Talking Faith? Safe Spaces, Difficult Conversations: A path to inclusion and belonging

Inclusion is one of the corner stones of creating safe spaces, meaningful connections, inspirations, and especially, a sense of belonging for everyone, irrespective of race, age, gender, ethnicity, ability, or economic status. The purpose of this presentation is to explore how Greater Dandenong Libraries have developed the Talking Faith? Forum, a program that supports the local community, creates a sense of inclusion and belonging, and manages to evolve and grow with the community.
The City of Greater Dandenong is a culturally diverse community in the southeast suburbs of Victoria with over 150 nationalities calling it home, which makes it one of the most diverse councils in Australia. With two physical branches and one community lounge in the making, City of Greater Dandenong Libraries cater to more than 50,000 library members. The collection includes over 135,000 physical and digital items, and a range of resources in 18 community languages (including English).
The Talking Faith? Forum is an ongoing project successfully delivered for thirteen years by Greater Dandenong Libraries in collaboration with the Interfaith Network of Greater Dandenong. This project started as a partnership with the Immigration Museum and Greater Dandenong Libraries in 2010, inspired by the travelling exhibition “Talking Faiths: my story, your story, and our story – An exhibition of interfaith dialogue”. The exhibition, originally on display at Springvale Library in December 2010, depicted how young people use migration stories to build interfaith bridges of trust, understanding and friendship.
To celebrate the exhibition, Greater Dandenong Libraries partnered with the local Interfaith Network to host a special Talking Faith? Forum. Faith leaders representing the Baha’i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism came together to talk about and answer questions on faith. This event created the foundation that enabled Greater Dandenong Libraries to continue with annual Talking Faith? events over a decade long partnership with the Interfaith Network. Talking Faith? was created for everyone in the community, to explore community stories (to build interfaith bridges of trust, understanding and friendship), create connections and foster greater understanding. The themes discussed at the forum over the years include disability, inclusion, faith, and wellbeing.
Inclusion may be easy to achieve. But creating sense of belonging? Not so much. This presentation will also shed light on the challenges faced and the opportunities identified. It asks the big question, “inclusion to belonging; are we there yet?” And what more can we do to make our communities feel “home” in our library spaces?
By allowing for open dialogue and providing a platform, Talking Faith? has changed the way the community interacts. The outcome is a more accepting and welcoming community with greater understanding of diverse cultures and faiths, and a greater appreciation of diversity amongst both library staff and community members.

My Van Nguyen

Diversity and Literacy Librarian, Greater Dandenong Libraries

Author Bio

My Van Nguyen Dang is a Diversity & Literacy Librarian at Greater Dandenong Libraries with 16 years public library experience. 8 of those years was working within the cultural diversity portfolio. My Van was once a co-convenor of the then PLVN (now PLV) Multicultural Diversity Services and Programs Special Interest Group (MSPSIG). She was part of the committee that delivered the 2017 MSPISG Digital Inclusion for Diverse Communities seminar and the 2018 MSPSIG and Local Studies SIG Stories Matter seminar. She is currently still an active member of the MSPSIG and a committee member of ALIA Multicultural.

Marijana Bogdanovic

Information Librarian (Diversity Portfolio), Greater Dandenong Libraries

Author Bio

Marijana is an Information Librarian with Diversity Portfolio at Greater Dandenong Libraries. Marijana has over 20 years’ public library experience working in different roles at Greater Dandenong Libraries. Prior to this Marijana was an English Language and Literature Teacher.

During her library studies she researched access to online multilingual resources and use of technology in the library, some of it published in Australian Library Journal.

She is interested in community languages collection development and community engagement programs. She has been contributing to the development of  Talking Faith? Forum since its beginning and continues to advocate for the representation of Greater Dandenong’s diverse community in the libraries through an array of projects and programs.

Ruwandhi Rajasinghe

Information Librarian (Diversity Support), Greater Dandenong Libraries

Author Bio

Ruwandhi works as an Information Librarian – Diversity Support at City of Greater Dandenong Libraries. She has over 15 years of national & international experience in School, University and Public Library sector. Her journey with public libraries started in 2016 when she moved to Australia. She is passionate about community engagement and making a positive contribution to the community. Ruwandhi is an ALIA Certified Professional and a Mentor in the ALIA Mentoring Scheme. She enjoys writing at her free time and has published two articles in ALIA INCITE magazine.