The Women’s Library Herstory

In 1991 a dedicated group of women got together to discuss the need for a library that contained print and non-print material for and about women, with a focus on lesbian and feminist literature. It didn’t happen like magic, but after slogging away for three years they finally found a space, raised the money and DIYed the building so that the dream could become reality. Go Girls!

1993

Still no home yet, but a letter of support was signed by many prominent Australian Women; such as Eva Cox, Ann Deveson, Justice Elizabeth Evatt, Dorothy Hewitt, Caroline Jones, Helen Leonard, Clover Moore, Sandra Nori, and Dale Spender (See The Women’s Library Newsletter Feb 1993 for the complete list).

THE YEAR IN REVIEW

  • The Mayor of South Sydney City Council agreed to support The Women’s Library, and the search for an appropriate space began.
  • The Women’s Library joined with Allen and Unwin to conduct a series of Evenings in Women’s Writing.
  • Fund raising included: a book fair, bingo night, and membership.
  • This year The Women’s Library was nominated for Best New Parade Entry at Mardi Gras.
  • Planning has began for The Women’s Library’s involvement in the 6th International Feminist Book Fair to be held in Melbourne in 1994.

1994

A home is found, at Alexandria Town Hall. And planning began to move the 5,000 books that had already been donated…that is after the rooms were stripped and painted.

THE YEAR IN REVIEW

  • A great party was held on 16 June, with Magda Szubanski as special guest. Hundreds of women gathered as Anne Deveson and Dale Spender cut the red ribbon to officially declare The Women’s Library open. Snoopy 77 also performed at the launch party.
  • The Women’s Library attended the International Feminist Book Fair in Melbourne, which was great publicity for the library. It was fantastic mixing with so many feminist literary groups from around the world; this was found to be an important time for setting up contacts in Australia and overseas.
  • One newsletter had an article where Jan Breckenridge talked about her new book Crimes of Violence, Australian responses to rape and child sexual assault. Jan said “People don’t want to know. It makes them feel too unsafe and it threatens their ideals about the sanctity of the family.”
  • A new library logo was developed by Victoria Hunt and Antonia Pesenti.
  • Fund raising: Giant raffle, Book Fair, garage sale, and Dendy Screening.
  • Evenings in Women’s Writing continued (joint venture with Allen and Unwin).

1995

  • Domestic Violence (DV) Grant for $15,000 to purchase resources for a DV Resource Listing and Collection.
  • Anthology For Too Long donated to The Women’s Library. This is a testimony to the delegitimising of the feelings and experiences of birth mothers. (Read more in the Feb newsletter).
  • Following a grant from South Sydney City Council, The Women’s Library connected to the internet.
  • The branded library bag was launched.
  • Cathy Gallagher was the MC for the First Birthday celebrations, Fiesta Carrera read her short story.
  • The Sponsor-a-Coordinator scheme was launched.
  • The newsletter had an interview with Fiona McGregor.
  • Book Fair
  • Christmas Picnic at Coogee Women’s Pool

1996

  • Congratulations to Vicki on the birth of her daughter.
  • There was an article about The Women’s Library in Wicked Women magazine.
  • LoTL funded the binding of the first 60 issues of LoTL held in The Women’s Library.
  • The newsletter highlights the Motherhood and Parenting section of library.
  • News of ROOM WITH A VIEW spreads.
  • Importance of RTN is highlighted in The Women’s Library newsletter.
  • Inaugural Annual National short story competition begins advertising for entrants, the winners to be announced at International Women’s Day event next year.
  • Second birthday celebrations.

