Freedom News

Shiny objects at the Sparrows’ Nest

This is the first of a possible infrequent series charting the work of the Sparrows’ Nest, an anarchist archive based in Nottingham which has built one of the best libraries of libertarian writing in Britain.

Here at the Sparrows’ Nest we host an extensive library of books and look after large collections of documents and other objects recording the history of the anarchist movement and local working class struggles. We collect, preserve, catalogue and make these documents accessible to further an understanding of struggles past and to aid in those still being fought.

One important aspect of our work is the digitisation of records as we are well aware that private and academic research is usually best undertaken:

  1. Whenever you feel like it
  2. In the comfort of wherever you like to hang out,
  3. Whilst slurping your beverage of choice and
  4. Quite possibly whilst wearing your sleeping garments.

Therefore we have built up a sizeable Digital Library of (almost exclusively) good to high resolution pdf documents, (mostly) featuring OCR (please note that OCR is good enough to help you cut down your workload when extracting a lengthy quote, but not yet good enough to search the documents).

Last month we were lucky in being given access to an excellent A3 scanner, allowing us to digitise proper newspapers (i.e. stuff larger than A4!). This is something we dabbled in before, but back then we did not have access to kit that made this truly practical, having had to use a DIY concoction that was way too phaffy to be viable.

Therefore we were much exited by finally getting our hands on some fancy scanning gear. After digitising a pile of materials (Libertarian Struggleetc.) that had been requested by a visitor (we like to be user-led in our work, so please feel free to email us your wish list!), we tackled a box of issues of Direct Action from the 1980s. That fitted in well with other recent digitisation projects, namely scanning a lot of Direct Action issues from the late 1940s to the 1960s. Direct Action has for many decades been the title of the respective flagship publications of prominent anarcho-syndicalist groups in the UK, beginning with the work of the Anarchist Federation of Britain (AFB see e.g. this issue from Sep 1948), which later became the Syndicalist Workers’ Organisation (SWF).

In the 1950s Direct Action was at times called World Labour News (see e.g. Vol:05 #01/31), but throughout the period reported on issues such as solidarity with anti-fascists in Spain, intervening in labour disputes (especially those in which workers had to fight both bosses and trade unions), and issues of the day, often related to the Cold War (see e.g. Vol:05 #08/38 or Vol:06 #04/46). We are very lucky that we also hold a wonderful collection of correspondence from the AFB/SWF between the 1940s and the 1960s, allowing us fascinating glimpses behind the scenes of the newspaper (but more on that maybe another time).

The latest stash of digitised documents originate from the period when the SWF had ceased to be, and the Direct Action Movement (DAM) had become the most prominent anarcho-syndicalist organisation. Documenting some of the fiercest struggles of the British Working Classes in latter half of the twentieth century, these newly digitised issues of Direct Action were produced during the years of the Thatcher Regime, documenting for instance the Miners’ Struggle of 1984-85 (see e.g. #20 from Nov 1984).

These days the Solidarity Federation (SolFed) is the most notable active anarcho-syndicalist organisation in the UK, continuing the tradition of AFB, SWF, DAM and many others. Being able to look back at issues of Direct Action from almost half a century is fascinating. These documents offer many opportunities to further our understanding of the history of British syndicalism and of course, are a resource offering accounts of those who fought in struggles past, allowing those fighting in the here and now to learn from their successes and their failures. Please note that at present our digital collection of Direct Action is nowhere near complete, as many more issues in our collections still await digitisation.

You can access our Digital Library via our website, either by looking for the posts announcing additions to the Digital Library or simply by utilising the search window at the top of the page. As always, all our work is accessible for free, but if you are able to support our work, please do consider making a donation. At present purchase of our own A3 printer is very high on our list (we will need to give back the one we have at the moment eventually!), and if you are able to support us trying to raise the necessary funds that would be very much appreciated.

You can contact us anytime (preferably by email), and/or visit us here in Nottingham, either during our regular opening hours (at the moment every Thursday, 11am-2pm) or by appointment. If you wish to join our (low traffic) mailing list to be kept in the loop about new additions to the Digital Library, events at the Nest, etc., please email us.


Further info

+44 (0)7388417325

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