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Deeds Not Words: Why Glasgow Women's Library is My Museum of the Year


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Deeds. Not Words.

These words in 1903 were adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union. Pankhurst believed that only action could win women the vote. These words also describe Glasgow Women’s Library, an Art Fund Prize Museum of the Year finalist. The institution consistently commits itself to ensuring change within the sector through action.

The history of Glasgow Women’s Library is complicated and beautiful. Proof of what can be done when people work together. It opened a tiny base on 21st of September, 1991 in Garnethill. It was birthed from Women in Profile (1987), a broad-based arts organisation which aimed to bring women’s contributions to Glaswegian history, life and culture into the public eye as part of the events going on for Glasgow 1990 European City of Culture. Adele Patrick, involved since Women in Profile, and Sue John, who got involved a while later, are the senior managers. GWL began the start of its innovative publishing with Hiv, Aids and Women: a bibliography in 1993.

From 1994, like many Women’s and Feminist institutions (like the LSE Women’s Library or London’s Feminist Library) it started a series of moves with no permanent space in sight. It grew and moved to Trongate then in 2006 to decant premises at Parnie Street. From 2007-2008 they were at the Mitchell before they took up the former Anderston Library space at the Mitchell in 2010.
Finally in 2013 it secured a permanent home in working class 23 Landressy Street, Brighton, Glasgow. Renovations to restore the former Carnegie library were finished in 2015. Its former small women’s reading room is now the office and the building is run by women entirely.

GWL’s growth as recognised institution began when they were made a company limited by guarantee in 1994-1995. They launched their first volunteer scheme which people like me have gained from, and began to incorporate the archives of groups and people like Edinburgh’s Women Centre and the National Lesbian Archive.

A recognised charity from 2005, they then in 2001-2005 began one of their most innovative and important projects. GWL’s lifelong learning project opened providing learning opportunities for all women and it’s adult literacy and numeracy project as part of it.

2005 also saw the first writer in residence, Raman Mundair, and the appointment of a full-time librarian, Wendy Kirk. In 2006 they began learning projects directed at BAME/POC women, and funded two new staff to oversee learning initiatives. 2007-2008, while at the Mitchell, they got a Lottery Fund of £410,000 enabling them to have an archive room and archivist to work with their ever-expanding collection of historical items. 2008 saw the Scottish government fund their learning opportunities across Scotland. It was also the year they became an associate member of the Museums and Galleries of Scotland. By 2010 they became a fully accredited museum through the Museums, Libraries and Archive council. GWL’s volunteer base was improved in 2011 with funding enabling the hire of a volunteer co-ordinator and a formal partnership with voluntary organisations. They became a recognised collection of national significance in 2015 and celebrated 25 years in 2016. 

Whether their events, library, archive, courses, gallery or more they  have a full varied experience for everyone that steps through door. They make visitors feel they are home.

GWL is concerned about the future of museums and galleries…How they are run and are trying to change that. Their Equality in Progress report involved research, surveying then a conference for dissemination on findings regarding whether museums are diverse or overseen too often by privileged groups like white, non-working class people. Then  set out how to fix that.

Creating GWL’s new podcast, Great Wee Listens, with Hannah, our Digital and Marketing Officer, is exciting for me as its just one of the latest examples of GWL being accessible and innovative.

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