Inclusion in Libraries - Supporting Vulnerable Members

The Sunshine Coast Libraries inclusion membership ensures everyone, no matter their lived experience, can access the library and feel that they belong. There are many library users that do not neatly fit standard memberships or require additional consideration of privacy. Libraries need a consistent and equitable approach to welcoming these individuals as members.

  • What do you do when a customer approaches you and shares that they have left a domestic violence situation – and they are concerned that their previous partner will attempt to access their children’s library cards, and therefore their new contact details?
  • How do you appropriately record information to enable parents with dual custody to manage library cards for their children?
  • How do you offer a membership to children without a consistent adult to manage their account due to them living in a care home or moving between foster homes?
  • What do you offer members experiencing short or long term homelessness?

One of the guiding principles of Sunshine Coast Libraries is libraries as Pillars of Community – the library values its diverse communities and concentrates on equity, inclusiveness and access for all. Key concepts in the APLA-ALIA Standards and Guidelines for Australian Public Libraries also highlight the importance of supporting personal development and wellbeing always, especially for vulnerable people and in times of significant individual or community stress. Introducing an inclusion membership supports Sunshine Coast Libraries vision to deliver a best practice library service. O

ver the past five years, Sunshine Coast Libraries have steadily moved towards a modern library membership approach, actively reducing barriers to enable continued access to services. Libraries have simplified membership requirements in recognition of an individual’s right to decide what personal information they are comfortable sharing. In 2023 an inclusion membership was launched as an essential step in ensuring everyone feels welcome and that they belong as a library member.

Front-of-house staff play a pivotal role in ensuring interactions that foster belonging in an empathetic way. Conversation tools and techniques on how to appropriately engage with customers are fundamental to achieving barrier free inclusion. Information privacy requirements are vital for all users, with the inclusion membership serving as an indicator to staff to exercise additional compassion and discretion.

The need to provide a safe workplace is also recognised, with avenues available for staff to access support via peers or professional services. In the first six months of offering inclusion memberships, over 100 customers have been able to join the library without any barriers, demonstrating the need for this membership.

The value gained by current inclusion members, including people new to Australia, people experiencing homelessness, and people leaving family violence situations, is immeasurable. The inclusion membership has provided Sunshine Coast Libraries with the ability to offer a truly inclusive service, providing equal access for all members of the community and a sense of belonging for all individuals.

Teresa Kohne

Digital Services Supervisor, Sunshine Coast Council

Author Bio

Teresa is an experienced professional with broad state and local government knowledge. Teresa’s primary career in public and environmental health provides a grounding in a risk-assessment and outcomes-based approach. With a comprehensive understanding of libraries and digital requirements, she has consistently demonstrated expertise in optimising the customer experience. Known for her collaborative approach and adept project management, Teresa is recognised as a valuable asset in interdisciplinary teams. She is acknowledged for her resilience, critical thinking, and comprehensive solutions focussed approach.

Teresa has presented at professional library events including ALIA QLD, Next Library, QPLA and SPUN. She is passionate about the community value of libraries and fostering truly accessible and welcoming library services. Her comprehensive knowledge and dedication to continuous improvement has resulted in the successful delivery of many innovative projects and initiatives.

Georgia Laxton

Team Leader Programs and Marketing, Sunshine Coast Council

Author Bio

Georgia is a dynamic library professional with a passion for empowering communities through equal access and information. With a tertiary background in social science and psychology, Georgia brings a unique perspective to her role, merging human behaviour with practical library experience. Throughout her career, Georgia has championed the importance of public libraries as welcoming and inclusive places. Georgia recognises the pivotal role libraries play in providing spaces where people of all cultures, backgrounds and lived experiences feel safe and supported to belong.

Georgia is committed to fostering innovation and strategic thinking to ensure equitable access for all. Georgia has presented on the importance and value of libraries at many events, most recently as a guest speaker at the QPLA Professional Development Intensive.