Beatrice Webb launches LSE’s digital library : great new free resource for social scientists

One century on and Beatrice Webb, one of the founders of LSE and its library, would be proud to know that her diaries are launching LSE’s Digital Library.

Beatrice Webb was born in 1858, the eighth daughter of Richard Potter, a wealthy businessman, and Lawrencina Heyworth. Although Beatrice did not put much stock in novel writing, she nevertheless expressed a desire in her diary to write creatively and at length, and hence the diary, and the autobiography upon which it is based, was born. In the diary Beatrice records the activities of her daily life, the interactions with friends and family, and her most private thoughts and fears. In 1883 Beatrice took up social work in London, acting as a rent collector for the Charity Organisation Society and working undercover as a seamstress in a sweatshop in 1888. She began writing on social subjects and eventually started moving in the same circles as Sidney Webb, her future husband. The Webbs devoted their lives to socialism, becoming  central members of the Fabian Society, founders of the London School of Economics, and constant campaigners for the welfare state.

The diary is now available online for the first time.  Two versions of the diary have been digitised – the actual manuscript as well as a transcribed version that is cross-referenced with the date fields indexed from the manuscript version.  Both versions can now be viewed side-by-side for comparison.  The diaries are fully-searchable and contain a wealth of information not just on Beatrice’s personal and working life, but on the social history of Britain and the world, spanning 70 years of social upheaval. 

The diaries were chosen as the launch collection for the new LSE Digital Library.  LSE is one of the first academic libraries to provide a digital library, a service which is becoming more and more necessary due to the requirement to collect, preserve and provide access to digital material.  This is compounded by the popularity of social media today and its importance as a historical record, particularly to an institution like LSE. 

A range of collections will be added to LSE Digital Library in the future.  There is plenty of material held in LSE’s archives such as Fabian Society pamphlets, Charles Booth’s Poverty Map and 19th Century photographs. However it opens the doors for a much wider range of material such as LSE theses, blogs, working papers and podcasts from LSE’s lively public events programme.  Library staff are also considering statistics, posters, microfiche, audio visual content, historical broadcasts, exam papers, websites and material relating to LSE history and staff.

LSE Library’s collections are at the heart of the life and research of the School and of internationally recognised importance to the social sciences. They have been growing in breadth and stature for over 100 years and include many rare and unique materials. Collecting and preserving digital material is central to the continued distinction of these collections and a part of LSE Library’s role as a research library for the next 100 years.

“Webbs on the Web” project was made possible with funding from the Webb Memorial Trust, to provide online access to the works of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. LSE Digital Library provides a single access point through which users can search and browse this material, with the intention that additional material, such as manuscripts, correspondence and other major collections will be added in the future.

To view the Webb diaries, visit LSE Digital Library at

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ALISS is a not-for-profit unincorporated professional society. It is an independent group which was formed in April 2005 by the former committee of (Aslib Social Science Information Group and Network)
The aim of the group is to; Provide opportunities for networking and self-development offer a forum for communication create a network of cooperation and a forum for discussion about emerging issues in social science librarianship.

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