Public Libraries Serving Multicultural Communities across Australia: Best Practice Examples

Article excerpt

Libraries across Australia have a long and excellent record of service to multicultural communities. This continues into the 21st century in meeting increasingly diverse community need and the demands of an evolving digital society. Showcased are best practice examples of multicultural public library service from every part of Australia. Whilst the focus is on service in a digital age some of the best examples successfully combine growing ICT considerations with those of traditional service models.

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Public and state library services play an important role in providing access to information for their communities. In a culturally diverse Australian society one of the challenges for them is to ensure that information resources are available in the languages spoken by those members of the community who come from over 200 nonEnglish speaking backgrounds. They need to call on creativity and innovation in meeting this challenge. This paper provides examples of multicultural library services from around Australia.

From the early 90s the internet has become a well established resource for public library users. It has also provided opportunities for them to evolve their role as information facilitators for their communities.

At the forefront of these opportunities is the MyLanguage project, a collaboration between the state and territory libraries of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory and the ACT. Through the development of a practical website MyLanguage enables people to find information in their first language. It has paved the way for all libraries in Australia to enhance their digital collections.

MyLanguage has been developed to allow public libraries to facilitate access to aggregated data in over 60 languages. As a web portal it provides access to resources such as search engines, web directories, government websites and updated news headlines.

The following examples demonstrate how the MyLanguage collaboration is assisting libraries to bridge the digital divide, as well as providing avenues for expanding traditional services to multicultural communities.

Australian Capital Territory

Sarah Steed Libraries ACT

sarah.steed@act.gov.au

Libraries ACT develops partnerships and programs to increase cultural awareness, understanding and education in the community. Activities such as storytimes, exhibitions, food, dance and music continue to define libraries in the ACT as community hubs supporting an inclusive, tolerant and informed society, with community discussions and presentations to further increase understanding--as well as participating in outreach opportunities like the national multicultural festival. The Human Library program www.humanlibraries.org.au (formerly called Living Library) also enriches cultural understanding and social inclusion in the community. Individuals sharing their experiences through this program have discussed topics such as Being a Muslim woman in Australia, Living with refugees, and Living in Timbuktu.

English conversation groups

The library service hosts 11 English conversation and Ielts groups each week. These groups provide adults with an opportunity to improve their English, learn about Australian society, share experiences from their own culture, and make new friends.

Bilingual storytimes

For families with young children, bilingual storytimes are held and have included Indonesian and English, and German and English. These events both support families who speak the languages, and expose other young children and their families to stories, songs and rhymes in another language.

Exhibitions

The library service is recognised by local organisations and diplomatic missions as an important way of engaging with the community. It plays host to many exhibitions which raise awareness, celebrate and share the diversity of cultures in Canberra. …