1997

  • The Women’s Library began looking for a new home, as South Sydney City Council wanted to re open Alexandria Town Hall as a community space. South Sydney City Council showed it’s commitment to The Women’s Library by finding premises for the library in Brown St Newtown, and helping with the moving costs.
  • A tribute to Vicki Harding, whose optimism and ability will be sorely missed by all at The Women’s Library.
  • The Literary Brunch: Reading from their work were Fiesta Carrera, Susan Hampton, Natalie Varnish, Barbara Karpinski and Morgan Oliver.
  • There was a fruit juice stall at Fair day, Followed by a The Women’s Library stall at Mardi Gras Party- “look out for the women and their chupa chups!”
  • The Women’s Library Inaugral National Short Story competition. The competition provides an outlet for women’s voices and gives writers an opportunity to have their work read more widely.

1998

  • Beth Eldridge was welcomed as Coordinator of The Women’s Library.
  • In May The Women’s Library moved to its new home in Newtown with the official opening held on 16 May. South Sydney City Council Mayor, Vic Smith, attended, and demonstrated the council’s continued support by pledging $2,000 toward computerization and web site access.
  • The Women’s Library said a sad farewell to Donna, who had been holding the reins as Convenor. The committee thanked Donna for her tireless contributions to The Women’s Library.
  • The move from cards to electronic cataloguing began. The hours needed to do this mammoth job were calculated, and the final number was a bit too scary to spread around! But no, volunteers worked out how many hours each they would need to do a week and the work began.
  • The National Short Story competition was held again, the winner receiving $1,000. The winning entrant was also published in Australian Women’s Book Review. The winner in 1998 was Jennifer Moore, with two stories being declared equal first place. The stories were The Dress and My Mother’s Chair is Empty, the stories can be seen in the September 1998 newsletter.
  • The Women’s Library’s fourth birthday bash was attended by 150 women. The drummers Shebang had everyone stamping their feet and clapping their hands!

1999

  • Fifty members met to discuss male membership and access to The Women’s Library. The differences between Subscriber and Active Membership were also examined. Following the facilitated discussion, The Women’s Library remained an inclusive space, but it was emphasized that The Women’s Library would remain “a safe and supportive space, where women, including lesbians, could be”. Any member would need to be respectful of this aim.
  • International Women’s Dday: Women marched under the library banner. And then there was the Art of Afternoon Tea.
  • The financial situation of the library saw a cut back in opening hours. A cabaret fund raiser was held, and “the response was fantastic.”
  • The Women’s Library launched the art space; the aim was to provide a space for the display and sale of work by women artists, and to raise money for The Women’s Library from commissions.

2000

The library continues it’s “up hill and down dale” history. While management made the decision that it was unable to keep a paid Coordinator on at The Women’s Library, the work still continued, with volunteers keeping up the energy at The Women’s Library. There were many discussions around how to keep the space viable, and used. The key, as always, being the dedicated volunteers, because if the library is not open women can’t use it. Membership is still the main source of income for The Women’s Library.

2001

While 2000 was a year of upheaval and change, 2001 continued with the spirit and determination which has kept the library viable to date. A movie afternoon was held, where women watched “Fire and Contact”.
A big thank you to The Women’s Library volunteers, members, and sponsors.

2002

The Women’s Library had an increased energy this year, with new volunteers learning the ropes. The stall at Mardi Gras Fair day raised $1,400 for The Women’s Library.

2003

This year The Women’s Library went in the Mardi Gras Parade. Banners were made for the side of the truck. These banners are still used in the library, and when marching at IWD and RTN.
There was a donation of computers, and the networking of the computer system began. Electronic cataloguing continued, with Bronwyn organising many a working a bee.

2004

There were many changes this year, with more discussion about the future of the library. There are the on going processes of collection development, attracting and maintaining volunteers (and providing training that gives them the skills they need).

Following a meeting that was attended by management, volunteers, members and woman attending groups in the The Women’s Library space, it was decided that in order to meet the needs of the community (and for the library to continue), it was necessary to enhance the space for use by groups. Opinions around this decision were both positive and negative, as is understandable when the women committed to the library are so passionate. The next six months was spent hard at work, moving shelves, putting up new shelves, buying a new lounge (thanks to grant from City of Sydney) and re shelving books.
The year wasn’t all work and no play though, with a celebration of same sex families held in December, as well as a major art exhibition- Resilience.

