Summing up my time with the Glasgow Women’s Library is incredibly difficult. I have met so many wonderful people, learned so much, and have taken part in so many different experiences – it seems too much for one blog post! It is easiest to start at the beginning – a skype interview with Wendy, our librarian, and Gabrielle, our Volunteer Co-ordinator. Initially I was nervous, however this was immediately swept away as we started to chat; it was much more an interesting conversation than an interview! The call went very well and I was overjoyed to be offered an internship, initially for three months.
During the first two weeks I still felt a bit nervous, I was in a different country and everything felt so new. I wanted to do well and live up to the standards of the GWL. Luckily the whole team was very supportive of everyone during the initial learning period and there was no pressure, everyone could learn at their own pace. What amazed me right from the start is that the Library’s values are applied to every process and each project is carefully discussed before it is pursued. These values of equality, diversity, inclusiveness, and the empowerment of women are not just words that appear on the website; they’re vibrant and active concepts, which can be felt in every fibre of the organisation. To look behind the scenes of such an important organisation has been extraordinary.
The first tour I gave was to a group of 40 students and I was very nervous. Luckily I wasn’t alone, because Emily, the Life Long Learning Admin Assistant, was with me. I still remember it very vividly because it was Halloween: Emily was Pippi Longstocking and my face was covered with googly eyes. Having swept away the first distraction that this caused, it was a joint effort to present the wonderful achievements of 26 years of Glasgow Women’s Library, conveying our passion for the cause. While I was giving the tour a “we” slipped out and I noticed how strong the feeling of community really is at the GWL. Even though I had only been there for 2 months I was truly trusted to represent the organisation. Not long after this I decided to prolong my internship to six months.
The same openness applied to being on Front of House. Staff members Gabrielle, Wendy, Katie and Emily made sure that there were in depth training sessions. This allowed for us to feel comfortable greeting visitors, taking phone calls (it was such an achievement when my heart stopped pounding whenever the phone rang, it was well worth the wait) and dealing with the daily responsibilities.
The most rewarding thing about Front of House was (and still is!) meeting so many fantastic people. There was not one single shift in which I did not have an inspiring conversation or learned something new. Some people would come to do research, others came from far away and chose GWL as one their destinations to visit in Glasgow and others were regulars who enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere and read their books in one the comfortable armchairs. The smile on the visitors’ faces when they were offered a cup of tea and a free tour of the Library made me happy every time.
On most Thursdays throughout my internship I had the pleasure of helping Wendy, our librarian, setting up and co-hosting the Story Café. It was definitely one of my highlights of the week. The concept of reading short stories, excerpts from novels, and poems out loud and then discussing them is simply brilliant. Together we travelled the world, went to Nigeria, to the States, got lost in descriptions of nature and took a journey through time to the 17th century. The group of women, many of them loyal participants, but also new faces from time to time, opened up new perspectives about topics and were never too shy to admit when they did not understand something. Their openness towards unknown or demanding subjects can be an inspiring example to everyone.
I was also given the opportunity to take part in the play “Her Spirit Soared”, directed by Syma and Myriam, a joint production that makes abuse against women more visible and shows how women battled through horrific experiences. The crew was truly diverse, and everyone was looking out for one another and made this experience so memorable.
Looking back at all these moments of happiness, sharing experiences, empowering one another in what we’re doing, underlines the importance of these projects.
In addition to all the fantastic people I met at the library, I wanted to mention the writers who accompanied me throughout my internship. Some of them were mentioned in the book reviews I posted on the website and others I flipped through during the quieter hours in the library.
Manal al-Sharif took me on a journey through Saudi-Arabian society and proved her strength and will to change the set structures of an oppressive society by getting into a car and driving. In “Three Daughters of Eve” Elif Shafak manages to tackle big questions concerning belief and secularism, feminism and how we construct our identity in the global age, without losing the depth of her literary style. Another book that inspired me was “Bare Reality” by Laura Dodsworth, which embraces the diverse beauty of breasts. It tells the stories of 100 women and their breasts: some feel very comfortable, some had to fight against horrific cancer and others simply have never really thought about them. Every woman can relate to more than one story and it invites the reader to honour the beauty of one’s own breasts! And the last book that inspired me was Svetlana Alexievich’s collection of interviews with women who participated in the Second World War, “The Unwomanly Face of War”. It shows the importance of collecting the voices of women who are not part of the predominant discourse.
This is what the GWL is about and what drives the women who volunteer and work there – making sure the stories of great women are heard! Whether it is through books, events, archiving or collecting objects, the library is dedicated to the celebration of women’s achievements, through their historical, political and cultural contributions.
Last but not least I want this to be a dedication to all the wonderful women who work for, volunteer at, or come into the Library. You all contribute to the uniqueness of this beautiful place: a place open to everyone, where everyone is treated equally. You all helped make this time an unbelievably enriching and unforgettable experience.