OriginsThe library began in 1969 with the Toronto New Feminists, a radical feminist group started by Bonnie Kreps. In 1973 that group disbanded, agreeing to focus their feminism on the places they worked or studied. Woman's Place on Dupont Street inherited the library in 1972, then handed it over to the YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto where it was part of the Birch Street Y. A funding problem caused the Birch Street YWCA to be closed and the books were put in storage in early 1983.
Johanna Stuckey, who had first organized the library, was by this time a faculty member and the Advisor to the President on the Status of Women at York University. With the help of Dorothy Macdonald, a YWCA Board member and wife to York President Ian Macdonald, she was able to arrange for the library to move to York on loan as the York-YWCA Women's Collection. The YWCA offered York the option of purchasing the collection, and President Macdonald graciously gave it a small budget out of his funds. Since that time, Founders College has generously hosted the collection and the university has provided a continuing budget that covers about a third of the library's expenses.
In 1985, 1987, and 1994, much-appreciated donations from Mrs. Mary Coyne Rowell Jackman, mainly through the Jackman Foundation, enabled us to establish the library on a permanent basis with a modest endowment. The library was then renamed to honour Mrs. Jackman's mother, Nellie Langford Rowell .
DevelopmentOver its 32 years at York, the library has become far larger and more complex. Initially very small and catalogued by a system unique to the YWCA, its book collection has expanded from under 2000 volumes to about 21,500 and includes numerous periodicals. Over a period of years the catalogue was converted to the Library of Congress system and more recently integrated with that of the University Libraries. The periodicals are indexed in an annotated bibliography as well as by subject and special issues. The broadside boxes, which contain ephemera, have grown from 60 to 460; documents in the boxes are now searchable through Zotero.
After our initial irregular open hours of up to 20 hours a week, we can now maintain regular hours of over 40 per week, including evenings to accommodate evening and part-time students.
StaffThe Nellie Langford Rowell Library staff at York grew from a single part-time student library assistant to a group of up to 10 students, some of them undergraduates under the Ontario work/study programme, some of them graduate students seconded through programmes including English, Political Science, the Interdisciplinary MA, and Environmental Studies as well as Women's Studies. In 1986 an experienced community organizer, Christine Donald, was engaged part-time to coordinate the workings of the library and staff. Currently the library is staffed by work/study students, bursary students and a coordinator.
Community relationsIncluded in the terms under which the YWCA donated the collection to York University was the stipulation that the library must be open to the wider community from whence it sprang, as well as the university which now houses it.
Our volunteer advisory board has included representatives of the YWCA, the North York school board, and the University Women's Club of North York, as well as York's status of women advisor and women from the various parts of women's studies at York. It has also included from the start one or two of the professional librarians at York, on the basis of their expertise and their interest in the collection.
Archive materialThe collection of papers and pamphlets that was inherited with the YWCA collection has been steadily added to, so that some 463 broadside boxes now contain material on topics ranging from abortion to young women.
EventsOver the years the library has expanded and diversified its activities. For the important feminist holidays of Persons Day and International Women's Day, it has prepared and circulates historical flyers. In addition, it offers occasional contemporary programming such as Women's Words/Mots de femmes, the 1994 exhibition of women's writings, as well as book launches for women writers at York, most recently for Prof. Vijay Agnew's Resisting Discrimination: Women from Asia, Africa, & the Caribbean & the Women's Movement in Canada (1996).