Reading at the Feminist Library

London Feminist Library to open new Peckham home after being saved from closure

By Florence Leslie
January 22 2020, 10.30

London’s Feminist Library is holding its re-opening party in Peckham this January after a crowdfunding campaign raised thousands to rescue it from closure.

Based in Lambeth for 44 years, the archive faced shutting permanently after Southwark Council increased its rent from £12,000 to £30,000 a year, and planed to redevelop the premise into offices.

The library now has a 25-year lease in its new location at Sojourner Truth Community Centre which will open its doors in January 31.

Trustee Patrizia di Bello said: “The Trustees have so many people to thank.

“Their support in cash, in-kind, in reproductive, intellectual and emotional labour, has enabled us to keep open and to move to a wonderful new location where the Feminist Library can continue to thrive.”

Over 5,000 books, periodicals and zines (self-published magazines) in arts, politics, health and women’s history comprise the collection.

According to data released by the Charted Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) on 6 December 2019, 773 libraries have closed since 2010 and 35 shut last year.

CIPFA CEO Rob Whiteman said while there was a small uptick in public spending on libraries last year, the data shows a sustained trend in which lower priority services, like libraries, are cut or redesigned. 

Feminist Library financial officer Rose Sinclair, 37, said: “There’s sort of a scramble amongst the survivors to adopt the books so they don’t just get lost.”

Ms Sinclair added if the Feminist Library were told to evacuate at short notice the archive of women’s history would have ended up in “bin liners and boxes” in volunteers’ homes and there may not have been another archive in the UK big enough to absorb the collection.

She said when the Women’s Health library closed, the collection was too big to absorb by the Feminist Library and was stored until it was taken on by the Wellcome Collection in Euston, one of the largest medical history libraries in the world. 

Ms Sinclair said she began volunteering after university and felt ‘woken up’ by books about women’s history, such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, but had nobody to discuss them with.

She explained that anyone can come in off the street to read and not part with a penny at the Feminist Library.

Describing the community, she said: “We had this big cataloguing drive during the period we were closed and had five volunteers or so that formed really tight knit groups.

“Relationships come out of it which is really lovely.”

BOOK BOUND: Volunteers unpack more than 5,000 books

Volunteer Biddy Briggs, 28, said: “It’s overwhelmingly moving when you look at how people have documented the amazing things that have happened in women’s literature, rights and politics, and how carefully when so many people have kept the records of it.

“You feel like you’re an active part of history and can look at all the books together over time and trace it as a journey for the library and for women’s writing and activism.”

The library has held activist events since it opened as The Women’s Research and Resources centre in 1975, during the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Author and journalist Zoë Fairbairns, who is reading at the opening, said: “There was a wonderful group of women scholars, teachers and researchers who were aware women often got left out of scholarship and wanted to rediscover women’s knowledge in various fields were looking for someone to look after the books and deal with enquiries.”

She said when she joined the library in the 1970s, it didn’t have a lot of money and one of her first jobs was to fundraise her own salay.

She described a huge mailing list of women, and some men, who were prepared to make large donations towards a centre for women’s studies. 

Ms Fairbairns added: “I hope it will continue indefinitely, as a centre for feminist scholarship, feminist knowledge and feminist activism.”

“I think the word feminist is an assertion that there is still a power struggle going on between patriarchy, which is male privilege and women and, as feminists, we set ourselves up in opposition to that.”

Tickets for the opening parties at Sojourner Truth Community Centre, Peckham on Friday 31 Jan and Saturday 1 Feb are available at

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