Submitted by on 07-03-2016 16:50:57
The Glasgow Women's Library (GWL) collection is full of wonderful and eclectic materials documenting the activism, achievements and work of women.
The book, archives and museum collections span the late 19th Century right up to the present day, and women from all over the world donate materials to us. In 2015, the Library was made a Recognised Collection of National Significance by Museums Galleries Scotland, and is currently the only accredited museum of women’s history in the UK.
Founded in 1991, as a response to Glasgow’s European City of Culture status, the Library was formed in Garnethill by a group called Women in Profile. Comprised of activists, artists, students and academics based in Glasgow, their aim was simple: they believed that women in Glasgow should have a space through which to explore their own histories and achievements. Throughout the early 1990s and 2000s the collection quickly grew, and the Library relocated to several spaces in Trongate; the Mitchell Library, and finally our present home in Bridgeton.
In 1996, GWL received its largest single Archive donation, the UK National Lesbian Archive and Information Centre collection, which is one of the largest and most significant resources for Lesbian and Gay histories in the UK. As well as the Lesbian Archive, the archive and museum collection stores key materials relating to Women’s Health Campaigns; Women’s Suffrage; Second Wave Feminism; Black and Minority Ethnic histories; ‘third wave’ and queer histories and much, much more.
We have extensive runs of feminist journals from Spare Rib to Heresies; an array of knitting and dress patterns; and an extensive collection of fanzines, comics and annuals, by and for women. As well as the archive and museum, our lending library also contains thousands of books on feminism; women’s fiction and poetry; biography; history; and much more besides.
It truly is a treasure trove, and it is well worth checking out our collections web pages to find out more, and of course come in to visit us!
The significance of the collection being largely donated cannot be underestimated.
The library and the archive have always had a significant presence in feminist activism. In the 1970s in particular, a concerted effort was made to carve out spaces for women to participate in activism, but also to engage with the histories of others. Feminists, LGBT and Civil Rights campaigners realised that in order for their contemporary struggles to be fully appreciated and remembered they, and not others, would have to become the guardians and gatekeepers of their own histories.
It is for this reason that across the world, there are a significant number of women’s, BME and LGBT archives, museums and libraries, all dedicated to preserving the histories and achievements of the people who donate to them and who they reflect.
In many ways, these archives, museums and libraries function in different ways to ‘traditional’ institutional based models. Their collections are characterised by their eclecticism, as well as a regard for ‘the personal’ (in all its minutiae) and the fractious nature of the activisms that fall under the umbrellas of political and social campaigns relating to things like feminism or queer politics. Our collection has materials which frankly would probably have been consigned to the dustbin by others – lectures notes by a Lesbian woman at university; painted underwear (clean!); holiday brochures; lecture slides and even plastic bags from Women’s bookshops. With each box that we open, and there are still materials being uncovered, we find more and more materials which women have donated to us because they are meaningful to them.
The personal was, and will always be political to us and our donors. Institutional collections are beginning to see the merit of this kind of collecting, but these activist based models foregrounded an understanding of the library or archive a personal and political space.
We welcome donations from all women, and are always looking for volunteers to work with the collections team to organise, catalogue and grow our archive, museum and library. We love having visitors, and welcome all people to the library. Please do come and visit, come to our events, join our groups and have a cup of tea!
Alice Andrews is a sessional worker for Glasgow Women's Library and runs their Seeing Things project, and Hens Tae Watch Oot Fur queer feminist fanzine project. She joined the library first as a collections volunteer in 2009, and over the years has developed a keen working knowledge of the GWL archive and museum collection.
The Glasgow Women's Library are supporting a Scotland's Urban Past project about Frederick Douglass and women abolitionists in Scotland.