The sound of my own voice

Last week, I had the weird experience of hearing my own voice twice. With another Glasgow Women’s Library volunteer I did an interview on Radio Scotland about the Suffragette Oak. This was planted in 1918 to commemorate women being granted the vote – well, some women: those over 30 who owned property. It wasn’t till 1928 that all women over 21 got it. The Library has nominated the tree to be Scotland’s Tree of the Year – it would be great if you could follow the link and vote for us please! The radio interview is on the BBC iPlayer – start at 1hr 49m to hear it.

Earlier in  the week, I attended the premiere of the Library’s film March about the suffragette pageant we re-enacted in the Spring. I’m interviewed in that too! So I’m quite the media star these days. Autographs on request 😉

Scottish Screen Archive

Hillington Industrial Estate is not generally a very exciting place – but it has some surprising tenants. The Scottish Screen Archive has been located there for the past 9 years, and earlier today I had a fascinating tour of its premises with a group from Glasgow Women’s Library. A rather soulless building has been made attractive with colourful posters and displays of film related artefacts.

We were welcomed by Emily Munro, Learning and Outreach Officer, who gave us a brief introduction to the collection before taking us round the various departments to meet some of the 15 staff and find out what they do.

The collection was founded in 1976 and became part of the National Library of Scotland in 2007. It comprises mainly non fiction / social history material, though also includes anything funded by Creative Scotland. Films date from 1895 onwards and include both professional material (e.g. STV Archive – the BBC has its own – and all Gaelic TV broadcasts) and amateur films such as home movies.  The variety of formats is challenging as we saw later! The archive also holds paper records such as stills, press cuttings, scripts, ephemera and so on. Some SSA “shelfies”:

Next, we met staff from the acquisitions and metadata sections. Material is not usually purchased but donated, and they are very selective about what they accept in terms of subject matter and quality – only about 30%. Films are physically examined and repaired to be watched, assessed, and catalogued if accepted. Some material is referred on to more appropriate collections, e.g. BFI. Copyright and data protection must be carefully considered and agreements can change over time – the subjects of a home movie donated in the 1970s might not be happy to appear online, for example.

In the final part of the visit, Alan Russell, Preservation and Technical Manager, showed us the array of machines required to access and maintain the collection, many of which are irreplaceable.

Some of the less pleasant challenges in handling old film include vinegar syndrome, when the acetate breaks down, fungal growth on the gelatine, chalk separating out of videotape and, most alarmingly, the instability of nitrate film which can explode! (Unless you have some 35mm film from the 50s lying around you should be ok….)

Alan explained that digital restoration aims to make the film appear as it would have done when new, not upgrade it to modern standards or make amateur film look professional. It’s expensive and time-consuming to do, so tends to be restricted to unique items such as colour footage of the Queen Mary’s first voyage down the Clyde.

Find out more about the Archive and its holdings on its website (a new one is launching at the end of the month). Hillington is rather out-of-the-way and viewing facilities are very limited (see the Visiting us page for how to make an appointment) – but this will change in September next year when the Archive will move to the much more central Kelvin Hall alongside sports facilities and the stores of Glasgow Museums and Glasgow University’s Hunterian. This will provide event space, an exhibition area and drop-in access facilities as well as opportunities for cross-organisation co-operation. It sounds amazing!

Thanks to Emily, Alan and all the other staff for a brilliant visit. Before I finish, there is a link with another GWL trip I went on last week to the Glasgow Sculpture Studios. After looking at the current exhibition we took a trip on their Creative Cargo canal barge. It was fitted up as a mini-cinema, in conjunction with SSA, and one of the films on offer was The Bowler and the Bunnet, a 1967 documentary narrated and directed by Sean Connery on industrial relations at Fairfields’s shipyard in Govan. It wasn’t as dry as it sounds! We didn’t have time to see it all, but I was fascinated by discussion of what were then  new-fangled management methods such as job-evaluation. There are a couple of clips on the SSA’s catalogue record if you want a flavour of it.

Never a dull moment with GWL!

