, and will continue to help them find an alternative location if we can, but we are unable to subsidise their rent.”

The council added that “as a gesture of goodwill” it has extended the period within which the library will need to make a decision until 30 April.