I’ve been working on the 30th anniversary project for just over 8 weeks now and what a ride it’s been! Having volunteered and worked with Glasgow Women’s Library for over 4 years, becoming the project archivist has very much felt like a natural progression for my work and interests. This step into the GWL archive and history feels very exciting, the project connects the past with present and gives us an opportunity to think and talk about what we see for the organisation in the future.
As an archivist there is an element of gatekeeping inherent to the job; we know where things are, we hold the keys to the stores and manage the timetable for researchers and users. This is particularly important when considering the history we hold, the origins of the organisation, and is reflected in how the archive is used. GWL works slightly differently to most archives. We are grassroots at our core and our history and the material we hold is an extension of the people we represent. Our resources and material have always been available on the shelves of our spaces, our priority has always been to make information accessible. The organisation has been radically forward thinking in how material is accessed by staff, volunteers, and users. Understanding how the archive operates and how the organisation operates is an important part of my work here and integral when thinking about the way in which we catalogue and make materials accessible.
Working on projects, such as Decoding Inequality, has helped me frame a critical (but friendly) perspective of materials within museum collections and archives. I’ve also been lucky enough to work as a research assistant for Adele, (an elder and founder of GWL) as she conducted reflective research into feminist leadership, the history of GWL and the growth and development of feminist organisations. During this time Adele would sometimes mention ‘Kate’, ‘Bildwechsel’ or the ‘international conference’, we would look at footage taken of GWL in the 1990s by various groups and individual visitors, giving me little insights into the organisation’s past and leaving me with a multitude of questions! Fortunately, and quite uniquely, we’re lucky enough to still have GWL elders within our reach making these questions answerable and the history all that more accessible.
At the moment the work Nicola and I are doing is a process of surveying the collection. We are analysing the pre-existing framework of the GWL organisational records, also using the fantastic resources Rachel our project coordinator has been creating, to think about where the gaps are in the archive and how we can address these bits of misplaced history. Each day has brought me a new set of boxes and, with that, a new discovery. I’m finding not just original GWL material that holds information about events, film screenings, exhibitions, promotional material, call outs, posters for parties, but also a wealth of material that GWL collected for its users throughout the 1990’s. I think about the library as a pre-digital age organism, collecting and distributing information for women. I think about Section 28 and the city of Glasgow, what it was like to be a woman and/or part of the LGBTQ+ community, wondering where you would find information that is relevant to you and was made for you, where would you find events with other like-minded people. After working with the archive material these past weeks my suspicions have been confirmed and it looks like GWL was the place.
Over the next few months Nicola and I will continue to appraise the collection, an essential but somewhat lengthy process with over 300 boxes to look through. We have been rearranging, sorting and rehousing material, working our way towards cataloguing and digitising the collection with a fantastic team of volunteers. I can’t wait to meet them and get moving onto the next stage of this process.