2005

Patou Clerc, a long term member and qualified librarian was engaged by the The Women’s Library Committee to re-access the collection. Patou finished this task and continued as a volunteer along-side Robyn, Anish Carmyn, Bronwyn Vost, Glennifer Roberts, and Megan Adair to begin to re-establish the Collection Development Policy for the Library.

There was a re shuffling of the bookcases to open the group space more. And the Goddesses from Wollongong returned to help with the mammoth task of moving shelves!

And the moment we’ve been waiting for: The launch of the The Women’s Library WEB page.

A women’s dinner fund raiser was held on International Lesbian Day. The Winter Retreat was attended by many women who enjoyed the variety of events available.

2006

  • A special senior’s week event; Tea Bags and Hot Flushes and Laughter.
  • The Women’s Library produced its own calendar.
  • Lesbian Open House was in the Mardi Gras calendar.
  • Katie completed the setting up of the electronic cataloguing system of books and members.
  • Robyn Mah’s many years of commitment to The Women’s Library (including 3 years as Convenor), were acknowledged.

In October 2006, a new Management Committee was formed at the AGM. Jeannie Sotheran, Emma Wilkinson, Joy Vivien, and Fiona Davidson were past committee members and rejoined, adding great value and continuity for new members – Spiderlily Redgold, Sue Gee, Karah O’Shaughnessy and myself. We appreciate the three years of service by Robyn Mah as previous Convenor, and take up the challenge to pursue increased community interest and financial stability.

In December 2006 the new Management Committee facilitated a discussion day to develop a strategic plan for The Women’s Library Strategic Plan – Key Result Areas for 2008.

  • Financial Security: $8000 float to meet running costs for a year, promote Sponsorship and the Bookshop
  • Involvement and Participation: Membership; increase numbers, reflect our services as a library and meeting space
  • Volunteers: two people on any shift
  • Groups: each group to have a link with members, new groups to buddy up
  • Community support involvement
  • Government funding relations: promotion
  • Sponsorship: in-kind (eg goods & services) as well as financial support
  • Distance borrowing: regional and rural inclusion
  • Effective Communications: upgrade IT systems, Catalogue, Database, Website
  • Newsletter

2007

The Committee of Management agreed to introduce two new fee categories: Volunteer membership at $10 per year and Lounge membership at $10 per year. The Volunteer membership recognises the valuable contribution of volunteers to the library with a reduced membership.

Library Snapshot ~ What’s Been Happening? (exert from 2006/2007 annual report)
It has been truly remarkable to work with such powerful, passionate women!

I would like to recognise and appreciate the time, effort and contribution of all volunteers without whom we could not open our doors. Shirley Kent has been doing a fabulous job as our Project Coordinator. Thank you Shirley.

The Women’s Library has 98 members in 2006-07, and 20 of these wonderful women are active volunteers. 217 women are on our email list, and a total of 298 women (many past members) interested in the Library are registered on our database. It would be fantastic to see more of our “interested” women become members and get involved as volunteers.

In January 2007, all volunteers began collecting statistics on activity at the Library. After six months, we now have a better picture of how Library resources support women and the local community. For more information go to archives and look at the 2005 Annual report.

The Women’s Library hosted an International Women’s Day event, which included a discussion panel about safe guarding Women’s Herstory, drumming with Liz, readings by Uma and singing by the Chorus of Women.

Margaret Sargent launched her book Older and Bolder at The Women’s Library, and Jan Breckenridge spoke at the launch.

The Women’s Library launched its new poster, special thanks to Midnite Willow for donating their time and creative sprit to do this.

Use of the space by groups has increased significantly. There are now five groups meeting at The Women’s Library on a regular basis. The groups are very diverse, and it’s wonderful to see so many different women using the space.

