Ask A Librarian: Wendy Kirk from Glasgow Women's Library
With libraries across the country suffering widespread funding cuts and closures (in 2013, Moray Council voted to close seven of its 15 libraries, although three were later saved by local protesters), we are exploring why libraries remain important in the digital age.
Wendy Kirk, a librarian at Glasgow Women's Library, is first up in our new series featuring amazing Scottish libraries. The GWL is unique in Scotland; it began as a volunteer, donations-based community project, and developed into an incredible resource of women's cultural history and a thriving library with 13 paid staff. We asked Wendy what makes her library special.
What do you love most about your library?
Apart from the people, which goes without saying, I really love the fact that all our books are donated! This creates a real sense of ownership amongst our learners, borrowers and supporters. The fact that it is their actual books that have helped the library collections blossom over the years is something really special. It’s lovely for someone to come in and spot a book that’s been life-changing for them, nestled safely on our bookshelves.
Tell us something we don’t know about your library?
Our library is about more than just books!
As well as knitting patterns, Suffragette postcards and campaigning badges, in the last few years we’ve also set up The National Museum of Roller Derby.
We have amazing archives and artefacts just waiting for you to discover them. As well as knitting patterns, Suffragette postcards and campaigning badges, in the last few years we’ve also set up The National Museum of Roller Derby. We have helmets, sweat bands and roller skate accessories, and also a nurse's uniform worn by a roller derby girl during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics 2012. Who would’ve thought you’d find that in a library!
What’s your favourite book and why?
Ooh, it’s difficult to choose just one! But since you’ve put me on the spot, I suppose it has to be Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. First published in 1937, it tells the story of Janie, a proud and independent young black woman, whose quest for identity and love takes her on an epic journey of self-discovery. I read it in my early twenties and vividly remember being totally blown away by Hurston’s style of writing, her use of vernacular dialect and her haunting, raw portrayal of Janie. I can read this book again and again and each time find it even more beautiful and lyrical.
It amazes me that this book, which was dismissed at the time of its publication and out of print for 30 years, is now considered to be one of important novels in the canon of African-American literature. What a testament to Hurston’s writing. Hurston herself was a strong, independent and at times controversial woman, whose life is every bit as fascinating as her heroine Janie’s.
Excluding GWL, what’s the best library you’ve ever been to?
I visited Breadalbane Community Library in Aberfeldy with my children, and had a wonderful experience there. It is beautifully designed, with lots of light, and the space literally invites you to lounge on the floor and read for hours on end. Exactly what a library should do! But what made my visit so great was the staff: super friendly and really knowledgeable about their books. For me, having a lovely welcome and a warm atmosphere always makes a library visit memorable, and therefore makes it something great!
And from an aesthetic point of view, I must admit to immediately falling in love with the Mackintosh Library at the Art School, but who wouldn’t?
Ask A Librarian will return soon. Read more libraries-themed blog posts here.