Bridgeton Library and Mediatheque

Bridgeton Library exterior
Bridgeton Library

Bridgeton Library opened in December 2012 in the Olympia, a former variety theatre and cinema, redeveloped with the help of Clyde Gateway. I’ve visited several times before, as it’s just across the road from Glasgow Women’s Library which is now based in its old premises – see my post on Scottish Women on Wikipedia, an event GWL held in Bridgeton Library, for photos of the interior. This visit was organised by MmITS (Multimedia Information and Technology Scotland) specifically to look at the Mediatheque.

However, before we did that Sally Clegg told us a bit about the plans behind the new library and we had a tour of the rest of the building. Bridgeton is an area of multiple deprivation and Glasgow Libraries wanted to do something different for the community. They used focus groups, although not all the ideas were practical – one man requested that children should be banned! In fact, the library now has a very attractive children’s library complete with Julia Donaldson mural. Overall, it is a bright and welcoming place with clear zoning. It has a training suite (which we used for the Wikipedia event) and 32 PCs in total, as opposed to just 6 in the old library. A Turning Pages table shares library information and information and work from the community – there is a Book Group and groups for poetry and creative writing. Issues have tripled since the move and Bridgeton has gone from the bottom five to the top ten of Glasgow’s 32 libraries – that seems pretty good to me, although they are still hoping for more.

The Library occupies the ground floor of the building. At the moment, the top floor is a huge, unoccupied loft space with good views over the roofs of Bridgeton. The middle floor is used by Boxing Scotland – apparently, boxers have been training there for the Commonwealth Games but it was empty when we passed.

Finally, it was on to the Mediatheque which opened a little later than the library – almost a year ago. Karen Gillies and Stephen MacPherson talked us through this. From purpose-built booths you can access a digital jukebox of over 2000 items from the BFI Archive, including some Scottish material but nothing local to Bridgeton as yet. Stephen had provided a list of sites he thought might interest us – I was particularly taken by Whatsoever a man soweth, a silent film from 1917 warning soldiers about the perils of loose women. The unfortunately named (Private?) Dick was rescued from peril several times by fearsome-looking busybodies and despatched to a VD clinic to see the consequences of falling. I then chanced upon a lovely little set of films with people from Gateshead talking about their reactions to the building of the Angel of the North. After that we had tea and biscuits and further chat before heading home with our goody bags. Thanks to all the staff at Bridgeton for showing us this wonderful initiative, and to MmITS for organising the visit. The Mediatheque is free to use during library opening hours.

RCPSG - Lower Library
RCPSG – Lower Library

This was not the only library visit I have been on in the last couple of weeks. I also went to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Library with SALCTG and wrote it up on the SALCTG blog. It’s another fascinating building – if you want to take a look yourself the Crush Hall (with a monthly changing exhibition) and the Library Reading Room are open to the public on Monday afternoons from 2pm till 5pm.


The talk o’ the Steamie

"The Steamie" postcard autographed by Sheila Donald
“The Steamie” postcard autographed by Sheila Donald

In collaboration with the Glasgow Film Theatre’s youth initiative, Pop-Up Programmers, Glasgow Women’s Library hosted two rare screenings of the classic STV Production (1988) of Tony Roper’s The Steamie in this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. I went along to the matinée on Saturday and helped to serve afternoon tea afterwards. Many of the staff and volunteers (not me!) were dressed in 50s costume, in keeping with the setting, and there was a very special guest – Sheila Donald who played Mrs Culfeathers. It was, as they say in Glasgow, a “rerr terr”. We laughed, we cried, and Sheila got a huge ovation.

Although filmed on a set, The Steamie looked very authentic (compare to the photograph of washing pens on The Glasgow Story and the exhibit below from The People’s Palace.)

Steamie exhibit, People's Palace
Steamie exhibit, People’s Palace

The play gives a really good picture of the hardships in women’s lives – I can’t imagine living like that – but, amazingly, steamies were only phased out in the 1980s, although the phrase “talk of the steamie” lives on, to indicate something that is well worth gossiping about. In 1986, a young photographer called Allan Bovill gained access to three steamies in Glasgow – Parnie Street, in the city centre; Bluevale Street in Dennistoun and in the city’s Anderston. His black and white pictures were exhibited in 2012 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the play – I wish I’d known. Read more in this review by the Evening Times.

You can see pictures of the day itself – including costumed staff, “Mrs Culfeathers”, posh china and platefuls of Tunnocks – on my Storify.