Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

08 March 2024

Finding Women's Studies on the shelves: an international turn

Transnational feminist

'Transnational feminist politics, education and social justice', edited by Silvia Edling and Sheila Macrine. Shelfmark YC.2023.a.64.   Books published by Bloomsbury are received in print and continue to be available to readers.


The cyber-attack on the British Library and the resulting IT outage have thrown a spotlight on the Library’s collections held in physical formats such as print and manuscripts.  Whilst the Library is working to restore access to digital collections and to material stored in Yorkshire at Boston Spa, the physical collections held in London are still available to readers.   Written on International Women’s Day, this post takes a look at the books on the shelves in the Library's basements at St Pancras. Focusing on books on Women's Studies, it considers the (temporary) effect of bringing a hybrid library back to a primary reliance on print.



'Edith Cavell: faith before the firing squad', by Catherine Butcher (shelfmark YC.2016.a.12850) gazes out from the centre of a row of books received through Legal Deposit. Works centering women are spread through the collections.  This book comes from Lion Hudson (Monarch Books) who publish Christian material, in print format. 


The Library restored access to a temporary version of its online catalogue on 15 January.  That catalogue, based on a back-up version, includes material received by the Library up to April 2023.    The catalogue marks material held in physical form in London as ‘should be available’, whilst e-books, e-journals and e-resources that cannot be accessed, and print materials held at Boston Spa, are marked as ‘unavailable’.  Some materials available online can still be accessed too.


What does this mean in practice for anyone looking for contemporary published books in social science subject areas?


The answer, in short, is that whilst most older social science books are still available, a sizeable proportion of more recent publications from the UK and Ireland cannot currently be accessed. 


After non-print legal deposit regulations came into force in 2013, most of the UK’s major publishers of academic texts switched to depositing their publications in digital format.  This includes very many of the big-hitters in the social sciences.  For books, think Routledge, Ashgate, Gower, Sage, Policy Press (Bristol University), Palgrave Macmillan, Rowman & Littlefield, and smaller independent publishers such as Intellect Books, Verso, Pluto, IB Tauris, Saqi and Zed Press.  Those depositing e-books rather than print also include several university presses, among them UCL, Manchester, Liverpool, Wales, Huddersfield and two of the major US university presses, Yale and Chicago.  For journals the list is similar but also includes Taylor & Francis and Oxford University Press.  These are major publishers of social science materials.


For these publishers, the Library holds books and journals in print format to at least 2013 and sometimes beyond, as not all publishers switched to digital deposit at the same time.  All had completed their transition by 2018, so any books and journals received since then will have been received in digital format and are not currently available.  The Library is working to restore access to these materials.


Academic publishers who continue to deposit their books in print include Cambridge University Press and Bloomsbury (the latter deposits print and digital copies), as well as Oxford University Press (books, but not journals),  along with very many international university presses who deposit because they distribute their books in the UK and Ireland. A wide range of smaller UK and Irish publishers also deposit print copies, but their output in the social sciences is much smaller than the academic presses who deposit books and journals in digital format.


Women's rights in armed conflict


'Women’s rights in armed conflict under international law', by Catherine O’Rourke.  Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2020.  British Library shelfmark YC.2022.a 1908.   Books published by Cambridge University Press are received in print and should be available.


Legal deposit regulations cover the UK and Ireland. The Library purchases a wide range of academic material and other books relevant to readers’ needs published outside the UK and Ireland.  Purchased books in English and in European languages are received in print format and are held in London at St Pancras.  The vast majority of these books should be available to readers, but readers planning to consult items should contact the Reference Services team by emailing  [email protected]  in advance of their visit to ensure that specific items are available.


 purchased women's studies

A screenshot of a catalogue search showing recent books acquired by purchase as mostly still available to readers.


Assessing the resources that are currently available for social science research, there has been less impact for books published before 2013.  After that date, the switch to digital deposit means that a substantial proportion of books published in the UK and Ireland are not currently available.  Books published outside the UK and Ireland, in Europe, the Americas and Oceania, are less impacted by the IT outage.  Most more recent books published in Africa and Asia are not available as most are stored at the Library’s Boston Spa site: there is  information about alternative resources on the Asian and African Studies blog. Additional materials, especially reference books and recent issues of some journals, can be found in the Library's reading rooms, including the Social Science reading room and the Asian and African Studies reading room. 


Gender and elections

'Gender and elections', by Susan Carroll, Richard Fox and Kelly Dittmar.  Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2022.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.1355.


The Library is still able to provide readers with access to a very wide range of important academic texts across all subject areas within the social sciences.  In the absence of a large part of UK and Irish publishing, the more recent books available have a slightly more international frame of reference.


Arab American women

Etel Adnan's artwork graces the cover of the monumental 'Arab American women; representation and refusal', edited by Michael W Suleiman, Suad Joseph and Louise Cainkar.  Syracuse University Press.  Shelfmark YC.2022.b.1696




Knowledge and inspiration combine in 'Womanist and mujerista psychologies: voices of fire, acts of courage', edited by Thema Bryant-Davis and Lillian Comas-Díaz. Washington, D.C. : American Psychological Association, 2016.  Shelfmark YC.2016.b.1854



A brief walk along the shelves in the Library’s basements reveals a rich range of books relevant to women’s studies and women’s history.  Whilst they are generally spread fairly thinly across the shelves, they wait to be discovered and called up to the light of the reading rooms.




The relatively rare sight of two books in a row with a focus on women and gender.  Both the ethnographic study 'Sex, shame and violence: a revolutionary practice of  public storytelling in poor communities' by Kathleen Cash  (YC.2016.b.1866) and 'Nurses as leaders: evolutionary visions of leadership' by William Rosa  (YC.2016.b.1867) are US publications (published by Vanderbilt University Press and Springer,  New York respectively)  showing the international coverage of currently-available, more recent, material in the social sciences.


Recently published books in the humanities and social science sit side by side on the shelves in the basements, whilst works of fiction, general interest, and children's books are housed at Boston Spa.   Interestingly, current drama is housed in London, illustrated in the image below showing three plays, 'Mum' by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, August Strindberg's 'Miss Julie' adapted by Amy Ng and Lulu Raczka's 'Antigone'.   In the centre of this shelf, partly hidden by its label, is Chiara Bottici's 'Anarchafeminism', published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2022.



Social science and humanities books received from UK, Irish and some international publishers by Legal Deposit, and stored at St Pancras.



'Anarchafeminism' by Chiara Bottici (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2022).  Shelfmark YC.2022.a.8306 is among books available to readers.


Chiara Bottici is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, USA, and has written extensively on philosophy and myth.  Judith Butler, who will be speaking at the British Library on 19 March 2024 (in person tickets are sold out, but online tickets are available), reviewed this latest work by Bottici, saying  "This is a capacious, clear, and revolutionary text that will bring readers who are just starting to learn about feminist philosophy as well as those who have been around a long time. This book does an excellent job in communicating the value of the anarchic, especially in its resistance to the leader, and its thoroughgoing affirmation of the value of freedom. This freedom is not a narrow idea of personal liberty, but an entire mode of transforming the world. We learn as well about a 'transindividualism' which allows us a way to rethink global solidarity for our times."   ( viewed 8/3/2024).