Recently The Women’s Library hosted the annual Fawcett Lecture, presented by Sandi Toksvig. Following Sandi’s enlightening and suitably humorous take on the topic of Post-Feminism, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. One of the last of these questions was about the perceived current lack of outright and outspoken feminist and women centered perspectives in the mainstream media. Where were the campaigners and contemporary figureheads for the next generation/wave if they were not present or made visible by television, radio and newspapers? While the truth is certainly more complicated than just saying “Online”, a definite case can be made to show how much of the debate, discussion and dissemination that shapes current feminism exists and occurs online. Not exclusively but increasingly and meaningfully, traditional networks and face-to-face communication are being supported by social networking, blogging and e-zine culture.
The question pertinent to organisations such as The Women’s Library which are predicated on the notion of celebrating and more relevantly recording women’s lives is just how to collect and record things as traditionally intangible and ephemeral as webpages? In 2004 The British Library began its UK Web Archive as an attempt to provide a solution to ‘ a potential “digital black hole”‘. The Web Archive exists in a similar manner to all archives which preserve the records they contain for the use by current and future generations – only this time the records are all available to view 24/7 provided you have a stable enough internet collection and the hardware. And you don’t have to worry about only using pencils around them.
This Women’s Library is involved and responsible for researching and nominating websites which can be included as part of the Women’s Issues Special Collection. The Collection mirrors the existing collections of The Women’s Library and is guided by the library’s own Collection Development Policy. Many of the archives held at The Women’s Library are complemented by having their website preserved in this collection, such as the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. There are a range of UK websites that have been included such as women’s organisations and campaigns, research reports, government publications and statistics pertaining to women, personal sites of women, blogs (including this excellent one!) and women-focused e-zines; a total of 277 sites have so far been archived and are available to view (accurate at the time of writing).
Rather than being selected by British Library staff, the Women’s Issues Collection was initiated by Beverley Kemp, who was the Librarian at The Women’s Library. Beverley was the first external subject specialist to work with the British Library in this way. Following Beverley’s departure, the Collection continued to be developed by The Women’s Library, and as of 2010 several other institutions were emulating this collection (including Hampshire County Records Office and The Library of the Society of Friends (Quakers).
Currently we are seeking to continue building the collection and push the total numbers upwards. During this time of cuts and the impact that this is having on women’s organisations it is even more important to keep some sort of record of what has been created and the broad spectrum of women’s activism. There are a range of sites which we will be submitting for inclusion into the project, which have been gathered with the help of our staff, volunteers and interns. However, the World Wide Web is pretty big and there are a lot more of you who are familiar with potentially many more web pages that we may have missed and which may well be worth including. So in the spirit of collective willing and in celebration of recording contemporary women’s lives feel free to send/forward/email/tweet/facebook your suggested sites to us. For the more ‘Vinyl’ of you we still have telephone lines and a physical location.
Also, given that it is Women’s History Month, it would be remiss not to mention a project that The Women’s Library has been involved in (involving some of the WHN list members). It’s called the Fragen Project and has been carried out in conjunction with women’s libraries, archives and other organisations in 29 other European countries, collecting together and digitising some of the key European feminist texts published since the 1960s. Working closely with external partners including Anna Davin, Avril Rolph, Heidi Mirza, Mary Kennedy, and Red Chidgey, we managed to get a long and short list of potential titles and from this we successfully negotiated permissions to put forward the following 6 items to be digitised from the UK:
1) Women’s Liberation and the New Politics / Sheila Rowbotham (1969)
2) Conditions of Illusion: papers from the Women’s Movement / ed. Sandra Allen, Lee Sanders & Jan Willis (1974)
3) ‘Challenging Imperial Feminism’ Feminist Review Special Issue, ‘Many Voices one Chant’, No.17, July: 3-19. / Valerie Amos, V and Pratibha Parmar (1984)
4) The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain / Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe (1985)
5) Once a feminist: stories of a generation / Michelene Wandor (1990)
6) Black British Feminism; A Reader / ed. Heidi S. Mirza (1997)
More information about the project can be found here and it is very close to launching (give or take some technological issues) and when it does we will circulate details to the entire WHN list.
Many happy returns for Women’s History Month! Inderbir Bhullar is Information Librarian at the Women’s Library in London.