“We are essential”: When libraries were forced to close, Melbourne kids lost a crucial resource

“We are essential”: When libraries were forced to close, Melbourne kids lost a crucial resource

Words by Caitlin Cassidy

Yarra Libraries have teamed up with independent bookstore The Little Bookroom to distribute books, craft packs and food to those who rely on library resources.

When Yarra Libraries was abruptly told to close its doors as part of sweeping coronavirus restrictions in mid-March, community coordinator Kylie Carlson knew vulnerable community members would bear the brunt of the impact.

With libraries closed, many community members simply had to go without. For some, this meant being unable to provide books for their kids as they simply couldn’t afford to buy online, while others lack adequate internet access to use the online services libraries are providing during the shutdowns.

To help those in need, Yarra Libraries has been delivering food packages and books from its collection to over 11,000 homes of vulnerable people living in public housing.

“There was a perception once the doors closed, our service ends and that’s simply not the case. Books are our key business and…we stay true to that” Carlson said.

But over time, she found she couldn’t keep up with the demand for children’s books, and that a devoted section for children’s literature was missing for kids “really struggling” with isolation, boredom, and no access to education.

Luckily, as soon as the head of children’s bookstore The Little Bookroom, Leesa Lambert, heard that kids books were in demand, she was determined to get on board and help out.

And a couple of Facebook messages later, ‘Pay it Forward’ was born. The initiative sees The Little Bookroom putting forward $2 for every $10 donation to distribute Australian children’s books, alongside food packages to commission flats in the City of Yarra.

The Story Box Library is just one of the organisations that immediately joined the cause, donating 50 children’s books after hearing about the program to, “Ensure the joy of reading for many children continues” during such difficult times.

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We’re so very fortunate to be surrounded by books every day. With public libraries temporarily closed, many in our community have lost access to books. And books are essential. : For the last few weeks Yarra Libraries have been working alongside community based organisations to distribute books and craft packs alongside fresh food and meals in housing estates in Richmond, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton. : But they're RUNNING OUT OF KIDS BOOKS! : So I'm asking asking you to help us make a little difference. : Chipping in $10 to Pay it Forward allows us to provide new Australian books for Yarra Libraries to continue their work (the link is in our bio, and at www.littlebookroom.com.au) : For every $5 contribution The Little Bookroom will pay it forward $1. – Leesa x #librarieschangelives #payitforward

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The program has already pooled over $4,000, though for Carlson, it’s all about seeing the kids reactions when they make their deliveries that makes the Pay It Forward program worth the while.

She recalls one instance when, after setting up a table of books and food parcels at the North Richmond community estate, a child walked straight up the book table, grabbed a Tom Gates book and hugged it with tears in his eyes.

“It’s hard to describe how you feel when you see that,” she said.

Commission flats can have eight to ten people in them, and Carlson is seeing firsthand just how hard some kids have it.

Some children lack basic internet access while many of the kids from culturally diverse backgrounds, “Literally have not left their doors” as the language barrier has parents so frightened, they’re keeping their kids inside.

Carlson always knew these members of the Northside community, because they were the ones who regularly came into the libraries to use devices and now, with doors closed, they’ve been cut off from the resources libraries provide.

Lambert reckons it was “absolutely bonkers” that libraries were considered an “inessential” service, which was just “amplifying the divide” between the haves and have-nots.

“The hardest thing was being told we were non-essential, because we are essential…I’m going to prove that we are,” Carlson said.

If you want to donate to the Pay it Forward program, head to The Little Bookroom’s website.

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