Today I took advantage of one of our scheduled research days to take another visit to The Women’s Library @ LSE (as the name of the collection is often stylized). I have made a few trips to the LSE Library so far. Today I was ready to view some of the archival materials themselves, as so far I have been using mostly secondary and open stacks materials (that is, materials that one does not have to request and view in the Women’s Library Reading Room), to gain some context for what I needed to see in the archive. But first, this morning I had a meeting with the project manager of the Women’s Library, Anna Towlson. Anna was incredibly generous with her time and knowledge, and I felt very lucky to have this opportunity to meet with her in person. It also gave me a lot to think about for my research paper!
Following our meeting, I went upstairs to the Women’s Library Reading Room, to take a look at the materials I had submitted a request to view a couple of days ago. Anna had been offering me assistance via email to navigate the archival finding aids (as that was quite a new experience for me!), and to identify items that would be of particular interest for my research. I was looking for materials relating to the administration, collection development, and history of the Women’s Library. I really enjoyed the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes look at the library that I have been reading so much about, by reading the administrative files in the archive. It is interesting to see what has and has not changed about running a library in the almost 100 years since the Women’s Library was founded. I felt very close to the library staff throughout this long history, as I could relate to many of their concerns and experiences.
Another important resource for me has been the exhibition that is currently taking place this summer, located just to the left of the entranceway to the LSE Library. It features items from the Women’s Library collection alongside historic items from UK gay liberation and peace campaigns, which were already in the LSE Library’s archives. The exhibition is just one of the ways that LSE is making sure people are aware of The Women’s Library, and also serves to show how the collection fits in with other collections already at LSE. LSE is clearly committed to their new acquisition, by proudly displaying it in the entrance. The exhibition was my first encounter with actual items from the Women’s Library archive, and gave me a good sense of what kinds of items are part of the collection.
I have been enjoying this opportunity to work in a UK library and to research using primary source materials. I find that in simply accessing the Women’s Library collections I have been learning a lot. Reading about the actual people who have been caretakers of this library, seeing items from the collection, and working in the library itself as a reader has fuelled my passion for writing about this library in my research paper!