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SOAS Speciality Library Fights to Keep Doors Open


Image: SOAS
Image: SOAS

Caitlin Shewell-Cooper, BA Swahili and English

A new campaign run by a group of SOAS anthropology students is raising money to support the Helen Kanitkar Library, an invaluable resource for anthropology students that is under threat due to a lack of adequate funding. Unless you study Anthropology it is unlikely you will have come across the Helen Kanitkar Departmental Library on the 5th floor in the SOAS Russell Square Main Building, but those who use it know how important it is to the department, for staff and students alike.

It is named for Dr Helen Kanitkar who was a longstanding lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at SOAS. Students and staff recall the warmth and pastoral care she extended to generations of students. When Dr Kanitkar passed away in 2011, her husband Hemant funded the refurbishment of the departmental library, which had been Helen’s particular love. Additionally, he donated 800 of her books to what was reopened as the Helen Kanitkar Library and Research Centre (HKL) – Anthropology’s Departmental Library. When Hemant also sadly passed away, he left a legacy which established studentships for research into the religions that had fascinated them. This legacy has been exhausted 15 years later, and the HKL is in need.

Currently the library is a social study space, where undergraduates and postgrads study together and share knowledge and ideas. There is also an element of pastoral care unique to Anthropology department; students actively support each other, whether it’s help on referencing or advice on good articles to read up on for an essay. The student librarian this year, Mia Sullivan, comments that since the first year anthropology students have come to the HKL she has helped them with issues “like locating timetables, reading up on elective options, how to use Moodle,” that they may not want to approach their lecturers about:“I think it’s been a really big help for them.”

Library volunteer Luke Lowsley-Williams said the HKL “gives first years a chance to be in a working yet social place where you can get help and direction to sources and ways of referencing… not only that but it unifies the anthropology department.” Apart from the over 1000 books and media resources available in the HKL, particularly valuable to current students are the outstanding examples of BA Independent Study Projects, MA dissertations, MPhil upgrade documents and PhD theses they can access for guidance with their studies. At present the library is maintained by a small fund that goes towards repairing broken computer terminals and replacing damaged resources and a token remuneration to the student librarian responsible for organizing volunteer rota so library functions well during opening hours, cataloging books and keeping the place ticking over. The library is also in need of funds for fixing parts of the library that have become damaged over years of use, skirting boards and shelves for example, and for replacing books that have gone missing.

To raise money to continue providing this space for anthropology students a campaign has begun on the SOAS hubbub crowdfunding site, which has also hosted successfully crowdfunders for the Ramadan Tent Project and to send SOAS students to the World SamulNori Competition in Chilgok, South Korea. The campaign to support the HLK called ‘Help Us Save The Helen Kanitkar Library’ with a target of £500, £282 of which has already been pledged. This £500 will mean that the HKL will be able to employ a student librarian for future years, and any more raised will towards other needs. The more money raised, the more time before the HKL will have to face a funding crisis again. To support the campaign and the future of the HKL go to and pledge any amount, large or small.

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