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Glasgow Women's Library: Truly a national treasure

Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) is one of Creative Scotland’s 118 Regularly Funded Organisations for 2015-2018. They’ve had an exciting few months recently, with renovations being completed in their new permanent home in November 2015 followed by being awarded ‘Recognised Collections of National Significance’ status by Museum Galleries Scotland in December 2015. The pace doesn’t look to be slowing in 2016 with a new Spring Programme launched revealing a vibrant line-up of events, activities and learning programmes at the Library, including Herland, “a new irregular evening which distils the essence of GWL”.

To find out more about how the year is shaping up we chatted to Glasgow Women’s Library’s Admin Assistant for Lifelong Learning, Katie Reid.

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Tell us a bit more about the history of GWL? 

In 2013 Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) moved to our new permanent premises in Bridgeton, and after a 2-year period of renovation work during which the main library space remained open to the public, we were handed the keys to the newly refurbished events space, purpose-built stores, and to the newly built lift, making our upstairs spaces fully accessible. GWL has been providing information, resources and services since 1991 and 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 creative endeavours, history and culture during Glasgow’s year as the European City of Culture in 1990. Since 1991 thousands of women have contributed to the growth and success of the Library. As well as a lending library, we hold a wonderful treasure trove of historical and contemporary museum artifacts and archive materials that celebrate the lives, histories and achievements of women. From Suffragette memorabilia and 1930s dress making patterns to rare 1970s Scottish Women’s Liberation newsletters, it’s all here!

In 2011 (ahead of our 21st birthday in September 2012 and with the support of Creative Scotland) GWL commissioned 21 artists and 21 writers to create new work inspired by our diverse and remarkable collections. Some of the most significant names in Scottish art and literature including Turner Prize nominees and lauded authors responded with new texts and artworks, from Janice Galloway to Denise Mina, Claire Barclay to Sam Ainsley. The works are now documented through our publication 21 Revolutions and several works from this project, acquired by Glasgow Museums are currently on display in Ripples on the Pond, at Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow.  The Glasgow Museums’ collection exhibition Ripples on the Pond, is designed as a conversation between works on paper by women and moving image. It takes as the starting point recent acquisitions from the Glasgow Women’s Library 21 Revolutions series, relating them to other works from Glasgow Museums’ collection. You can now also see filmed interviews by 21 Revolutions artists Helen de Main, Shauna McMullan, Ciara Phillips and Jacki Parry discussing their work and other Ripples on the Pond contributors including Jacqueline Donachie and Sarah Forrest at GoMA. These films were produced by a dedicated group of GWL volunteers and Young Critics who worked closely with GWL and GoMA over a period of several months to create these valuable records of contemporary women artists.

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What has moving into your newly refurbished location in November meant for GWL?

2015 was certainly an important milestone year for GWL, with the completed renovations to our permanent new home, followed by an official opening on 7th November by the Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland, who described GWL as ‘truly a national treasure’. Of the re-launch, Adele Patrick, GWL’s Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager reflected;

“It’s a dream come true to have purpose-built premises to house our unique and rare collections and to witness local, national and international visitors appreciating and using them. The launch of this building marks our transition to a permanent, forever home and we are so appreciative of the crucial support that our funders, partners, donors and friends have contributed in getting us here.”

To add to our celebrations, December brought the official news that GWL has been awarded ‘Recognised Collections of National Significance’ status by Museum Galleries Scotland, joining Scotland’s elite list of must-see museum collections. This accolade covers GWL’s entire collection of museum and archive holdings and further cements Glasgow Women’s Library’s status as the only accredited museum dedicated to women’s history in the whole of the UK.

What can people expect from the Herland series of events?

Herland is a new irregular event night beginning this year. It distils and blends the special ingredients of GWL: illuminating learning and surprising pleasures, the historic and the cutting edge, and the bringing together of diverse audiences to discover new ideas and enjoy established and experimental women creatives work. At Herland these will be served up with good food and live music in an evocative, beautiful space. We’re mindful of the great tradition of women salonnieres and the formal and informal gatherings of women creatives that have driven cultural change in Europe and beyond and acted as forums for women to learn about and share their thoughts about the world and share creative works and we see Herland as its latest accessible and exciting incarnation.

Wait Weep and Be Worthy

What have you got lined up for the Herland launch alternative Burns’ Night?

Our first Herland takes the form of an alternative Burns night on Friday, 29 January from 7pm to 10pm. We are delighted to welcome Salonnière Susan Calman who will host an evening of music, performance and film welcoming Glasgow-based band Muscles of Joy, artist Georgia Horgan, poet Sheila Templeton, DJ Adele Bethel and a visit from The Burns Cottage Suffragette Arsonists. In keeping with the theme we’ll be offering pop up Burns fusion fare.

We’re thrilled with the positive response so far, and our Herland: Alter Native Burns event booked up well ahead of the night. We’d suggest booking early for our May instalment of Herland, the Redstockinged Women’s Quiz, which brings an evening of unfettered fun, fiendish questions and feministy facts (courtesy of GWL special opps quizmistresses) and the most unseemly competition as teams pit wits for lush prizes and the accolade of Scotland’s Reigning Redstockings. As ever the night will be peppered with creative and cultural surprises… Bookings for teams of five can be made via our website so book your team’s place, let us know your team name and start swotting up. We look forward to what the future of Herland events bring as we partner with other women creatives as curators or performers allowing the Herland series to continue to evolve. 

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What else is coming up at GWL in 2016?

This Spring we have a vibrant programme of events, activities and learning programmes, many of which are free to attend. We’re celebrating women’s creativity and words with author reading events, a creative writing workshop and our ‘Speaking Volumes’ collaborative project with My Bookcase as part of GI 2016. ‘Speaking Volumes’ will discover and foreground the women that have influenced contemporary artists, curators and critics through capturing and displaying the texts recommended by those involved in GI 2016. Books will form a dedicated reading room within the library space, a space where we will host a series of conversations between local and international guest speakers. Discussions will revolve around the often eclipsed but influential and multifaceted contributions of women on art and creativity.

Our Palestinian Embroidery workshops with Claire Anderson are already proving very popular with lots of bookings ahead of the workshops beginning in February, and we launch a new series of women’s history workshops ‘Remembering Women Peace Crusaders’ from March. Later in Spring we’ll be screening ‘MARCH,’ a film that documents the project ‘March of Women’ by GWL and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. ‘March of Women’ was a large scale, public art event including contributions from over a hundred women that culminated in a march through the streets of Bridgeton to celebrate the achievements of women past and present.

We’re also working with the Saltire Society again to host the ‘Outstanding Women of Scotland Awards’ now in its second year. These awards ask for public nominations to honour 10 living women each year who have made truly outstanding contributions to Scottish life and culture. Nominations can be made on the Saltire Society website and will close on 8 March.

Find out more

Keep up with all that's happening at Glasgow Women's Library on their website, by liking them on Facebook or following @gwlkettle on Twitter. Copies of their printed programme can be found at the Library and at venues across Glasgow.

Find out more about Creative Scotland's Regular Funding programme.

This article was published on 26 Jan 2016