Public library services globally have long presented as accepting and inclusive environments for the local communities they serve. In particular, they can offer safe spaces for LGBTIQA+ communities to feel reflected in the collections they utilise and acknowledged in programming which is offered.
Maribyrnong Libraries in Melbourne’s inner west has strengthened its LGBITQA+ programming in recent years, offering a suite of regular programs and special events. These programs have seen profound impacts on participating members, improved cultural safety for the library’s LGBTIQA+ community, and helped raise LGBTIQA+ visibility within the library service. However, the journey hasn’t been without challenges.
This brave presentation offers two perspectives. We explore examples of good practice including councillor conviction, corporate commitment and community centred design, leading to programs cherished by our members of our LGBTIQA+ community. However, despite this success a new program, Diverse Kids Group, was placed on hold due to an observed need to prioritise inclusion training and sharing lived experience more broadly across the team.
We are committed to learning from the lived experience of our staff and our diverse community. We want to be brave and not just bask in our successes and this means having hard conversations.
In June 2022, the library launched a new monthly program, Queer Book Group. The first session booked out within two days, and has only grown in popularity since its conception with some members travelling up to 3 hours from distant towns to attend on a monthly basis. In particular, the success of Queer Book Group highlights the value in these programs being peer-lead by staff who identify as members of the LGBTIQA+ community. Following feedback that the name of the Queer Book Group program wasn’t inclusive for the older LGBTI community, a new program LGBTI Book and Film Chat was developed in consultation with a member from City of Maribyrnong’s LGBTIQA+ Community Advisory Group.
The library continues to celebrate important LGBTIQA+ dates and festivals through special events, with recent highlights including IDAHOBIT, Pride Month and Wear it Purple Day. In response to recent attacks on library LGBTIQA+ programs, in 2023 the library strengthened its risk assessment and risk management plans. These revised procedures allowed the events to continue successfully, noting that the library service didn’t receive any attacks or threats.
The success of these regular programs and special events highlight the positive outcomes that can be achieved when libraries prioritise LGBTIQA+ inclusive programming and empower staff to drive the public library environment toward a relevant, demand-driven and person-centred service in an age where truth is valued above all. While this work does not come with the absence of challenges, it does ensure that inclusion is only the beginning of belonging.