Libraries Change Lives

Published on 05 December 2019

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Victorian public libraries change lives by offering communities a place to learn, create and belong.

Libraries Change Lives, an initiative of State Library Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria, is an advocacy campaign that creates conversation about the value of public libraries and celebrate the essential services they deliver every day.

In 2019, we gathered stories from our community about how libraries have changed their lives.

Ooma and Bhavesh

Ooma and Bhavesh

Ooma and her son, Bhavesh, frequently visit our Toorak/South Yarra Library.

I wondered, 'How do I teach him? Because he's my first child, I don't have a guide. My mom lives overseas,' so it was really hard.

When Bhavesh was less than three months old we’d go to the Toorak Library on Fridays for story time. That's where he gets his love of the song.

He’s not shy! He loves singing and I even bought him a ukulele. He likes Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Singing is what brings a feeling of joy. It was a joy for me as well. He grew up hearing these songs.

I had a purpose on Fridays to get out - you come here and every time we come he makes a friend.

Bhavesh is now 4 and a half and looks forward to story time on Wednesdays. Thanks to this wonderful library, he has already learned to read. It just makes your day.





Zoe is a retired teacher and winner of our annual short-story writing competition in 2018.

I had a student who said, “I hate reading. I don’t read.”

I said, “I doubt then that you could read a couple of pages in this lesson.”

She came back five minutes later with, “Done it. Now what?”

Half-way through Year 7 Effie became a reader.

She passed away in Year 11. I was once more her English teacher but it she who was now teaching me about life and death.

In the late nineties I moved schools and I wanted to honour the teenager who gave me my new wisdom.

I went to the Malvern Library. When I took out the book of names I wondered ‘which one’?

I picked Zoe.

It means ‘life’ in Greek.

I made Effie read but she made me reassess life.




Josh found Prahran Library at a time when he needed it most.

I was going through a hard time at home with a relationship breakdown which was very mentally abusive. When we were in the most heated moments I would walk to the library to let things cool down.

I was in a very low moment of my life: I wasn’t working, I was broke on benefits, living away from my Queensland family and dealing with anxiety and depression.

As my mental health was declining I decided it was time to start changing my life. The library provided a safe space for me to go to relax, unwind and move my focus towards other positive areas.

I could escape and read motivational books, use the computer to speak to my friends and family up north, and look for jobs and a new place to live in confidence.



DiDi visits The Hub after school program on the Horace Petty Estate and regularly participates in library activities when we visit.

My name is DiDi. I’m seven years old, and I’m in grade 1 at Windsor Primary. Playing tiggy makes me happy. Eating pizza makes me happy and hungry. Going on the excursion to the library to see the reptiles makes me happy.

Today I made a Happiness Mobile with sticks I found and we wrapped them in wool and attached notes that said what made us happy. We also attached strings of beads and bells.

I’ll hang it up at home and when the wind blows, the bells will ring and remind me what makes me happy.



Helen is a former librarian who finds herself visiting our Malvern Library more in her retirement than she ever expected.

A friend said “I'm sure you'd love to join this society.” It’s the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society. We’ve got 360 members.

We have monthly lectures, which includes a fabulous afternoon tea. Some of the lecturers come from Britain, absolutely world-class lecturers. Even though it's fine and decorative arts, it's a wide variety. It might be gardens. We've got a lecture coming up on the Mitford girls.

When you join, very quickly they check out who is recently retired and enthusiastic and ask, “Would you like to be on the committee”? I love working on the ADFAS Committee. It’s great fun, you work with fabulous people and learn so much. I do their newsletter, and it's a lot of work. I will often write about a museum I've seen overseas or something like that. I wrote an article on the Block Arcade in Melbourne.

I do quite a bit of research at the library.

I think I'm really recognizing now that the library is such a major part of my retirement.



Elsa works in our Toorak/South Yarra Library. 

I was born in Durban. My mum, dad and us five kids moved to Sydney. My mum and dad lived through apartheid, so it was a good incentive to leave.

We landed in the northern suburbs of Sydney. My dad was a panel beater, so he had a trade. It was Whitesville. We all stood out.

It’s been a journey for me since I arrived in Australia. I stood out. I sounded different. I looked different. I wanted to blend in and leave my African heritage behind.

It’s come full circle. I’m really proud now, and curious about where I come from.

It’s why I love working in libraries. I love seeing the human in everyone. It’s the beauty and challenge of public libraries. It’s a space for everyone, even the ones who challenge you. It’s beautiful.



Sarah submitted this story anonymously through our website where we asked people to share how libraries have changed their lives.

On unemployment benefits and underemployed I use the library computers to do job searches and connect with the Government. The job service providers have computer facilities but they are inadequate, and I avoid any interaction with those places unless required because they make me feel like a criminal.

The library makes me feel welcome and warm. I encounter friendly acquaintances in the library. The library is a community hub. The library is vital to my well-being.

