Changing immigration patterns and increasing migration from Africa provide Australian public libraries with new challenges in providing equitable library services. Trends in the development of electronic multicultural library services indicate the need for them to engage with local culturally and linguistically diverse communities and cooperatively develop solutions to resourcing and service delivery problems. Solutions for African communities involve the exchange of information, resources and knowledge between libraries and other service providers. Future electronic multicultural library services projects need to develop multilingual content infrastructure solutions to assist in ethnic community web publishing. Edited version of a paper given at the Vala conference Melbourne 2004
Australian migration and settlement patterns have shifted in the last five years, with increasing immigrants from African countries. Those immigrants, with other emerging culturally and linguistically diverse (Cald) communities, present public libraries with a complex set of issues. The African communities have small populations concentrated in metropolitan regions, and a smaller number in rural areas working as seasonal laborers.
They come from countries with multiple ethnic groups and languages. English literacy levels may be low or nonexistent, depending on whether their country of origin is within anglophone Africa ie an African country where English is either a national language or a common trade language, and upon the amount of formal education they have received. Additionally, literacy levels in their first language may be low. This is partly influenced by their level of formal education. It is also influenced by the official standing of their language in their country of origin.
The inclusion of a language in a national or regional school curriculum is a political decision and governed by a country's language policy. Some of Australia's new arrivals speak languages that have been ignored, or in some cases suppressed, in their own country. Orthographic considerations add further complexity. Although some languages are well documented, others have received little or no attention, and may not have a written form. Of those languages that have a written form, the orthographies that were devised may have changed over time.
A further issue for public libraries is the availability of printed materials in these languages. Limited opportunities to acquire materials in a language prohibit any possibility of developing traditional collections in them. At the same time, these Cald communities show very low levels of language shift, increasing the likelihood of the need for provision of language services.
Traditionally, multicultural collection policies tie decisions on establishment of, funding for, and discontinuation of language collections on population levels of languages spoken in their municipalities derived from census data. Collections are developed for the numerically larger Cald communities.
A recent review of multicultural library services within the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) highlighted new and emerging Cald communities as a priority that the library service needs to address. The ACT review departs from standard public library approach in that service provision is not tied to demographic indicators, but rather to the needs of a Cald community for services. It incorporated a consultation phase with ethnic community organisations and services providers.
The 2001 Victorian guidelines on multicultural library services, the ACT review (1) and a toolkit for establishing multicultural library services prepared by the National Library and Archives of Canada, stress that providing multicultural public library services is more than just providing collections in languages other than the national languages.
Towards electronic multicultural library services (eMCLS)
The internet and access to online resources have had a profound effect on the provision of public library services in Victoria. …