Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) has been providing information, resources and services since 1991. It developed from a broad-based arts organisation called Women in Profile, which was set up in 1987 with the aim of ensuring the representation of women’s culture during Glasgow’s year as the European City of Culture in 1990.
Our beginnings in 1991
Women in Profile comprised community artists, grass-roots activists, academics, students and broad-based arts practitioners who collectively ran a year-long season of events, workshops, exhibitions, projects and other activities before and during 1990.
Over the course of that time Women in Profile gathered documentation and materials relating to its activities and, following consultation with the local community and women’s groups across the City of Glasgow, opened Glasgow Women’s Library in September 1991 in the Garnethill area.
Since 1991 thousands of women have contributed to the growth and success of the Library. The collection has been largely donated and there have been scores of women involved in managing its projects, volunteering and contributing their time, expertise, visions and energies.
Despite the absence of revenue funding and a complete reliance on volunteers, GWL was quickly established as the central general information resource about and for women in Glasgow.
People from all sections of the community donated books, magazines, journals and ephemera and by 1994 GWL’s rapid growth, both in terms of collection size and user numbers, resulted in the need to relocate to larger premises. Consequently, the organisation moved to Glasgow City Council-owned premises at 109 Trongate where it continued to expand and develop, providing learning opportunities informally in the context of the lack of any funding for this purpose.
Links with other organisations
The Library is a unique resource in Scotland but has always sought inspiration, support and links with sister organisations world-wide. Many of the Library projects, policies and initiatives have developed after peer group visits, contacts or discussions.
Over the Library’s history we have held hundreds of events, undertaken research, training and partnerships, visited and hosted workshops, conferences and exhibitions. We have visited international sister projects as well as making firm links with local and national women’s initiatives.
A growing organisation
In 2000, GWL secured its first project funding, enabling the employment of workers for the first time. This was followed by further successful funding bids to facilitate new projects focusing on the provision of Lifelong Learning opportunities and an Adult Literacy and Numeracy Project aimed at women.
During a key period of development between 2002 and 2006, GWL secured its status as a Linked Library to the Scottish Parliament, appointed a Librarian and a Writer in Residence, undertook several research commissions on behalf of public bodies and launched its Women Make History Project. This period saw further growth in user numbers, with more than 10,000 people a year accessing the ever-expanding collection of materials and range of services. GWL’s enhanced performance, impact and potential was recognised by Glasgow City Council when they offered the former Anderston lending library at the Mitchell Library as a permanent home for the GWL to ensure its longer term sustainable future.
In 2006, the Scottish Executive agreed to provide short-term funding for ‘change management’ purposes and to scope the potential for GWL to secure MLA Accreditation and status as a ‘Recognised Collection of National Significance’ as a ‘Non-National National’ Museum in Scotland. This work is currently ongoing.
In 2007, GWL moved from 109 Trongate to temporary accommodation at 81 Parnie Street (due to the refurbishment of 109 Trongate for visual arts organisations) pending its permanent relocation to the Mitchell Library. Whilst the collections of library books, archive materials and artifacts remain in storage at these premises, the project work continued and in April 2008, a new project aimed at Black and Minority Ethnic Women was launched. The Women Make History Project researched, developed and delivered its first Women’s Heritage Walk [link] and has since developed a further three women’s heritage walks.
In June 2008 GWL was successful in its bid for funding to the Heritage Lottery Fund and was awarded £410,000 to create a purpose-built archive space within the Mitchell Library premises and to employ an Archivist for three years to train volunteers in archive-related skills, conserve the collection and co-ordinate a programme of related public events. In addition, the Scottish Government agreed three years funding to develop GWL’s Lifelong Learning Programme at a national level.
Looking to the future
Since 1991, Glasgow Women’s Library grown from an unfunded, grassroots initiative with no paid workers to a busy, multifaceted organisation with 13 paid staff, sessional workers and over 20 volunteers. Thousands of women more have visited or used the Library’s resources or learning opportunities and continue to do so, both in our space at the Mitchell Library, at partner organisations in Glasgow and across Scotland.
Glasgow Women’s Library is at a very exciting stage in its development, with a current major focus on searching for permanent, fully accessible premises in which to relocate. More information can be found in our Future Plans.