One of the libraries I work in services a majority of International students from many countries. The library is a hive of multi-culture, where many languages are spoken, and English is not the native tongue. At any given time I can hear Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish, Greek, Sudanese, Arabic, Lebanese, Indian languages, and more.
Recently I was assisting a man to scan some documents. He obviously had sight problems and had the zoom-text software enabled on the pc. This made navigating the scanner software awkward, so I was doing it for him, minus the zoom-text. The pages being scanned were wrinkled with messy hand-written swirly text that looked like Arabic. He told me his name was Jahid and to label the electronic documents with that. I began to wonder what exactly I was helping him with. One page had several small mug-shot type photos of ethnic-looking men. Some typed English text revealed the name of Jahid of Afghan origin and was a Statutory Declaration about some incident in which he was involved. Of course, I did not read it all in depth but caught a few details as I scanned the documents for him.
Another interaction I had recently was with a Russian man named Igor who has no English language ability yet. He offered a photo of a book he was seeking about Avionics. He had all the relevant details including the ISBN which was helpful. I searched our catalogue and tried to tell him that we didn’t have the book but perhaps could get it for him. However this was too much for him to comprehend and all he could understand from me was “no”.
I really enjoy the multicultural environment of this library and appreciate the assistance we provide in helping these new Australians forge a new life for themselves and their families. I hope I am not naive. This library has a large language development collection and an active English language program.
I have recently read and enjoyed the book The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Najaf Mazari. It describes the experience of the Afghan man and his hard life in war-torn Afghanistan, then his escape to Australia, his time in a refugee camp and the beginnings of his new life in Australia. It is a story of struggle and hope. I wonder how many of the people I serve in the library have experienced similar or worse hardships. Most of them are incredibly polite, well-mannered, and thankful for any assistance. It is a contrast to the lack of courtesy and basic public niceties often missing from the behaviour of many Australians that I try hard to satisfy in the public libraries.