Finally, a special thanks to everyone on the Management Committee for all the work that goes on behind the scenes. Acknowledgement specifically to Sue for managing membership registrations and catering magic; Emma for the monthly rosters and supporting volunteers; Jeannie for our “Library Monologues” newsletter and group coordination; Karah for her corporate relations knowledge and fundraising focus; Spiderlily for Secretary skills, IT wisdom and computer systems management, as well as art exhibitions; Fiona for Treasurer responsibilities, financial management, mail, creative brochure design and power tools. Joy resigned after many years on Management Committee. We wish her well and appreciate her contribution to the bookstore and collection. We will also say farewell and bon voyage to Emma as she sets off on travels next year. Emma has been a wonderful support and resource to both volunteers and the committee during her involvement.

2008

What a mammoth year; The Women’s Library space is inviting and friendly, a hub of activity. City of Sydney has shown their continued support by granting us another stay on our rent. They were most impressed by both the library opening hours (7 days a week), and the use of the space by groups.

The Women’s Library celebrated International Women’s Day in a joint venture with Newtown Library. International Volunteers who had returned to Australia spoke about their experiences, Gayle talked about the new GLBTIQ collection at Newtown Library and we drummed up the feminist spirit with Liz and Laura.

International Women’s Day was also the launch of Storying Our Lives. This was a project funded by the City of Sydney. Three workshops were held at The Women’s Library during January and February. Women were asked to think about what living in Sydney meant to them, or to tell in pictures a story about their lives. Out of this emerged a diverse range of art and a wide range of interesting conversations. It was a unique experience to observe and be part of women connecting around shared creativity and the telling of their stories.

There were many entrants in the Short Story competition, and Karen Adler was the winner this year. There were a number of Friday evening Feminist Fatalist events this year, which were co-ordinated by Uma. Performers included Jakalene Extreme, Rap Artist and Activist | Chorus of Women, Social Justice Choir | Beth Eldridge, Spoken Word Performer | Dominique Khoury, Singer.

The group library calendar was a very busy little bee in 2008, with two groups now waiting for evenings to become available. The old stalwarts: AKA Lesbian Open House and Book Club, as well as Outwrite, GLOH, Tangerine Circle, two choirs, Wolf Study Group, ”C” Word (cancer support group) and Creativity and Conversation.

The Off The Wall Art Space has also been busy, with five exhibitions this year. These were Silent No More (07-08), Storying Our Lives, Taken, Who’d Have Thought, Serendipity, and The Women’s Library Herstory.

The big event for 2008 was the Spring Fling in September. This was a celebration of the library being at the Newtown location for ten years. The event was attended by over ninety women, and included:

  • Historical display
  • Launch of The Women’s Library Herstory book
  • Launch of the Storying Our Lives Book
  • Performers such as Chorus of Women, Jakelene Xtreme, Maxine Kauter, Jenni Nixon and the Jam Tartz. Chris Carriage spoke about the history of Aboriginal women in Australia, placing it in the context of the generations of women in her family, and the different government policies that impacted on them.

The Inaugural The Women’s Library Women’s Awards were also announced at the Spring Fling.. There are so many wonderful and amazing women who are out there quietly doing their thing to support women and the women’s community. It is hoped that this will become an annual event. The winners this year were Glenniffer Roberts, Jeannie Sotheran, and Vicki Harding.

Enough of the great happenings, The Women’s Library wouldn’t function without the many woman who volunteer their time. A huge thanks to the volunteers, both new and long serving for your dedication and support. It is the volunteers’ energy and enthusiasm as much as the collection and space that encourages women into The Women’s Library, a very, very big huge thank you.

