Our children. Our future.

Our children are our future

by Peter

It was my privilege at Ulearn 2012 to hear a keynote presentation by Khoa Do, an acclaimed film director, screen writer and teacher. In the past ten years Khoa has specialised in working with marginalised communities, including at-risk and homeless youth, former prisoners and refugees of many nationalities. 

Khoa’s own story is a remarkable one. At the age of two he arrived in Australia from Vietnam as a refugee on a tiny fishing boat. He grew up in poverty in Sydney’s western suburbs and since then has won numerous international awards as a film maker and was young Australian of the year in 2005.

His passion, humour and enthusiasm are infectious and uplifting. Throughout his career as a film maker, Khoa has worked with the most disadvantaged in his community, guiding them and inspiring them to incredible success. His message was simple and powerful. Khoa believes everyone, no matter what their background or experience, is extraordinarily gifted, and our goal is to help others to realise their true potential.

He urged us to believe in our young people and to instil in them the self belief that they are valued and that anything is possible.

Khoa encouraged us :

  • To look for the best in others and lift them up
  • to inspire and support them to dream big
  • Listen to them.
  • Trust them.
  • Have faith in them.
  • Love them. 
  • Reach out to those whom society has marginalised, and to those who may have lost their way, and their spirit.
  • Do not pre-judge or exclude people on the basis of their socio-economic status, age, culture or lifestyle, or the colour of their skin.

Libraries in our communities and our schools have a rich tradition of inclusion and empowerment. They are known as havens, sanctuaries - where no one is turned away or judged. Libraries build communities. Libraries and their staff have a long tradition of supporting individuals to grow and realise their potential.

Recently however, there was an incident which angered and disturbed me. It  is a reminder of the damage and hurt that can be caused by putting library routines and procedures before empathy and understanding, by not listening - not trusting, by putting books before people.

A week before the conference a mother accompanied her beautiful Pasifika daughter - an avid reader - to the local community library. It was their second year living in New Zealand and the library was one of the girl’s favourite places. She had been back and forth almost every day in the school holidays. She always had at two or three books on the go and was always eager to see if her requests were on the shelf waiting to be collected.  On this particular day as the mother and daughter left the library, squeezing through the security gates alongside an older pakeha woman, the security alarm sounded.

The librarian approached mother and daughter on the steps outside the library. The little girl  explained that the books in her bag had been issued the week before. The other woman,  leaving the library at the same time, explained that she had probably tripped the alarm because she had had difficulty self-issuing ther book.

The librarian ignored the older woman and did not wish to check her book. Instead she demanded the little girl go through her bag and remove her library books. The little girl complied, rummaging through her clothes, her leftover lunch treats, toys and games to find the books.

The mother did not understand why it was necessary to search her daughter’s bag on the pavement -in view of passers-by. She did not understand why the librarian didn't wish to check the other woman's book. She did not understand why the librarian did not listen to her daughter, or believe her.

She felt humiliated, belittled. She wanted to return to the community she had come from in the islands – where she and her children were treated with respect and dignity. She did not want to ever return to that library. The little girl was confused and did know what she had done wrong. 

Library practices and routines that put books and procedures before people,  serve to marginalise and alienate us from our communities. Library staff must recognise the hurt and harm they can do when they don’t listen, trust, and care. They need to understand the fragility of our young peoples’ sense of self belief and confidence.

Libraries have the power to lift people up.   There is no place for library staff in any school or community who treat others with disrespect and damage their confidence.

As a library professional I was outraged.

As a husband and father I was heartbroken. That beautiful little girl was my daughter.


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