I’m not a betting person, but I’d stake a few dollars on this session being the only one at the Conference that included participants singing not one, but two songs. Ada Nally, its inspirational presenter, first led us into a rendition of the classic Sesame Street song “Who are the people in your neighbourhood?”. This simple song neatly symbolised the theme of Ada’s talk, namely that the role of the library is to be a “good neighbour” for the members of its community. Whereas in the past local communities were more cohesive and neighbours knew and looked out for each other, modern society is far more atomised. Unfortunately this atomisation of society is happening contemporaneously with the ongoing influx of new New Zealanders. It is therefore up to community libraries, Ada argues, to assume the mantle of the good neighbour, especially for the often silent and isolated newcomers.
Newtown Library, where Ada works as Multicultural Community Customer Specialist, has taken on this challenge with gusto: the library not only actively hosts a wide variety of groups of all ethnicities, but is also strongly committed to community outreach. Ada visits groups at childcare centres, kohanga reo, Samoan language nests, schools and community centres, spreading the word that the library belongs to all in the community and, most importantly, inviting them to visit the library. And if people are reluctant to visit the library, Ada takes the library to them, as in the case with the Somali mothers and children who congregate at the city housing community rooms. Ada teaches them songs and rhymes, breaking the ice with a rendition of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Somali. (In case you were wondering, this was the second song we all got to perform during the session.)
The Muslim Women’s fashion parade held at Kilbirnie Library last year is probably the most well-known result of this outreach effort; however there have been many others. Since 2005, to celebrate Race Relations Day, Ada has also been an active promoter of the Earth People project, which sees adults and children throughout New Zealand make people out of clay, while sharing their diverse experiences and celebrating diversity.
So what are Ada’s suggestions for libraries wanting to become good neighbours?
- Use the other neighbours in your community – Plunket nurses, schools, childcare centres, English Language Partners (formerly ESOL Home Tutors), Refugee Services, shopkeepers – to stay informed of new arrivals to the community;
- Be flexible: be open to operating in different locations and at different times;
- and, above all, Embrace the concept that being a good neighbour is our role.
Here are some interesting links if you want to explore this topic further: