I’m Emily, tour guide volunteer and interim Lifelong Learning Admin Assistant at Glasgow Women’s Library. I first heard about GWL during my Environmental Art studies at Glasgow School of Art when my tutor Shauna McMullan gave a talk on a wonderful project she was working on called the Blue Spine collection, a single, long line of blue-spined books, collected and borrowed from women all around Scotland. Intrigued and inspired, I shyly made my first visit to the Mitchell Library (then the home of GWL), where I was welcomed like a long lost friend, offered multiple cups of tea, and generally (wonderfully) overwhelmed by a feeling of acceptance and warmth.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I began to volunteer at GWL as a tour guide on the Women’s Heritage Walks, eager to learn more about women’s history in Glasgow and to become more confident speaking in public. Walking around the city, talking about amazing women like Betty Brown, the bullet Catherine Carswell received in the post, and the Suffrage Oak, the groups responded with their own memories: rumours, smells, and stories that we excitedly note down to be added to the script for the next group on the walk. Each walk is shaped and coloured by those who come along and made richer for it.
When I was thinking of an object to choose for this 25 years blog, another piece by Shauna McMullan immediately came to mind. For the 21 Revolutions exhibition, Shauna McMullan combed GWL’s lending library collecting the marginalia and asterisks from hundreds of the donated volumes. The resulting print is titled 165 Stars, Found in GWL Lending Library. I have always loved puzzling over asterisks and underlinings in books I’m reading, feeling a connection to the previous reader and wondering why she highlighted this word or this particular sentence. Inevitably, I pause longer at these sections, reading and rereading the marked pages. I’m sure some of them mark moments of inspiration and of learning, others may mark surprise or debate.
Shauna McMullan, 165 Stars, Found in GWL Lending Library, 2012
165 Stars makes me think of all the many ways GWL has marked me. In my first week working as Lifelong Learning Admin Assistant (maternity cover) I found myself rowing with the GWL team down the Clyde on a Saturday morning to enthusiastic encouragement. No, I had never rowed before. This has set the tone for my time as admin assistant: there’s a new, exciting and surprising challenge all the time! Every day at the library has that fizz about it that you feel when you read something in a book that you want to underline or star for the next person; keen to share the learning and enthusiasm for what you’re discovering.
GWL is full of stars: some are scribbled in books, others are working behind front of house, or cataloguing knitting patterns or feminist magazines in the archive, or feeding back on events so that we can grow and improve, and spreading the word about everything we have to share. I’m not even going to apologise for the cliché because being part of GWL absolutely feels like being part of a beautiful big shining constellation, which shines brighter for all the wonderful volunteers, borrowers, friends, eventgoers and visitors who each mark the library in their own unique way.