MPs’ fury at Met Uni bid to move Women’s Library out of East End

An open letter on the future of the Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University’s Whitechapel-Aldgate campus, from Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali, co-signed by 12 other MPs at Westminster and by Tower Hamlets council’s Labour Group Opposition leader Joshua Peck—addressed to Prof Malcolm Gillies of the London Met and copied to London School of Economics director Prof Craig Calhoun:

Dear Professor Gillies... We write following the decision by the London Metropolitan University Board of Governors to transfer the Women’s Library collection from its purpose-built home in East London to an academic library at the LSE.

The library is the oldest and largest collection of women’s history in the UK and one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1926. Its current home encompasses purpose-designed collections storage, education and exhibition space and excellent reading room facilities. It is rare monument to women’s lives, learning and scholarship designed by a woman architect, it was purpose-built on the site of an old Wash House off Petticoat Lane to provide safe housing for its unique collections, open access to the public and contribute to the regeneration of Tower Hamlets.

We are therefore disappointed by the decision by the Board of Governors to divest its responsibility for the collection, meaning it will now be incorporated into an existing academic library outside the local community. We are concerned about the impact of this decision on academic and research staff at the London Met, as well as other local stakeholders.

We remain unconvinced as to whether a robust and sufficient consultation process was conducted prior to the decision, and whether an appropriate amount of time was set aside for due diligence and consideration.

We would be grateful if you could provide us with further information about the funding arrangements for the Women’s Library collection. We understand that the Higher Education Funding Council provides funding for special collections and that the LSE is one of the very few institutions in receipt of this funding.

We would therefore like to know whether the possibility of applying for funding to keep the Women’s Library collection in its purpose-built home in East London was considered and whether the LSE will now receive increased funding to accommodate the collection.

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We would be grateful if you could inform us as to whether the LSE has examined the option of funding the Women’s Library keeping it in the same building, and we believe there are also questions about the future purpose of the building itself which was paid for with public expenditure.

Given that the LSE bid was the only offer on the table when the Board of Governors took its final decision, we would encourage you to re-open the selection process, which we believe may have been conducted without sufficient consultation of the public, staff or library users.

We believe that a re-opening of this process could provide enough time for institutions to come forward with bids which incorporate keeping the library at Whitechapel, recognising its exceptional status as the oldest and largest collection of women’s history in the UK.

Rushanara Ali, MP

Valerie Vaz, MP

Tristram Hunt, MP

Seema Malhotra, MP

Dave Anderson, MP

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP

John McDonnell, MP

Paul Flynn, MP

Mary Glindon, MP

Caroline Lucas, MP

Mike Weir, MP

Dr Hywel Francis, MP

Cllr Josh Peck (Tower Hamlets Labour Group leader)