A passion for migrant-friendly libraries | ELPNZ

A passion for migrant-friendly libraries

07 May 2013


Pinned above Ada Nally’s desk is a photograph of Koos, the Somalian refugee she tutored to support her in achieving an early childhood qualification.

Her next role in customer services at Wellington’s Kilbirnie library included hosting sessions for learners of English. It was a job that became a passion,
developing into her current role and resonating with her memories of early days in New Zealand. Her manager encouraged her to get out into the community – and that was her introduction to English Language Partners.
“I went to the local mosque, visited community and women’s groups and liaised with agencies that work with new migrants to get to people as soon as they arrived in Wellington,” says Ada.
“English Language Partners were running ESOL classes and I got in touch to see how I could wave the flag for our services. Maddy Harper, their Tutor Support
Coordinator, arranged a spot in their newsletter and I talked to volunteer tutors to raise awareness about our ‘learning English’ collection, foreign language books, newspapers and magazines. I also visited English Language Partners’ classes all round Wellington.”
Ada gathers feedback on what the community wants from the library service and its collections.
Ada, who came from the Netherlands in 1985, has combined a demanding, and hugely fulfilling job as Multicultural Community Customer Specialist for
Wellington City Libraries with voluntary roles with English Language Partners – and she’s just begun presenting a radio show too. Her skills owe much to her experiences; coming to Wellington as a newlywed, and, despite falling in love with the country, still facing the challenges of isolation and of being a speaker
of English as a second language.
“At first it is very exciting,” says Ada. “But after a while, especially when I was pregnant with my first child, I found myself feeling increasingly isolated and homesick. That is an experience shared by many new settlers.”
At one point she used to go to the read out-of-date Dutch newspapers and magazines. Ada’s ‘school English’ was already good. In Holland she had worked as
a telex operator for an oil company, so was used to communicating with people around the world. In fact, she first ‘met’ her Kiwi husband, a radio officer on oil rigs, via telex. However, finding a job was not easy and she temped in administrative roles for a while.
“After a few weeks of temping and often correcting people’s English spelling, I would be offered a permanent job, but at a minimum wage because I was ‘a second language speaker’,” she recalls.
Then she saw a teacher aide job advertised at St Catherine’s College.
“It was working with Assyrian and Pacific Islands students. When I applied I said I was a second language speaker and they thought that was an advantage. I eventually became international student coordinator.”
Early on, the Islamic Centre’s women’s group told her that much of the collection, with regard to Islam or Arabic nations, was very much from a Western slant.
“There were books about religion, about Osama Bin Laden or the history of the Middle East from a Western point of view. They said: ‘Why not books on our architecture or our progress in astronomy?’ So we bought books that brought a more balanced approach to these topics.”
One customer had been struggling with depression for some time. When books on mental health were introduced to the Wellington Libraries’ Arabic collection he felt able to research what he was experiencing and, with a greater understanding of his condition, decided to seek help.
The libraries service runs many events, in the library and the community. These have ranged from an Islamic fashion show to a celebration of different international tea traditions. Ada has also started presenting a show on Wellington’s Access Radio station to promote the library to the migrant community – and she gets to play great world music.
On top of her library commitments, Ada has been a member of English Language Partners’ committee, enjoyed taking part in fundraising events, and trained as a home tutor.
Koos, who she tutored in 2012, was her first student.
“What I love about English Language Partners is that it is all about people,” she says. “Every single person is made to feel welcome and supported.

Story/Photos: Patricia Thompson