Our History

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

Glasgow Women's Library launch poster, 1991

Glasgow Women's Library launch poster, 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.

GWL at 109 Trongate space c.1994

GWL at 109 Trongate space c.1994

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.

Landmarks in the Library’s history

Some significant landmarks in the Library’s history include:

  • GWL opens its first premises in Garnethill, having developed from the broad-based arts organisation, Women in Profile.
  • Launches its first publication, ‘Women, AIDS and HIV: A Bibliography’, short listed for a Library Association Award.
  • Relocates to larger premises at 109 Trongate due to increased collections, learning activities and users.
  • Re-launch of the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre after moving to GWL in 1995

    Re-launch of the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre after moving to GWL in 1995

    Individual and group archives begin to be deposited, including the collection from Edinburgh Women’s Centre and the National Lesbian Archives, relocated to GWL from London.

  • GWL starts to produce a quarterly newsletter.
  • Glasgow City Council honours the work of GWL in a Civic Reception held at the City Chambers.
  • GWL produces ground-breaking research, commissioned by Glasgow City Council, Poverty and Social Exclusion of Lesbians and Gay Men in Glasgow.
  • First paid workers are employed as Comic Relief funds a three year project to develop a young women’s peer support project – LIPS.
  • GWL’s innovative Lifelong Learning Project receives funding for the first time, enabling the organisation to provide a resourced, expanded range of learning opportunities, courses, events and activities for women.
  • A Motion tabled in the Scottish Parliament congratulates GWL on its work, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of its inception.
  • The Scottish Executive provides funding for GWL to develop and manage the Women in Scotland Database, a networking and consultation tool for agencies and public bodies interested in women’s and gender equality issues.
  • Research commission, publication and conference in partnership with Greater Glasgow Health Board: Something to Tell You – A Health Needs Assessment of Young Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People in Glasgow.
  • The launch of the Adult Literacy and Numeracy Project offering free, accessible, learner-centred guidance and tutoring to women wishing to improve their skills in reading, writing and number skills.
  • The production and launch of a ground-breaking video, Literacy Is for Me, aimed at raising awareness of literacy issues and highlighting the experiences of women.
  • The ongoing success of the LIPS Project secures a further three years funding from Comic Relief to develop LIPS into a Peer Education project.
  • GWL becomes the first Linked Library of the Scottish Parliament.
  • Participation in the ground-breaking Rule of Thumb season at the Gallery of Modern Art has many successful outcomes for GWL learners, including the award-winning elbowroom exhibition.
  • Such is the rate of GWL’s growth that an additional floor is rented within the building at 109 Trongate to accommodate an increase in projects, events and staff.
  • The appointment of GWL’s first full-time Scottish Arts Council funded Writer in Residence (Cultural Diversity) for a period of two years.
  • The publication of Our Journeys: Writings by Women Moving On, a book of poetry and prose by learners in the Adult Literacy and Numeracy Project.
  • The appointment of a full-time Librarian, a new permanent post.
  • Secures the offer of new permanent premises from Glasgow City Council to relocate Glasgow Women’s Library to the Mitchell Library.
  • Commissioning of publications including a booklet to mark the 30th anniversary of the Equal Opportunities Commission, launched at the Scottish Parliament, and the production of Homophobia: Taking no Pride in Prejudice, an awareness-raising handbook, commissioned by Glasgow City Council, and later adopted as a model of good practice by UNISON at UK national level.
  • Development of a new partnership with Stow College, providing a certificated Introduction to Women’s Studies course delivered at GWL.
  • The launch of GWL’s new website, enabling members and users to keep more up to date with events and activities.
  • Secures funding from the Scottish Executive to scope the potential for GWL to achieve National Status as The Women’s Library of Scotland.
