Hello everyone! My name is Ida and I’m a student at Aarhus University in Denmark where I’m doing a master’s degree in Art History. For the last three months I’ve been doing a placement here at the library, and with only one day left I thought I would share some of my thoughts on what it’s been like being a part of an organisation like GWL.
As a part of my bachelor’s degree I did a one-year supplementary programme in Museum Studies, which is how I became interested in cultural heritage and the activities that different cultural institutions engage in, including curating, preservation, public programming and education. In addition to that, I also have a strong interest in feminist theory and women’s studies, especially in its relation to art and visual media, and for a long time I’ve wanted to learn more about how museums can use their materials to promote a better understanding of our collective heritage while also fostering dialogue about women’s and gender equality issues and current academic and feminist practice. So when I was looking for a student placement and came across Glasgow Women’s Library, I felt like I had found exactly what I was looking for. I was particularly interested in working with GWL’s archives and its collection of museum artefacts, as well as with the Lesbian Archive and Information Center collection. And luckily, they agreed to take me on!
Having just moved from Aarhus to Glasgow a few days before my placement began, it’s fair to say I was quite anxious about what it would actually be like coming to work at the library. But from the very first day, everyone here at GWL have been so incredibly friendly and welcoming and it didn’t take long before I felt like I had settled in.
During my stay here, I’ve been involved in many different aspects of GWL’s work and projects. For the most part, I’ve been working in the archives, listing and cataloguing, among other things, zines and newsletters from the collection, which has been a great opportunity to get familiar with some of the materials that are available here while also learning more about the lives and achievements of women in the UK.
I have also been at the front of house, meeting and greeting visitors, while getting to know the other volunteers and team members. GWL does great work to encourage as many women as possible to get involved in developing the Library and being front of house has been a nice way to meet and interact with the many different people who support and visit the library every day.
But the thing that has left the biggest impression on me, and the thing that has been the most rewarding, is the strong sense of community I’ve experienced while working at GWL and being part of a space that is orientated around women and their lives and experiences.
For me, being a part of GWL is helping to break down some of the barriers that keep women from engaging in feminist collective action; barriers that are often associated with the social construction and experience of what it means to be a woman. The category “woman” is so broad and diffuse, as are the needs of women, and it changes depending on race, ethnicity, religion, political orientation, sexual orientation, age, body size, (dis)ability and so on. GWL brings together women from all walks of life, giving them a sense of equal ownership and belonging.
We tend to see a lot of focus on the detrimental nature of relationships between women and the prevailing notion seems to be that by nature women are competitive and “catty” and will always try to undermine one another; a narrative that reveals itself a little one-sided at best, and incredibly harmful to women and their sense of self at worst. Relationships between women are not tainted by behaviours of hostility and rivalry by default. Instead, rather than forming alliances with one another, women are often forced to compete against one another. Many women come to consider being valued by men as their ultimate source of achievement and identity, and many feel compelled to compete with other women for the attention of men.
But not only is unity between women possible, it is also extremely important. Our relationships with other women can enrich our experience and can provide us with inspiration and energise our ambitions. During my time here, I’ve seen how GWL helps women take control of their own personal development and in my experience, they prove that when women work together it can be a catalyst for change. The library and its’ collections offers a unique insight into to the lives and achievements of women, while doing essential work to eradicate the gender gap that contributes to widespread inequalities. But most importantly, GWL helps build meaningful and sustainable relationships between women. We help each other to learn and improve and we help each other to make good choices in life.
The library has given me what now feels like a wonderful family of women that have all helped to make this experience one I will treasure forever. So a big thank you to everyone at GWL. While I’m going to miss you all terribly, I am sure that I will be back again soon.