It provides me with entertainment and knowledge. I get all my reading material at the library and DVDs of movies and television series that I would not be able to view otherwise. 



Tama works as a librarian at Malvern Library and delivers our creative technology events like robotics to primary school aged children in our community.

When I was a kid I thought TV shows and movies with computers and robots in them were this larger than life kind of thing, and I always hoped to be able to play with them. When I was six, my mom’s friend introduced me to video games and I got addicted! Over the years this became my entry point to computers. When I play games it’s like I’m also looking at how things work, tinkering and being creative.

LEGO Robotics combines LEGO, computers and creativity. It’s that experimental space that I had as a kid with computers that I now offer kids at the library. I’m interested in teaching kids to use technology to help them express their stories and their creative vision. For me getting a connection- with a group in the community or a person- is a gift.



Jacqui is a long-time Phoenix Park Library customer.

I’ve always been an avid reader and library visitor, but the biggest impact libraries have had on our lives came when having children 13 years ago. From baby rhyme time sessions to the weekly story times, these sessions not only reinforced the importance of reading to children when they are really young, it was also a great social outlet for my mother’s group to catch up each week. We’d attend story time, have the kids play together afterwards and we’d be able to grab a coffee and have a chat.

Now that the girls are older, the library enables them to read as much as they want and have access to an amazing range of books which we would never have been able to afford to buy.

Each year when the Premiers’ Reading Challenge comes around, I’m amazed how quickly they read the maximum 100 books allowed to be recorded. I think that library visits have also taught them respect. Respect for acting quietly in the library, respect for books and looking after them as they are a shared resource, and respect for the librarians when they need to ask for their help.



Sophie rang our Malvern Library to share her Libraries Change Lives story.

I am in hospital a lot because of brain damage.

Libraries really do change lives.

It means a lot to me to be able to take library items into hospital with me. Having books brings me such joy.



Angela was a long-time Toorak/South Yarra Library customer.

I use to live in South Yarra, on Tivoli Road. I used the Toorak/South Yarra Library for 10 years while I lived in the area. When I fell pregnant and really needed some good books on naming babies, I went to the library. There were various wonderful baby books, and I would read and re-read them almost nightly searching for the right name for my baby.

One night I finally found the perfect name: Conor. Once he was born, I brought him to that library many times before we moved away. I still have so many fond memories.



Amy is our children’s library officer at Prahran Library and in addition to the wonderful work she does for us, she is also an accomplished visual artist.

I studied visual art. I have always loved and used art to make sense of my world. I have also used this idea of turning people into animals, trying to capture humanity by taking it away. All these preconceptions we have about who people are when we look at them as a person, if you turn them into an animal. You are looking at the animal, but you're also just getting the essence. I have created this sort of series around the people in libraries. There's so many people I see everyday that society has discarded or said you're not worth something. Everybody deserves to be acknowledged as existing. I use this kind of art to capture beauty.

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Chris is a Melbourne based cartoonist and has joined us in delivering comic workshops and live drawing sessions in our libraries.

I wanted to do comics as a teenager in the same way that I wanted to direct a Star Wars movie. You know, it was a fantasy. I think I first got into comics and Manga when I realised that.. You know Ghibli films? I realised that, one of his films that I'd seen on SBS, he'd actually written this comic version of it first.

And you could get them at the local library. And then I just started going every second weekend. I'd get bag and bags full of comics and Manga. I was allowed to get whatever I wanted. Comics that weren't condescending or weren't boring American PG blockbusters was really thrilling.

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Susie submitted this story anonymously through our website where we asked people to share how libraries have changed their lives.

When I go to the Phoenix Park library, at least once a week, the staff are so approachable, helpful and friendly. Just having an intelligent conversation with them helps me to feel acknowledged, and less invisible, isolated and alone. I can stay as long as I like, it's comfortable, relaxed, I'm not under pressure to buy anything, and I can borrow all these wonderful things for free. Where else does that happen?



Jane taught knitting at our Malvern Library for 3 years and runs a knitting website called What Jane Knits.

Anybody can knit, from an eight year old boy to a 96 year old woman.

My grandmother was a particularly crafty lady, very talented with lots of creative skills. So she taught me.

I only knitted as a child, and then I started again when I was about 35.

When I first started knitting, I knitted a tank top - a lacy type of summer thing. It was quite good, quite a cool knit really. My daughter, who's now 23, she wears it.

It's such an achievement to learn those skills then adapt them later on in your life.

A few years ago I started What Jane Knits and thought, “how can I reach more people because I really enjoy teaching people how to knit?”.

I spent 3 years teaching knitting at Malvern Library.

I’ve found that people who have never picked up knitting needles are very reluctant because they think they won't be any good at or that it's too hard. But you just need someone to gently show you how to do it.  It's very rewarding teaching people how to knit.


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