2009

  • The Women’s Library had a table at the International Women’s Day event, where the question was asked Why Aren’t We There Yet?
  • The Mardi Gras Parade was a wonderful success, with women from the library rallying with COAL, protesting the same sex legislation. The library was the meeting place for meetings and planning sessions about the implications of the legislation.
  • The WoLF sponsorship program was re-vamped, and this year we received donations to the library of over $3,000.
  • Helen Vidler donated a laser photocopier and computer chair, while Marion Buckley donated a much needed fridge.
  • Jean Bedford once again donated to The Women’s Library the 100 entries in the 2009 and Kibble awards.
  • On 20 April, The Women’s Library held its Bi-Annual Planning day.
  • Also completed this year was Stage Two of the volunteer training program.
  • On the 21 September, The Women’s Library celebrated the winter solstice by having a $1 book sale. Volunteers put a lot of work into preparing for this day, and were rewarded with over 250 sales!

This year turned out to be a very good year for The Women’s Library technology. Shirley was successful with two grants to fund computer replacements, and Spider volunteered her time to help put everything together. We have new equipment for guests, volunteers, and the office. This includs new computers and a wireless network so members can use their own laptops in the library. We also got the copier fixed and a new printer for the members’ computer.

We achieved charitable group status with Microsoft so now have a fully licensed version of Microsoft Office and Windows on all the computers. We upgraded the software that runs our membership and catalogue so have more options available to improve the database.

We also finally got full control of the domain name back from our previous intermediary provider. This took some effort by Spider and Fiona to reclaim the domain name. Overall a significantly satisfactory year for BITS and BYTES at the library.

The 2009 The Women’s Library Women’s Awards were announced at the AGM, and the winners were LIZ IRELAND for Support and Promotion of the Lesbian community, and KAY DONALDSON for Support and Promotion of The Women’s Library.
As always, it is the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers, as much as the collection and space, that encourages women into The Women’s Library, a big thank you.

2010

  • The Women’s Library had a table at the International Women’s Day event, where the question is still asked Why Aren’t We There Yet? International Women’s Day is an important event, a time to highlight the inequalities still faced by women. While the day brings a strong sense of solidarity, it’s important that more groups and individuals support this event.
  • International Women’s Day afternoon tea at The Women’s Library included: Poetry readings, Drumming with Liz and Laura, and a Women Authors competition.
  • On Sunday 28 March, The Women’s Library held it’s first From Our Collection afternoon. The plan is to invite an author who has a book (or books) in the library to meet up with women who read or borrow our library books. Our first author was Kerryn Higgs aka Elizabeth Reily. It was a great afternoon and a wonderful opportunity to discuss so many aspects of the writing process. Many thanks to Kerryn for her time and willingness to open up about something which can be a very personal experience.
  • Our second author this year was Brigid Delaney, who spoke about her book The Restless Life. We had some interesting reading from Brigid’s book, including a very amusing vignette of speed dating, and, as usual, a stimulating discussion and excellent afternoon tea!
  • Our final author for the year was Jean Taylor, author of Brazen Hussies, a herstory of radical feminist activism in Victoria from 1970-1979. Discussion from Brazen Hussies ( not us…) was lead by Jean.
  • Jean Bedford once again donated to The Women’s Library the 100 entries in the 2010 and Kibble awards.
  • On Sunday 20 September, The Women’s Library celebrated the winter solstice by having a $1 book sale.

Many thanks to our volunteers members for your support and donations. The City of Sydney is also thanked for their support through the accommodation grants project.

2011

This year marked a very sad loss in our community. Liz Ireland [for many years a strong supporter of The Women’s Library] died on the 3 March when she was hit by a car while riding along Parramatta Rd on her way to a Mardi Gras practice. Liz was an amazing and inspiring woman who left a mark on all who knew her. She is sadly missed by her community. We put together a celebration of Liz’s life – LIZ IRELAND: We will remember you.

As part of the LESBIAN WEEKENDER in SYDNEY, there was a Movie Night at The Women’s Library on Saturday 9 July. The Women’s Library presented a great lesbian movie in feminist company. Over fifty women gathered, and ‘Better Than Chocolate’, was seen in the library’s own version of surround sound!