The Kate Sharpley Library Then, Now and Next: An Interview with Barry Pateman (Part two)

Hello again, Barry. Last time, you talked about how you got involved in the Kate Sharpley Library, why it’s important and how it’s grown. The Library is now in California: do you want to say a bit about how that happened?

The KSL moved to California in 1999. It moved for a variety of reasons. First and foremost was the death of my companion a year earlier and being given the chance of work researching anarchist history. I would like to say that all other things were calmly considered and reflected on but, if truth be told, I think I was in a daze for most of that time. No one seemed to have the space for the archive and so we arranged to have it shipped over. I think I was frightened that it would be broken up or it would be left to moulder somewhere. I think, now, that I was probably wrong on both counts but our history is full of centers, archives, whatever setting up and disappearing. Somehow it worked out. We got a building exclusively housing the KSL and a small group of active comrades who were keen to help set the archive up and maintain it.

So, what’s happening in the library at the moment? I hear we’ve just had some interesting donations…

We’ve had some really fine donations of late. Two especially I would like to talk about. Chaz from See Sharp Press has sent us some of his archive. It’s a fascinating mix of drafts etc. and we hope to catalog it soon and get it on line for everyone to see. Also Left Bank Books in Seattle sent us their archive of sales, as well as correspondence with publishers and authors. This is a huge collection (30 boxes) and we are processing that now. Actually our resident archivist Jessica is. I stand aside and mutter words of encouragement!! I should also say that we have been regularly receiving sales records/correspondence from Bound Together Books in San Francisco and they are about to be worked on as well. All this is marvelous stuff. Just to see what people bought is interesting enough but all the correspondence provides us with a pretty extensive bibliographical history of anarchist printing/publishing/distribution projects over the last thirty years.

We have also been spending money. We bought a collection of material the other month which included pamphlets from the Tolstoyan Brotherhood Church around the turn of the 19th/20th century, some letters from Mat Kavanagh and a letter from Sam Mainwaring – the Welsh anarcho-syndicalist. We really try not to let stuff pass us by no matter how much it hurts to pay out. (That reads braver than it felt when we were paying for it.) We have a rough and ready catalog about to go public though that will also be a work in progress and we have begun to work on finding aids for small collections. We hope to put a couple up in the next two months for people to have a look at. They will be small but perfectly formed.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom about anarchism or history? Or do you want to appeal for donations?

I would like people to remember that we began all those years ago as a deliberate attempt to keep our history out of the hands of State archives. We can’t compete with them financially, so we are now trying to compete with them in accessibility and think that will be our major challenge over the next five years. As usual we urge all comrades to donate what they can – money, badges, newspapers, books, magazines, stickers. You can become a Friend of the Kate Sharpley Library (£10 or $20 a month to get our bulletin and pamphlets as they some out.) Those friends we already have help us beyond measure.