A grand day out in Glasgow and Susan Calman’s Hat

HO, HO, HO ….the festive season approaches and Semester 1 draws to an end. I have a hurried e-mail conversation with Hannah at Glasgow Women’s Library about my prospective internship in Semester 2. Let’s meet, we agree. Early in the new year before everything gets too busy. Brilliant. We put a date in the diary. I’m feeling very organised and it’s not even Christmas yet.

I ring a friend. “Do you fancy a day out in Glasgow? I’m going to the Women’s Library.”

“Oh please, I’ve always wanted to go. It’s been on my list for years.”

“That’s settled then. Don’t forget your bus pass.”

With Twelfth Night behind us and Semester 2 looming ahead, we arrive in Laundressy Street and are made most welcome at the library. As my friend explores, I meet with Hannah to discuss the detail of the forthcoming internship. I shall spend the next ten Fridays here and my focus will be #FlashFictionFriday – encouraging women to submit short pieces of fiction online using prompts to be sourced from the library archive. This is great news and I try to contain the urge to babble with excitement.  I don’t want to alarm Hannah.  Instead, I focus on taking in the unique atmosphere here. The lending library consists mostly of donated books and free copies of significant texts blagged from publishers. The siren shelves sparkle with the stripey spines of Women’s Press Fiction and glow green with Virago Modern Classics. It feels comfortable and familiar  and  I want to stay all day,  looking at books. But there is much more to see and discover about this space which celebrates the lives and achievements of women whilst championing their contribution to Scottish Culture. Hannah gives me an overview of the many projects undertaken by GWL – events, groups, activities, learning programmes, outreach projects but then asks if I would like to see the archive. And would my friend like to come along? I search for her and find her devouring information about Women’s Heritage Walks.  We must come back and investigate some of these, she says.

Waves of wonder and nostalgia sweep over us as Hannah guides us through the stacks, randomly opening boxes to reveal the treasures within. Members of the public donate much of the archive materials so there are are boxes of photographs and memorabilia relating both to individuals and to social, civic and community groups. Also here are complete back collections of feminist publications like Spare Rib and Harpies and Quines ( oh, the memories!….) We look at some placards made recently by a group of female prison inmates as part of a women’s history project and spy a lone top-hat sitting on one of the shelves.

“Oh…that’s Susan Calman’s hat from Strictly Come Dancing,” says Hannah, “Susan is a regular donor.” We are impressed.

Do they ever refuse donations, we wonder? Hannah tells us they’ve had to politely turn away more knitting patterns as there is limited space to store them.

My friend and I resist the urge to stay all day. We thank Hannah and I tell her with complete sincerity that I can’t wait to come back. We venture forth to search for lunch in Bridgeton. As we eat, we ask ourselves how a pair of ageing feminists have managed to avoid the lure of the Women’s Library for so long. We have no idea but agree that we’ll both be back.