“We want the council to recognise as everybody else has, the value of this place, and to invest in us, not to evict.”
The library, a unique literary archive of the Women’s Liberation Movement, is contesting a decision from the council to raise its rent from £12,000 to £30,000 by the beginning of March. Its online petition, which reached over 15,000 supporters before being handed in this Wednesday, called for the withdrawal of the eviction notice and asked the council to work with the library to implement a gradual increase in the rent.
Caroline Smith, 48, who is the library’s Writer in Residence, said the council refused to negotiate the terms of the lease. Carlone said:
“We are not funded, and this is a huge hiking rent. We worked really hard as a collective to think what strategies we could take on board to do the increase. But they didn’t want to negotiate.”
The notice was given in December, where the Council warned that it would charge an additional £18,000 on top of the £12,000 service charge and the peppercorn rent the library was already paying.
Councillor Michael Situ responded to the appeal, stating: “Whilst we recognise and appreciate the fantastic work done by the library, we have a very clear duty to ensure (…) that we are being fair to other tenants who are paying open-market rent. 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.”
However, Caroline said that the Council has not yet presented any sort of help in finding new premises, nor has it spoken about it directly with the library staff.
“They have been very clear in wanting us to leave,” she said. “It is part of a broader trend, to close down libraries and open up more market driven properties, businesses… I just think it is so short-sighted.”
“Our future generation will have very lovely views overlooking London and beautiful gym bodies, but any knowledge and cultural identity, any outstanding critical look of history will be erased.”
The Feminist Library houses over 7,000 books and 1500 periodical titles from all around the world, as well as an extensive collection of pamphlets, papers, posters and ephemera. It has been an important community hub for international researchers and it is an affordable meeting space for different groups to work.
For that reason, it is gaining support from a diverse crowd on Twitter, including the Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) February 18, 2016
As Caroline pointed out, it stands out for providing unique resources that would usually be available in academic institutions, which not everyone has the opportunity to access, and also providing training for women who can use those skills for their professional lives.
“As we’re volunteer-run, it is very much about creating communities, sharing knowledge and we are part of a scheme that trained people in librarianship, and that kind of training has proved valuable to some of the women who have gone out and now are doing post-doctoral work, or are now working in institutions like the British Library.
“That kind of triple effect that happened over the years is very hard to quantify and you can’t put a sum of money on it.”
The past years have seen several public amenities, including libraries, closed down. Campaigners now predict over 1,000 libraries will have been closed by 2016.
Since the petition was launched, Southwark Council has agreed to extend the deadline until the end of April. To help the feminist library you can donate to their emergency fund.