Anarchist historian Barry Pateman (left), at the Kate Sharpley Library booth at the 2011 Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair.
The Kate Sharpley Library (or KSL) is a library dedicated to anarchist texts and history. Started in 1979 and reorganized in 1991, it currently holds around ten thousand English language volumes, pamphlets and periodicals.
The Kate Sharpley Library was named after a Deptford-born World War I anarchist and anti-war activist. She worked in a munitions factory and was active in the shop stewards movement. Her father and brother were killed in action and her boyfriend was listed as missing believed killed (though she suspected he had been shot for mutiny). At the age of 22, when called to receive her family's medals from Queen Mary she threw the medals back at the Queen, saying "if you like them so much you can have them".
The Queen's face was scratched, Kate Sharpley was beaten by police, and imprisoned for a few days, though no charges were brought against her. She did however lose her job. After marrying in 1922, she dropped out of anarchist activities until a chance encounter with Albert Meltzer at a train station during an anti-fascist action. This led to her meeting many younger activists and so, when Brixton anarchists came to name the archives they had collected from the movement, her name was chosen in preference to a more famous one.
The library has texts in English and other languages, near complete collections of several anarchist newspapers, and collections of reports and literature from various anarchist organisations. The library is maintained by donations and money made from sales of pamphlets and other publications. As of 2014 it was receiving one or two in-person visits per month and the bulk of the research requests arrived by email.
The library was begun in the squatted 121 Centre in Brixton, London in 1979 by a collective which included Albert Meltzer. It had both lending and reference sections. When the centre was raided in 1984, the archive was moved to a different squat for safety. When the library was moved to the safety of Barry Pateman's home in 1991, the focus shifted towards being a special collection and archive.
As well as preserving the physical artifacts of anarchist history, the library also publishes books and pamphlets on anarchism and anarchist history, covering many subjects that would otherwise be forgotten. Its activities are recounted in its regular Bulletin, available online and by mail to its financial supporters.