Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Working with Schools, Parents and Other Community Groups

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Working with Schools, Parents and Other Community Groups

Article excerpt

How can libraries maximise their budgets and community impact? The answer is partnerships with schools, parents and other community groups. Programs that give inspiration as well as focus on the vexed question of funding are described. Paper presented at Learning futures conference, Adelaide SA 9-10 March 2007.

Over the last decade there has been considerable discussion about the relevance of the public library to the community. It has been argued that with the growing use of the internet, libraries would become obsolete as people accessed the information they required online from home. Google has moved from being a proper noun to a verb, as more people google information. Yet through all of this public libraries have not just survived but, in many cases, they have thrived. One of the reasons is that many public libraries have taken a good look at their local communities through surveys, focus groups and partnerships. They have looked past the way they have always operated and have targeted needs more specifically. This has opened the way for the development of services and programs which were previously not considered core public library business.

Fairfield City Library Service is based in the vibrant, multicultural south west of Sydney, Australia. The City of Fairfield is a highly diverse area where a large proportion of the population experience social, educational and economic disadvantage. Only 28.9% of the population speak English at home as their first language. Major community languages are Vietnamese, Chinese and Arabic. The unemployment rate is 9.9%, almost double the national rate of 5.1%. 66% of the population do not use computers and 71.7% do not use the internet. (1)

The library service has been undertaking studies of its community for some years. These studies include Aged services survey for Fairfield City Library Service, (2) It's all about men: blokes @ your library, (3) Learning outcomes of English conversation classes." a case study (4) and various other user and nonuser surveys. Another priority for the service is having staff involved with interagency groups to better understand the needs and aspirations of the local community. One such group is the Fairfield Communities 4 Children Initiative (5) which has produced extremely useful research reinforcing the need for literacy based programs in the area.

Moving beyond core services

As a response to the needs of the community a major focus for the library service is supporting literacy and language development through a broad range of programs. These include Babytime (story, song and bounce sessions for 0-2s and their carers), Cool Babies (training for parents/carers about reading to babies), preschool storytime, homework centres, online tutoring, family literacy classes, higher school certificate lectures (for students in their final year of high school) and informal training for parents through schools, playgroups and other community groups, often using interpreters. Many of these programs and services sit outside the framework once considered core business for libraries.

Public libraries are well placed to support children and families to develop literacy and language skills. This is particularly true in communities where a large proportion of the population does not speak English at home. Parents are naturally concerned that their children are starting school at a disadvantage if they are unable to speak any English. These same families often do not access preschools or playgroups due to financial considerations and language barriers. Public libraries champion the rights of all members of the community to equitable access to information and therefore usually offer resources, including electronic, in community languages. The public library may well be the one place where otherwise isolated people can find information in their own language.

However, whenever we consider broadening the reach of the library service, we must also consider funding. …

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