THERE is much excitement on Landressy Street in Bridgeton on this cold March morning - in a gentle, understated, library-kind-of-way.

Glasgow Women’s Library has its first merchandise range, a delightful selection of products inspired by the history of the organisation and its collections, including charm bracelets, mugs and book-shaped cushions.

The ‘proper’ launch will take place in time for International Women’s Day on Thursday, but the objects are already available online and on the shelves of the library, where they are attracting much interest from visitors and volunteers.

“We have always involved creatives since our inception in 1991 but this is the first time we have had the opportunity to work with such a wide and talented cohort of designers and makers,” explains Sue John, GWL’s Enterprise Development Manager.

“It’s a really provocative and humorous collection.”

Being GWL, of course, this is no ordinary merchandise range. From Glasgow Women’s Library comes with a series of public talks and workshops, providing a fascinating opportunity to work with and listen to the designers behind the products.

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It’s all about embracing creativity. Learning about women’s history. Harvesting the insights of our mothers and grandmothers. Being inspired.

It is Glasgow Women’s Library in a nutshell, in fact, uncovering and retelling the diverse stories of women, at a time when our experiences and achievements are firmly in the spotlight.

GWL grew out of a grass-roots arts group, Women in Profile, set up to make sure women were properly represented in the Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture in 1990.

It began life in Garnethill but as word spread and people from all sections of the community donated books, magazines, journals and ephemera, it had to move, and in 1994 it relocated to Trongate.

Between 2002 and 2006, GWL secured its status as a Linked Library to the Scottish Parliament, appointed a librarian and a writer-in-residence, undertook several research commissions on behalf of public bodies and launched its Women Make History Project.

Forced to move again, GWL eventually settled in its current home in the old public library on Landressy Street in Bridgeton, officially opened by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2016 after a £1.4m redevelopment.

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Founder Adele Patrick was named Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year in 2015 and the organisation has won a raft of awards and accolades since.

The whirlwind of the last 27 years still takes John’s breath away.

“It was tough in the early days - and very brave, to set up something so clearly feminist at a time when there was a real feminist backlash,” she explains. “But we ploughed on, through economic downturns and political turmoil, in draughty tenements with no heating, because above all, there was zillions of grass roots support. So we knew we were doing the right thing. We had to take risks.”

Now GWL has 22 staff and 80 volunteers, annual visitor numbers are at 20,000 and rising, and it was recently awarded Recognised Collection of National Significance status by Museum Galleries Scotland and the Scottish Government. It is the only Accredited Museum dedicated to women’s history in the whole of the UK.

It regularly hosts conferences, book launches and fundraising events, provides life-changing literacy support, and a group of community curators are working alongside John, Patrick and the team to create a permanent collection.

Life is busy, acknowledges John, in something of an understatement.

“We are at peak suffragette at the moment, as we celebrate the centenary of some women finally getting the vote,” she adds.

“The anniversary has sparked lots and lots of enquiries from a whole raft of organisations, and of course, we have our own events planned, so it is very busy.

“We are absolutely delighted that the First Minister announced we will receive Scottish Government support to deliver a programme of events and activities for the Vote100 campaign.”

John pauses. “The interest surrounding the anniversary is fantastic, of course - but we don’t want it to fade away,” she says.

“It would be no use if we have this great celebration to mark the moment, only to wake up the next day and watch women’s achievements being forgotten all over again.”

She adds: “So much of women’s history has been forgotten – hardly any of it has been preserved, especially around the suffragettes.

“I do a lot of talks, sometimes in front of huge groups of people, and when I ask them to name a suffragette, most will say Emmeline Pankhurst.

“When I ask them to name a Scottish suffragette, no-one can – and I’m talking about big groups of people, maybe 600 or 700.”

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She adds: “These people were brave campaigners who did so much to ensure women could participate in the democratic process – they were vilified, imprisoned, force-fed, lost their families, split communities and yet we don’t even know their names?”

John is exasperated. “How can we learn about great women, when we look around the civic landscape and they are nowhere to be seen?

“Preserving their stories is really our bread and butter work.”

Tying in with the Vote100 celebration is the library’s current exhibition, Our Red Aunt, New Zealand artist Fiona Jack’s collection of ceramics, books and banners inspired by her great, great aunt and activist Helen Crawfurd.

As well as Crawfurd’s unpublished autobiography, the exhibition includes a ton of stones, etched with the words “In the hands of the proletariat” – a reminder of some of the bold actions taken by the suffragettes. Visitors are encouraged to take a stone away with them.

“Crawfurd talks about her move towards militancy as a suffragette in her autobiography, and breaking the windows of the Minister for Education,” says John, adding hastily: “Not that we are advocating breaking windows, crikey, not at all!

“It’s interesting to look at the split in the movement at the start of the war – campaigners like Pankhurst downed tools and generally got behind the war effort, while others had a different political view. They felt the war was unnecessary. Crawfurd fell into the latter group.”

For Jack, as well as being a powerful tribute to one of Scotland’s most important political figures, the exhibition is also a response to GWL itself.

“I love GWL and the way it operates as such an open and inclusive space,” she says.

“Those dynamics really matter to me as they have quite an influence on the work I make. This is intentional – it’s a way of listening, researching, reading and responding. If I were doing a project about Helen Crawfurd at another institution it would be a totally different show. To me this exhibition is as much about the library as it is about Helen.”

(The fact that the exhibition is being displayed in the former male-only Gentleman’s Reading Room at the library neatly demonstrates how far women have travelled in the fight for equality)

Jack is not alone in her response to GWL as a welcoming, nurturing place.

City of Glasgow College community lecturer Susan Brolly is visited with a group of students taking part in an equality project, looking at museum access.

“The group is really diverse, from all different cultures, some mothers with young children – we thought it would be interesting for them to come to Glasgow Women’s Library, not just for the project but to introduce them to the place,” she says. “I have been before and I know what a really great place it is. The resources are impressive and the welcome is always warm.”

Artist Cathy MacTaggart, who is studying for a Masters, is visiting from London. “I love this place,” she marvels. “I’m researching why society treats men differently from women. I’ve spent the morning looking at the Women on the Shelf project, which is fascinating. So many women I’ve never heard of, with interesting stories – so many significant, ordinary women.”

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Glasgow Women’s Library has never been just for women, which has prompted discussions around the idea of a name-change.

“It is a big conversation that needs to take place,” sighs John. “We are aware it’s a misnomer – we’re not just for women, we’re nationally significant and we’re a museum rather than a library.

“There’s a big strategic planning meeting coming up in April so we’ll probably grapple with it once again. Perhaps we should change it, but there is so much goodwill behind our name, and every time we have talked about it, we haven’t been able to come up with anything that makes us any happier..”

In The Herald tomorrow: Susan Swarbrick interviews a comedian and a model about body confidence.