Libraries: 75 years free

8 “Wow! So, you’re a librarian? How great it is to read books all day.”

November marks 75 years since NSW State Parliament passed the Library Act, a landmark legislation that led to free public library services for people throughout the state. Libraries have come a far way since that time, and as we celebrate this milestone, I reflect on why I became a librarian.

It started in the middle of a youth services course, where I was speaking to a friend who had her head bowed over some application papers. Peering over her shoulder, I inquired about what she was doing. She told me that she was writing up her application to begin a Library and Information course. I quizzed her more, “What do you mean, a librarian course? What kinds of things do you study?” That evening, I looked up everything I could about librarians and the course and decided that this would be something that I wanted to do.

Although I liked books, and being around them would be a bonus, I can’t say it was the books that made me enter the profession; rather, it was my background in community and social justice.

My first few positions were in Islamic schools, which really spurred my deep concern for literacy and learning in young people – especially those coming from minority backgrounds. From there, my journey led me to where I am now: a Children’s and Youth Services librarian at one of the largest Metropolitan library services in the state.

9 Today, many libraries encourage young people to make noise, get creative and – best of all – get imaginative. Story times are becoming interactive, where even mothers are encouraged to sing along and read stories and finish popular nursery rhymes. Libraries are encouraging families to read together from birth to focus on early childhood brain development.

More recently, my attention has expanded to the use of social media in libraries. Libraries and librarians are always looking at ways to promote their programs and collections to different community sectors. Social media has been a fantastic tool to create awareness of libraries and their changing spaces both online and physical. It is certainly changing the manner in which people interact with libraries, and is changing the landscape for librarians.

For many people, the false idea that technology will somehow forever wipe out the concept of a library makes me more resolute to share this fact: libraries are increasingly utilsing technology with which the public can play and, more specifically, many libraries are forefront in advocating that these technologies be readily and easily accessible for anyone to use.

Indeed, libraries are adapting to the changing technological landscape in so far as they are moving towards a more public participatory democracy, where program and services are tailored specifically to their community needs. Technology is utilised in these centres to build wonderful experiences that can be shared and had, over and over again, allowing libraries to show the world that the very nature of democratising information and resources for everyone is alive and well. In fact, libraries had been advocating and fighting for free use long before the Library Act, as discussed in the famous Munn-Pitt report of 1935. This advocacy in social justice is what encouraged me to begin my journey into library-land.

Libraries historically have always been about more than books. The success of libraries is due to the communities that actively hold them up. Although technology has certainly moved and pushed libraries along, there never has there been a more exciting time to walk into a library and enjoy what librarians have actively advocated for their community: You.

By Hiba Kanj

Hiba is a librarian in NSW with a love for changing traditional spaces into participatory spaces for all. By day is a youth advocate and by night she advocates for the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, especially those in detention centre across Australia. Hiba can be found talking more about libraries on the twitter handle @kanjhiba.

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