A home for the homeless: Rachael Rivera and the Auckland Library Streeties

Some amazing things go on in libraries around the world. One that has stood out to me, and to others, is the work Auckland Libraries are doing with the homeless, including regular cinema screenings. I am very pleased that Rachael Rivera was able to find the time to talk to me about the work she and her team are doing.

Why did you become a public librarian?
I fell into it, age 15. I’ve done this job all my life, and I am infinitely grateful to have fallen into the world’s best and most rewarding profession. Some days I just walk around the library and I see kids singing, people creating on our 3D printer, people laughing and learning, and I think what is this magical place!? It’s just extraordinary.

I’ve read a little about the regular cinema screenings for the homeless.  What led you to do this?

Let the show begin

Let the show begin

It all started with a report written by a local charity group- Lifewise. The report detailed the experience of being homeless in Auckland City and there was a lot of reference to the Central Library fulfilling the role of a ‘lounge’ for rough sleepers.  It was named as a place people came for community and relaxation time, access to computers and a chance to keep in touch with family and friends.

Once we read this, we realised how important our offer was to this community, and we wondered if we were serving this group the best way possible. We decided the best way to hear about these customers and their experience of the library was to have a hui (meeting) and the ‘Library Lounge hui’ was born. We realised pretty quickly that other than an ‘across the desk’ relationship, we didn’t have any ties to this community, so we partnered with other local groups like the Auckland City Mission to help break the ice.

I was really nervous about whether anyone would come, but the first hui was a great success, with over 30 community members attending to share ideas. We started with a mihi whakatau (informal welcoming ceremony) which provided the opportunity to welcome and get to know each other. We heard what it is like for rough sleepers to use the library, and things that could be done differently. We shared stories and ideas of what could be awesome.

“We realised pretty quickly that other than an ‘across the desk’ relationship, we didn’t have any ties to this community, so we partnered with other local groups like the Auckland City Mission to help break the ice.”

Getting to know each other and hear each other speak already felt like a valuable experience, but we then split into  working groups to focus on some of the key issues raised on the day. These groups were a mix of staff and streeties who worked together in groups over a period of a few weeks to develop some new ways of doing things and fresh ideas. Monday Movies is one of the things that stemmed from these meetings.

How difficult was it to set up the screenings?

Not too hard- we got a license to screen films from the distributor. We pay a small annual fee. The day and time were already mandated by the group, and the community were rearing to go!

How successful has it been?

Very successful. On a number of levels:

  • We have solid attendance every week, and the users seem to really value the offer.
  • Unplanned, but other great outcomes have been that we’ve made connections with other local groups, who have contacted us to support our work; like the catering school up the road that brought morning tea for the group.
  • We have also received a lot of good media and social media coverage. It’s been entirely complimentary with customers saying things like “I don’t mind paying rates if this is where it goes”.
  • And I think last but not least staff, including myself, were very humbled and affected by the opportunity to connect with this community.  It’s changed the whole way the library thinks about and treats the homeless community.

Are there any lessons you have learnt that would be useful for others to know who may be thinking of something similar?

A home for the homeless

A home for the homeless

Talk to your community. I can in no way take credit for the idea of a movie club, but I can speak to the importance of co-designing your with your community. Where are the gaps? What are the problems you are trying to solve? Don’t assume you know what people need and want.

In terms of rough sleepers? Put yourself in their shoes. What policy or processes do you have that are a barrier for them, what could you do to make it easier?

How important do you think libraries are for the homeless?

Through these series of meetings I have heard first-hand the importance of libraries to our rough sleeping customers. One guy told me he moved to the city several years ago, and that none of his family back home knew he was homeless. He used our computers to keep in touch with them. It was his lifeline to his family.

They value our service, like many of our communities do, for different reasons. But they don’t always feel safe and welcome, and that is something we can and should take steps to address.

Is there anything else you’d like to do for this group?

Quite a few other projects came out of the hui.  We made a ‘10 things you didn’t know about your library’ flyer- aimed at people without homes with useful tips and tricks for getting the most out of our services.  We started a rough sleeper’s book club which is still going strong, and has also had a lot of media attention. We’ve also worked to assist a small group to develop a website as a way to share knowledge about sleeping rough with people who are new to sleeping on the street.

“We started a rough sleeper’s book club which is still going strong”

We are renovating our library at the moment, and in one corner we will have a collage of people staff voted as being integral to the fabric to our library, either through their collections or contribution to our programming.  The man who actually came up with the idea for Monday movies is Rangi Carroll. Staff voted that we should include Rangi in this collage.  Next to Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, is an active member of the homeless community of Auckland.  Rangi passed away earlier this year, but his legacy lives on in this place. We never would have had this representation had we not engaged this group.


Listening to the community

Rachel Rivera, listening to the community

Rachael Rivera is currently Manager- Central Library Experience, based in at the Auckland Central Library.

See A film screening brings normality to Auckland’s homeless community – Noted – for more on this project.

  • #1 written by Greg Worrell
    about 6 years ago

    We did something similar at Melbourne Library Service several years back when through chatting with the homeless we realised that they had no access to watching DVDs. So we created a small viewing room that could be booked for 2 hour sessions. The users simply grabbed a DVD from the collection and went in a watched. The room was almost 100% fully utilised. So I can see why film nights are such a big hit. Well done.

  • #2 written by Geoff Strempel
    about 6 years ago

    What a powerful story. Ian, thanks for sharing on the site & Rachel, thanks for agreeing to share the information about the program. Your comment about co-designing programs is so true. In my experience, respectfully reaching out, including other agencies and co-designing programs with the intended participants is almost fail-safe in getting great outcomes for all – not the least being the library itself. And as you indicate it builds momentum and connections and support from others. Again – thanks for sharing – inspirational

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