I’ve never met a library I haven’t liked. I’ve been in many of them, worked in more than a few too, and in each one I ever visit, I always feel the same sense of contentment in the presence of collected knowledge. I never feel anxious in a library but that might be because of my background working in them as well as the still sense of order in each one.
Recently I went to the Glasgow Women’s Library, which sits in Bridgeton in the East End. The GWL has been on my radar for a while – what I heard of its work, from colleagues and library users, impressed me immensely. Libraries open up worlds for people that they didn’t know existed and the GWL has a very broad collection of works by female writers as well as museum and archive collections on politics, lesbian issues and the National Museum of Roller Derby. They also provide outreach sessions and workshops for women from all sorts of backgrounds on all sorts of things. All this I was broadly aware of before I walked into the place but what I was struck by was its friendliness. Within moments, my friend and I were welcomed, offered a cup of tea and whisked away for a tour. Many people have an image of libraries as rather forbidding, unapproachable sorts of places and those who work in them as much the same, a perception many of us are trying our hardest to change. The GWL lives up to its credo as expressed on the A-frame at the door: ‘We Are Open To Everyone’. Even me, the only guy in the place, a fact I only noticed well into the time we were there.
The tour included the museum store, all climate-controlled as befits a collection which is recognised as a nationally significant collection by the Scottish Government. JA and I are both museum geeks so getting into a store with its boxes all carefully accessioned and labelled is a rare treat. The mezzanine level houses some of the older and rarer books, including one I spotted about Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the Victorian intellectual Thomas Carlyle and a writer and thinker in her own right. Jane hailed from Haddington in East Lothian, in fact the house where she was born is across a narrow close from the town’s library.
The main lending library was naturally where I had to be next, to look at their collection, which wasn’t organised by Dewey, rather by subject with Drama, Poetry and Politics rather than a series of numbers with a decimal point attached for good measure. The books were kept in place with blocks marked with the names of writers, though most poignantly the Politics section had a block bearing the name of Jo Cox, the MP who was assassinated last year. I saw lots of books I would have loved to just sit and read, including a biography of the very versatile and prolific Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison. Time, alas, precludes such pleasures.
Nan Shepherd wrote that ‘it is a grand thing to get leave to live’. Libraries give us leave to live. One of the greatest pleasures of being in a library is having your mind blown by something you read. Even better still is working in a library because of the people you find there, the kind that boil the blood as much as those who become more like friends. Libraries are open to everyone and I have never failed to feel comfortable in any of them I’ve ever encountered. Not everyone feels that way and that must change. The Glasgow Women’s Library is a truly special place and I am proud that this city, my city, is its home. Their work in sharing literature and stories makes people feel part of something, a movement, a collective where no one is alone. Theirs is an open door in an often closed world. It must be cherished and celebrated, now more than ever.
Thanks for reading. In the next couple of months, I will be publishing the 300th post here on Walking Talking. To celebrate that milestone, I would like to open it up to suggestions. If anyone has any suggestions for the 300th post, put them in the comments box or contact me in another way if you know how. We have one suggestion already but I am open to others.