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Passion for Youth: The Accidental Librarian

11 Dec 2018
Richard Misilei, manager of the only youth library in Aotearoa, talks about the changing role of libraries in our communities.

When people picture libraries, they think silent reading while a single librarian lurks behind the shelves hissing shhhh!

I get that – I used to share that perception, but now as a librarian I want people to know how libraries have transformed. They’re not just buildings to store books, they’re shared spaces for the community to come together, exchange ideas, get creative and encourage each other.

I’ve been working at Tupu Youth Library for ten years and the ideal we’re committed to is a vital one – that every child and teenager in our community (and beyond) would have a love for learning, imagination, reading, creating and knowledge.

Our ideal is for every child and teenager in our community to have a love for learning.

Libraries all over offer activities and services working towards that goal, and Tupu is particularly unique – not only is it the only youth library in New Zealand, but it started because the community spoke up about youth needing a space of their own.

Now, we’re constantly busy – holding author talks, hosting music gigs with artists, offering homework help, study workshops, even running Gaming Clubs for gamers to hang out and challenge each other.

Once a month we have 'Living Legends' sessions, bringing in speakers from creative industries – artists, musicians, writers, designers – to talk about their work and how they got to where they are.

It’s about exposing young people to different things and paths they may not have considered. So many kids just go straight for what they know or what people around them are doing. We’re working with them to think about other opportunities they may never have realised they had, and supporting them to challenge themselves. And it’s exciting to me that libraries can play that role.

One of my favourite memories is the first event I ever ran – it was a café music night, with over 100 people hanging out and jamming along. Complete strangers would come up and ask if they could join in, I always said of course, it’s open for everyone!  It was an incredible atmosphere.

I love my work, I’ve been here for so long and thought I’d be tired of it by now, but inspiring these kids and watching them grow and find their talents – that’s something so worth doing.

The path less travelled

‘Librarian’ isn’t an obvious career path for guys – especially young Pacific guys. Before coming into this industry, I hadn’t placed a single thought on working in libraries and ended up here by accident. I originally studied business and when I was finishing up my degree, a friend mentioned a young adult librarian role was going at Tupu Youth Library. I only intended to stay for two years or so, but ended up loving the role, library and the community and eventually became manager!

Before coming into this industry, I hadn’t placed a single thought on working in libraries and ended up here by accident.

Last year I finished my Masters on Pacific Youth and their perceptions of our industry – generally speaking, the Pacific worldview doesn’t place the same high value on being a librarian compared to other career paths such as health, law, business, sports etc(And they’re definitely not alone in that!). Being here now, I can see the value of this industry and its need in communities such as the one I serve in, so my desire is for our youth to see that same value – that the library is there to help with one’s growth, development and leisure.

Even beyond Tupu, Auckland has over 55 libraries across the city offering a ton of the same services we do – music gigs, research assistance, tech workshops, creative makerspace zones, homework help, book a librarian,

With exams finishing up and the summer ahead, I want youth out there – and the rest of the community – to know that libraries are a space for them.