1. – Can we have a brief history of the Kate Sharpley Library?
A: The Kate Sharpley Library was established in 1979 by comrades connected with 121 Bookshop in Brixton. Originally it covered a broad range of subjects of interest to anarchists. After it moved out of London in 1992 the focus changed to be a collection of material by and about the anarchist movement. In 1999 the physical library moved to California, but with the same focus on preserving anarchist history and the stories of the people who made the movement.
2. – As with other archives, we share a passion for collecting and preserving past printed anarchist material. With (predominantly) instant online reading these days… are the days of physical literature numbered?
A: We are constantly getting newspapers/pamphlets/leaflets etc. that have been recently produced. These are coming from across the world and seem to me to evidence that anarchists are not moving to a (purely) digital movement but are staying loyal to printed matter and physical objects.
3. – I’ve seen previous online comments from some who say that now the KSL is mainly based in California, with much of the UK anarchist archive based there too, then why donate material (or even support) when such aforementioned literature ‘should be available/ accessible in the UK’ What do KSL say?
A: If people don’t want to donate that is fine. It is their material and they have every right to decide where it goes. I think/hope that scanning material which is available to all may appease some people’s worries. We’re very grateful to everyone who does support us, in particular the Friends of the KSL who have set up regular donations.
4. – There was discussion quite some time ago of making the KSL archive available online somehow, or a listing of what it holds, is this still planned?
A: I am not certain that we would need to scan our whole collection. Some of what we have is replicated online by other groups/libraries/archives etc. To scan what is already available wouldn’t serve much purpose. What we do scan, more often than not, can’t be found anywhere on the web and we see that as being a service that helps people. We could certainly do much more: papers like Iconoclast, Rational Review, The Syndicalist etc. etc. as well as historic personal correspondence certainly could do with being put on line. We could also, we sense, supplement what is already available. For example, we have a lot of 1940s Anarchist Federation correspondence that could supplement the Syndicalist Workers Federation material up at The Sparrows Nest; or a collection of Freedom Press leaflets from 1912 onwards that might be better placed on the Freedom Press website. That needs talking about with them and others, of course. Sometimes seeing scanned material sitting in isolation from any context doesn’t really help! We do have a catalogue and we are a little embarrassed by our earlier entries in it. To be fair to us we were a lot less experienced and far too casual with it in those long ago days. We want the catalogue to be an educational tool with as much detail as we can add for each item. We also want it on line.
5. – You have moved from producing regular pamphlets to (in conjunction with AK Press) releasing some great books. What forthcoming titles are planned? any future pamphlets?
A: Our next publication with AK is Agitated by Joni D., a translation of a great work on the Spanish Autonomous groups during the 1970s. Readable and thoughtful it adds to our knowledge as well as expanding our understanding of anarchism. We have a project underway on the writings of Camillo Berneri and one or two other topics and we are always on the lookout for interesting material that can be translated into English. We may also publish more on-line such as our work on the 1945 split in British anarchism, [http://katesharpleylibrary.pbworks.com/w/page/139511268/The%201945%20split%20in%20British%20anarchism ] which makes available scans of contemporary documents and newspapers which people may find useful.
6. – We have previously talked about our ‘encroaching old age’ and lack of ‘younger comrades’ eager to ‘take over the reins of running an archive’ what can be done to encourage the next generation to realise the importance of ‘dusty old anarchist papers’?
A: There are young people who are interested in the KSL. They’re a bit like ourselves in the beginning: we were excited by the content and not so much by the means of conserving and protecting the material. And that still is very common. In the past students writing on anarchist history have helped us. That said, we are all volunteers and we understand that the problem has been maintaining the ability to regularly work with us, either on site or remotely. As we all know the throughput within anarchism is a distinct phenomenon and we suffer as much as anyone.
7. – With the last question in mind, what projects have the KSL planned, and what is the future for the KSL itself?
A: As outlined above, we do have lots of plans. As an ageing affinity group we are looking to add younger people and with ideas. Covid affected our work quite badly – especially in terms of people being able to work in the archive. Much of what we do isn’t necessarily public facing. It’s the ordering and cataloging of material together with constant work on the conservation of old newspapers, pamphlets and leaflets etc. We are still working on a sizeable backlog. We have mentioned plans for scanning and working on the catalogue for putting on line above. There is always the Bulletin which takes time to put together as well as individual bits of writing Collective members might want to do. Never mind the regular search for publications and the constant work on those we think are good! Please bear in mind that we are a small affinity group some of whom have full time jobs. Consequently we are wary of promising what, in the end, we can’t deliver. The KSL plans to be here for a long, long time and as people can see from our replies there’s a lot for us to do. The public facing projects we will be working on will need some prioritizing. Some of these plans may change.
8. – Thank you for answering. Is there anything you would like to add / say?
A: If people want to know more about the KSL or explore what we have already put online, our website is www.katesharpleylibrary.net
In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 107-108, December 2022