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In multicultural Australia, libraries should be non-negotiable assets

29 Apr 2014
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The federal government pulled $1.05m for the construction of a new library in Tarneit – a move that seems downright petty and callous.

If you wish to glimpse the heart of the outer-west suburbs of Melbourne, step into a local library. This is what you might see: Karen refugees learning English idioms, young Sudanese-Australians at the computers or a Chinese woman browsing through audiobooks. You might hear the lilt of nursery rhymes from a far corner, where babies and toddlers are waiting to be read stories. Behind the shelves, elderly women are playing Scrabble.

"No committee decides who may enter," Maya Angelou said of public libraries. "No tuition is charged, no oath sworn, no visa demanded." More than a decade ago, it was where I felt the first stirrings of connection, a young Filipino migrant starting from scratch. I felt no scrutiny or judgment there. I could walk in without a dollar to my name and yet fail to leave empty-handed.

In multicultural areas on the metropolitan fringe, libraries are non-negotiable assets. They are a vital hub for new migrants, students, job searchers and pensioners who would otherwise not have access to books, computers, the Internet and a printer. It is not just that these things are available near home. There are people whose job it is to assist you. It makes for an inclusive space, perhaps one of the few remaining where transactions don't require a cash register.

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Image: girl at library, Tyler Olson / Shutterstock

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2014
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