Thursday, 18 October 2012

CILIP in London Meeting: The TUC Collections at London Metropolitan University

Last Monday I attended another CILIP in London meeting at The Square Wine Bar, Tolmers Square, near Euston. At this meeting there was a talk on The TUC (Trades Union Congress) Collections at London Metropolitan University, given by librarian Chris Coates.

The TUC Library Collections, like the Women’s Library (on which I have blogged previously), are located at London Metropolitan University. Unlike the women’s collection, however, the TUC materials are to remain at London Met thanks to a joint-funding initiative with the Trades Union Congress.

The Library was founded in 1922, uniting collections from the TUC Parliamentary Committee, the Labour Party Information Bureau and the Women’s Trade Union League, which contain materials dating back to 1868. The Collections moved to London Metropolitan University in 1996.

The Trades Union Congress has played a key role in the development of the welfare state, having assisted with the development of public health, education and social services. It established the Labour Party and continues to play an important role in the promotion and maintenance of employees’ legal rights.

The Collections
The TUC Collections offer a major resource for the study of trade unions, work and learning. They contain material in all kinds of forms, including books, pamphlets and periodicals. Among the resources included are the following:

  • Trade union and labour history journals
  • TUC publications
  • Trade union publications (including from overseas)
  • Documents on industrial relations, including strikes such as the 1926 General Strike
  • Items relating to political and labour history
  • Documents relating to other topics such as international affairs and women workers
  • Publications relating to the Labour Party

Archival documents also form part of the collections. The TUC Library contains the Workers’ Educational Association Library and Archive, a valuable resource for the study of adult and continuing education, as well as the papers of Marjorie Nicholson, who worked in the TUC International Department, and Gertrude Tuckwell, who was involved with the Women’s Trade Union League. In addition, the Labour Research Department Archive is located within the Collections and a number of press cuttings are also held. The Library also holds the manuscript of Robert Tressell’s novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Digitisation Programme
In her talk, Chris discussed the Collections’ digitisation programme, aimed at opening up the collections to a wider audience. The programme aims to inspire adult learners, inspiring an interest in social and labour history and encouraging the exploration of resources, as well as improving general IT skills. The scheme also helps to prevent damage to the original valuable archives.

One example of the digitisation programme can be found at, the location of The Union Makes Us Strong: TUC History Online. This site forms an online history of British trade union movement, and contains timelines, essays, video interviews and digitised images and documents, such as the 1888 register of the Match Workers Strike. These resources are valuable for the teaching of union history: they engage students and encourage them to examine and interpret primary sources.

Problems and Difficulties
Chris in her talk discussed some of the problems facing the digitisation programme and the collection as a whole. One key issue is the lack of funding. Any funding is sporadic, so only certain parts of the collection can be catalogued or digitised at any one time. Currently the majority of the collection is only listed on the card catalogue; only new acquisitions since 1999 and records for British trade union publications before 1980 are accessible via the London Met online library catalogue. This means users cannot access the information remotely, and makes it harder to find relevant sources.

Linked to the lack of funding is a lack of staff: only two full-time members of staff work in the Library, along with some occasional project staff when funds allow. There is a mixed level of IT skills, both among the target audience and Library staff, which make the digitisation projects and the maintenance of the website more challenging. Staff also have to compete with the mistaken belief that the library is closing: they have seen visitor numbers drop over the summer, but in fact the Library is well and truly open!

I really enjoyed this talk and I'm glad I attended. I'd never heard of the TUC Collections before finding out about this event, and I feel as though I've learned a lot.

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