The main library collection of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has moved from London to the University of Warwick, freeing the IRR to develop a unique Black history collection.
According to A. Sivanandan, the IRR’s director and its chief librarian since 1964, the library ‘had reached the end of its natural life with us’. Fewer students were coming to IRR’s headquarters in Kings Cross and staff were working on other ways of disseminating information using new technologies. ‘But,’ said Sivanandan, ‘there is no collection like ours in Britain – perhaps in the whole of Europe. It had to be preserved and made more accessible. We are delighted that it can be housed in Warwick, where, with the library of the Centre for Race and Ethnic Relations (which complements our holdings) it can become the specialist library on race relations in the country. Now we have the chance at the IRR to concentrate on developing the very rare materials we have on early Black settlement and Black struggles in Britain, much of it written from within the Black community.’
The IRR hopes to raise funds to preserve its rare materials (which includes over one hundred different magazines, mostly Black), digitise documents to make them more widely accessible and to create educational packages around different aspects of the collection, so as to interest young people in the Black British heritage.
The IRR’s main collection of books, over five hundred periodicals and thousands of pamphlets and other ephemeral materials relating to race relations all over the world, is so extensive that it needed 1,350 feet (or just under half a kilometre) of shelf space at the University of Warwick. Known as the Sivanandan Collection, after reclassification, it will be available for community as well as student use.
What remains at the IRR are all kinds of documents from civil rights groups and Black power organisations, strike committees, anti-racist campaigns, pickets and demonstrations. ‘When it is catalogued and organised it will make for a very exciting collection,’ said a spokesperson. ‘It will provide a Black history, not of artefacts or the feats of individual heroes, but of whole communities struggling for justice.’