More than 6,000 people including authors, academics, biographers, librarians and members of the public have signed the newly-launched petition to save the Imperial War Museum’s library from closure.
Prospect, which represents specialists at the museum, launched the petition after the closure plans emerged to deal with a £4m annual deficit resulting from government funding cuts. They also include the loss of up to 80 jobs, the closure of the popular Explore History service, and cuts to supported school visits to the museum’s sites at Duxford in Cambridgeshire and the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast in London.
Prominent petition signatories include Alan Borg, former IWM director general; royal biographers Sarah Bradford and Robert Lace; Lord Asa Briggs, historian and Bletchley Park alumnus; author Richard Doherty; Clive Aslet, Country Life editor; black history author Stephen Bourne; and author Emily Mayhew. All emphasised the importance of the library in their work.
“I am horrified by the suggestion that the library might be closed and dispersed,” declared Borg, while Lord Briggs said he had used the facility many times over the past 40 years, adding: “The threatened cuts would be a disgrace… to the nation in this centenary year of the Great War.”
Author Doherty said the proposal to close the library was part of a trend. “Since the RUSI historical library was closed some years ago there has been an inexorable programme of library closures with collections dispersed to the four winds.”
As well as petition comments pointing to the importance of the library in illuminating the sacrifice of black and ethnic minorities in two world wars, others emphasised its importance in researching the role of women. “As a social historian specialising in pacifism and women’s roles in wartime, the IWM has been an invaluable resource,” said Anne Kramer.
Andy Bye, Prospect negotiator, said: “The comments on the petition website demonstrate the strength of public feeling against the museum’s short-sighted plans. A world without records is a world without memory.”
He added: “Museum staff have been greatly heartened by the public response and messages of support.”
Other signatories highlighted the role of the museum in helping to research family history. Michele Childers, grand-daughter-in-law of author and First World War diarist Robert Erskine Childers, said: “I know personally the importance of the library’s vital role in research and preservation of historical papers which have been a vital resource to historians, biographers and students as well as to our family.
“The work of gathering and maintaining this material has taken nearly 100 years and is today being carefully curated and made available to all by a uniquely knowledgeable and dedicated staff. Once gone, it can never be replaced.”
Referring to the museum’s recent £40m refurbishment, another signatory, Robert Foster, asked: “Why spend millions rebuilding the IWM to attract visitors and stimulate interest only to then cut a world class facility to save a fraction of that spent.”
The verdict of another, Alan Robinson was: “No other country – Canada, Australia, United States – would downgrade their national war museum. The government ought to be ashamed.”
To sign the petition and read the many hundreds of supportive comments see http://bit.ly/save_IWM