I’ve never been shy in expressing how libraries (and librarians, for that matter) have changed my life, to anyone who will listen. Often, my passionate and excited words stimulate energetic conversation on shared experiences and new discoveries. At times however, I am surprised by the reactions my sentiments evoke. Though clichéd, an outdated perception of libraries occasionally persists: as hushed, formal institutions with little to offer those outside the academic community.
So why is this the case? And how?
It’s as simple as exposure. As a new parent in 2008, armed with a background in psychology, community development and children’s services, it may have been assumed I was the type to be aware of general library offerings and the importance of early literacy. I had NO idea. I was a reader, but hadn't been read to at home. I adored my school librarian but had made no connection between literacy and life outcomes. A visit to collect a free board book at my local library (for the first time since primary school) changed all of that.
Since then, the library has taken me on an unexpected journey; a charming, winding path from storytime to career. At the library I have been educated in literacy development, made lifelong, like-minded friends (at a time when I was quite lonely) and have been to opera, ballet, exhibitions, festivals, events and workshops. I have watched, listened to and participated in countless activities by diverse presenters, community groups, companies and organisations – of local, national and international significance. I have learned about local indigenous culture, community history, gardening, poetry, publishing, technologies, sustainability, local services, inclusion, exhibition curation, Maker Spaces and – surprisingly – Comic-Con. I have also been inspired by and enjoyed the company of passionate, diverse, engaged and dynamic authors, artists, staff and volunteers.
And this is just skimming the surface; complemented (of course) by endless access to books, audiobooks, films, music, magazines, e-Everything, Summer Reading Club and Book Club membership. Not to mention my daughters' enduring commitment to reading and influence it has had on her education.
But it goes both ways. I have had the opportunity to ‘give back’ to my community voluntarily and professionally through the library – via projects such as Hindsight, Sensitive Santa, Nillumbik Family Literacy Festival, Food for Fines, Share the Dignity, children’s gift appeals and bushfire recovery activities. I have also had the privilege of learning from and supporting community members from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, engaging with responsive, accessible and inclusive library programming.
It is fair to say libraries have changed the course of my own (and my family’s) life infinitely. Having had such an impact, I now find it difficult to imagine that public libraries are viewed as anything other than relevant, progressive and essential; and that broader support and funding can be lacking. Enter Libraries Change Lives.
Developed by Public Libraries Victoria and State Library Victoria, Libraries Change Lives is a state-wide project designed to build community support and attract additional state government funding for the state’s 272 public libraries (which attract more than 30 million visitors a year).
As part of the campaign, those of us who share a passion for public libraries are set with an important – and possibly even fun – task: to share the message beyond the library walls. To get it ‘out there’ just how significant libraries are to individuals, communities and culture. We already know how great libraries are… it’s time to spread the word!
Anyone can participate; library members, visitors, presenters, staff, volunteers, community partners; those who have ever left a library with a mind full of inspiration, heart full of joy, arms full of books or simply a reason to return – to highlight the significant role public libraries play in people’s lives.
YPRL's Libraries Change Lives activities represent diverse community faces and stories, celebrating the experiences of those impacted by public libraries through engaging communities, stakeholders and governments alike. From public displays and interviews to anonymous letters and feedback, there are and will be many ways to contribute. Look out for opportunities at your local library – we will be collecting stories throughout 2019.
In the meantime, next time you’re at the library, get your social media on and let your network know by checking in or hash-tagging a fabulous photo or witty post with #LibrariesChangeLives. Feel free to share our posts too – we love to see our stories take flight!
Libraries have much more in store, too. Who knows how many more lives they'll change?