  • Attendance at ‘KnowHow’ in Mexico City, the 4-yearly international conference of women’s libraries, archives and documentation centres.
  • The securing of funding for and completion of a Documentation Project to photograph and video GWL’s users throughout its 13 years at 109 Trongate before relocation.
  • Relocation into temporary ‘decant’ premises in advance of a permanent move to the Mitchell Library.
  • The launch of a major new Lifelong Learning project, Women Make History.
  • The securing of funding for, and launch of, a new project, providing Lifelong Learning opportunities for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Women in Glasgow – two additional members of staff appointed.
  • GWL features as Number 2 in the top 16 ‘Places of Hope’ in the book, ‘The Dreaming City: Glasgow 2020 and the Power of Mass Imagination’ (Demos).
  • GWL’s Adult Literacy and Numeracy Project launches ‘Breaking Barriers’, a report funded by the Scottish Community Action Research Fund to look at barriers to learning faced by women. The compilation of this report was led by Adult Literacy Learners themselves and contributes to the field at both academic and grass-roots levels.
  • The completion of an initial architect’s study and cost analysis for GWL’s new premises at the Mitchell Library.
  • The completion of a Disability Access Audit for GWL’s new premises at the Mitchell Library.
  • The launch of a pioneering Women’s Heritage Walk of Glasgow’s West End, researched and delivered by Women Make History volunteers. This popular and newsworthy walk has been delivered to nearly 200 people including international conference delegates and tourists.
  • GWL works in partnership with Amnesty International to successfully campaign for the Freedom of the City of Glasgow to be awarded to the Burmese politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, and was subsequently congratulated for this in a Motion tabled in the Scottish Parliament.
  • GWL is awarded a £410,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create an archive room at the new Mitchell premises and employ an Archivist for 3 years.
  • The HLF grant attracts local and national TV, radio and press coverage, with GWL appearances on BBC 1 ‘Reporting Scotland’, BBC Radio Scotland ‘Radio Café’, and in The Times, the Herald and the Evening Times.
  • GWL is congratulated on its HLF success in a Motion tabled in the Scottish Parliament.
  • The Scottish Government funds GWL for three years to expand its Lifelong Learning Programme to national level.
  • Launch of a new fundraising initiative, Women on the Shelf, designed to raise funds towards capital costs for relocation to the Mitchell Library.
  • Successful application to become Associate Members of Museums Galleries Scotland – the first stage required to enable GWL’s development into a national resource.
  • GWL’s Adult Literacy and Numeracy project is commended by the Scottish Further Education Unit and short listed for the 2008 Award for Student Learning for its Outreach Programme for Vulnerable Adults (project in partnership with Stow College and the Wayside Day Centre for homeless people).
  • Further Women’s Heritage Walks commissioned by the WEA and Glasgow City Council.
  • Successful bid to the Scottish Arts Council Capital Funding scheme, resulting in a grant of £62,991 towards capital costs for the Mitchell Library premises.
  • Match funding secured for the Heritage Lottery / Archive Project costs, with funding awarded by The Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland, The Endrick Trust and The Feminist Review Trust.
  • Awarded a grant of £26,963 by the Scottish Arts Council / National Lottery Capital Grant (Public Art Fund) for the first stages of a public art project to culminate in a permanent public art work outside the Mitchell Library premises.
  • GWL is awarded £75,000 from the Robertson Trust towards capital funds for the refurbishment of the Mitchell Library.
  • Completion of the RIAS / RIBA Stage D Report for the relocation to the Mitchell Library, undertaken by Gareth Hoskins Architects.
  • The Adult Literacy and Numeracy Project, featuring staff and learners, appears on BBC 2’s ‘Politics Scotland’ programme.
  • GWL’s ‘Women in the Necropolis’ and ‘Merchant City Women’ Heritage Walks featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ Programme, presented by Clare Balding.
  • Glasgow City Council pledges £80,000 towards capital costs of the premises refurbishment.
  • Relocated to the former Anderston Library at the Mitchell Library.
