For years, urban spaces have generally been “designed by men, for men”, without taking into account the needs of women.
This is a vision underlined by the concept of feminist urbanism; an approach that rethinks male-dominated spaces by including and considering women in the city’s infrastructure.
Now there is evidence to suggest that libraries can play a fundamental role in this ‘feminist’ approach to urban planning.
After publishing her report I feel trapped, in March, Wise Women Glasgow told Scotland on Sunday that libraries were “crucial” to including women in communities, as her research showed they had tendency to use community centers and libraries to the maximum of any other leisure service.
A spokesperson for Wise Woman said they found in several communities in Glasgow that there were “spaces for men but no spaces for women”.
Gabrielle Macbeth, volunteer coordinator at Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL), said libraries can offer “so much” to improve the experience of women in their communities.
In April 2022, The Transformative Space of the Library report was published by CILIPS – the Scottish Library and Information Association.
The report examined a two-year project based at the University of Strathclyde named Transformative Servicescapes and Consumer Vulnerability which used GWL as a case study to examine the role of physical spaces and their contribution to increased well-being and experiences. transformers.
Since 1991, GWL has supported women from all walks of life, from outreach projects for ‘New Scots’ learning the English language to running a women’s book centre.
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Gabrielle said the library offers women “a place of solidarity” where she allows them to realize that it is not their fault that life is sometimes unfair but the product of a “hostile environment”.
“We are a building that is much more about the interior than the streets or parks, but there may be lessons that can be expanded into an inclusive philosophy for urban planning,” Gabrielle said.
Reviewing the findings of the report, the researchers highlighted the importance of making a space “welcoming and comfortable” as soon as someone walks through its doors – a quality highlighted by GWL.
Gabrielle said: “Little things like having comfy chairs and making it simple by serving cups of tea are really important. Little touches you could do in your flat and make people feel welcome and comfortable.”
Not only are visitors encouraged to feel they can treat the library as their living room, but culture is also fundamental, as Gabrielle said GWL would be ‘open’ to helping Glasgow City Council make public spaces more welcoming and inclusive.
Glasgow City Council has been contacted for comment.
Gabrielle said: “People can go through all sorts of things in their lives and here it’s really not judgmental.
“I think the library can sometimes be a bit of a sanctuary for women. Maybe women who are at a crossroads and something has happened, like a bereavement, and it’s a place where they can be themselves.”
An important element is the nature of the books, according to the volunteer coordinator who has worked at the library for 11 years.
Gabrielle added: “A lot of people involved in the research have talked about the books and come in and seen books that reflect them and their lives.
“Step into a space where it’s all about women is such an eye opener and it never happens. In most public spaces, male voices are the default voice and female areas are ‘specialty’ topics.
“It’s also about providing a space for people to fulfill their potential. Women’s lives are truly celebrated here.”
There is “no typical user” and all (including men) are welcome with women-only activities and events (for women and non-binary people) available.
Location also plays a role in inclusiveness. The library’s first home was Garnethill in Glasgow city center from 1991 to 1995 and it was not until 2013 that the library moved to the east end of the city in Bridgeton.
“Our history of moving has often been where we could afford, but we’ve always thought carefully about where we’ve gone,” said Gabrielle, “It’s an area with a lot of history but also an area that has been overlooked. For an organization that addresses inequalities, this is a good place to do so.
“People want their communities to strive and be vibrant and we hope we can bring that alongside other organizations.
“It’s so important that there are cultural spaces in all communities, not just in the west or downtown.”
Suzanne Ewing, involved in Voices of Experience, a collaborative project focusing on the lack of recognized female presence and role models in architecture and the building environment, said libraries were “fundamental” in improving communities for women.
The academic who is personal chair of architectural criticism at Edinburgh College of Art said: “I think libraries are really important spaces because anyone can enter them.
“GWL has all the specific qualities to make a space welcoming to a community. [for other built environments to copy]I think it would work very well for neighborhood infrastructure.