  • Motion in the Scottish Parliament tabled by Robert Brown MSP congratulating GWL on its Accreditation as a Museum.
  • Achieved Full Accreditation as a Museum by the Museums Libraries Archives Council.
  • Successful bid to the Scottish Government’s Third Sector Enterprise Fund awards GWL £94,080 towards capital costs for the new premises and for the appointment of a Business Development Worker to develop social enterprise activities to generate income.
  • GWL organises ‘One Small Step’, a one-day national conference on walking held at the Mitchell Library with 130 delegates attending from across Scotland.
  • Successful application to the Glasgow Grows Audiences / Scottish Arts Council’s Amb:IT:ion Scotland programme, leading to Associate status for GWL and providing dedicated specialist ICT development support for the organisation.
  • Partner organisation in ‘The Long Loch / Feminist Lines of Flight in Art and Politics’ at the CCA Glasgow, a major project in the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art.
  • A successful funding application to the Voluntary Action Fund results in the appointment of a Volunteer Co-ordinator, increasing GWL’s cohort to13 and marking a formal partnership with three other voluntary organisations.
  • The launch of GWL’s first Podcast, featuring the West End Women’s Heritage Walk, downloadable from GWL’s website.
  • GWL featured on BBC 2’s, ‘The Culture Show, in a programme on ‘World Book Night’.
  • One day Symposium on GWL’s ‘Making Space’ Public Art Project, with the launch of a DVD charting the project.
  • GWL staff, Directors and volunteers participate in Social Enterprise development and training programmes, delivered by CEiS (‘Aspire to Enterprise’) and ODS (‘Equally Enterprising’).
  • A new dedicated post to focus on independent income generation and Social Enterprise is funded by the Glasgow Social Economy Development Fund.
  • Following the appointment of a Property Agent (supported by Clyde Gateway) to scope the availability and feasibility of a range of premises across Glasgow as suitable, fit-for-purpose permanent premises, GWL takes the decision to relocate to the former public library, Landressy Street, Bridgeton.
  • A full Design Team, led by Collective Architecture, is appointed for the renovation works on GWL’s new premises in Landressy Street, with Project Management support provided by Clyde Gateway.
  • The launch of a major two-year project and programme of activities to celebrate the 20th-21st Anniversaries of GWL. Funded by Creative Scotland and Museums Galleries Scotland, GWL commissioned 21 visual artists and 21 writers to produce new works inspired by items in its library, archive and museum artefact collections.
  • ‘21 Revolutions: Two Decades of Changing Minds at Glasgow Women’s Library’, an exhibition of the works by 21 artists to celebrate 21 years of GWL is launched at the Glasgow Centre For Contemporary Arts (CCA).
  • The publishing of a new book, ‘She Settles in the Shields: Untold Stories of Migrant Women in Pollokshields’, the culmination of a two year reminiscence project involving the collection of testimonies and oral histories.
  • The launch of an on-line project to map memorials to women across Scotland, receiving an endorsing Message of Support from Scotland’s First Minister.
  • The appointment of a Reader in Residence is funded by the Scottish Book Trust.
  • The launch of a new project to focus on Outreach and Audience Development in the context of GWL’s forthcoming relocation to the East End of Glasgow.
  • The launch of a further Women’s Heritage Walk – this one focussing on the East End of the City, bringing the total number in the series to five.
  • ‘21 Revolutions: Two Decades of Changing Minds at Glasgow Women’s Library’, an exhibition of the works by 21 artists to celebrate 21 years of GWL is shown at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.
  • Relocation to Landressy Street, Bridgeton.
  • A new project, ‘Mixing the Colours’, funded by the Scottish Government, is launched, focussing on women and sectarianism.
  • The launch of ‘Badges of Honour: How Badge Wearing Women Changed the World’, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
  • Relocation to Landressy Street, Bridgeton.
  • GWL wins the Arts & Business Scotland ‘Enterprising Museum of the Year Award 2013-14’, sponsored by Museums Galleries Scotland.
  • The final amounts of capital funding are secured for the renovation works to the building, enabling Contractors to go on site in the Spring 2014.