Celebrating women and stories from across the globe

In celebration of Multicultural March and International Women’s Day, we spoke to two women from diverse cultural backgrounds who work at the Library.  In this Q&A, Edith Ho and Michelle Lee discuss the inspiration behind sharing stories from around the globe.

Edith Ho and Michelle Lee

Edith Ho (left) and Michelle Lee (right)

What is your cultural background?

Michelle

I was born in Australia. My mother was Australian from an Irish, English and Scottish background, and my father was Chinese Australian born in Queensland. My grandparents came from Canton.

Edith

I’m one hundred percent Chinese. I came from Hong Kong. My parents were Chinese and when the communists took over they fled China. I was born and bred in Hong Kong.

What is Storytime?

Michelle

We started Storytime to extend our audience. It was an area where we hadn’t made contact with young people and their families. There are a lot of families living in nearby apartments and seeking somewhere to go.  We started it as an idea over two years ago now.  A couple of families started consistently coming, and those children have now gone to pre-school and big school. We’ve also promoted Storytime through our children’s holiday programs. The families who no longer come because their children have graduated from preschool have told their friends, and so our audience is increasing.  It gives families another activity to go to. Some mothers who bring their children to Storytime may feel isolated living in the city because many of them are from different countries and so they form friendship groups here.

Edith

It makes the Library a more vibrant place by including children and families.

Michelle

It’s actually really cute when you get a three year old that knows their way around the Library. They get out of the lift, they know where they are going, they know their special space.

Edith

We have kids that come in and say, ‘Where can I go to get to the Harry Potter place?', which is the Mitchell Library with its “enchanting” ceilings and books on the shelves.

Six Dinner Sid in Cantonese and English

Six Dinner Sid in Cantonese and English

Why do you think it is important to read multicultural books from the Library’s collection at Storytime?

Michelle

It exposes them to the fact that we have these books in the collection. Secondly, it exposes people to different language groups. The groups that come to Storytime are from different backgrounds. If you went around the circle and asked all the parents and children what cultural background they come from, you would find a whole lot of countries represented.  It’s really good for them to see how others speak and to value other languages and cultures.

Edith

I think we have an important role in letting people know that we have their language in our collection.

Why do you think stories are important?

Michelle

The Library promotes stories, everything has a story. It offers exposure to language and exposure to traditions. 

What book will you be reading at Storytime?

Edith

Six Dinner Sid. The subject of the picture book is a cat that eats six dinners. I picked it because I’m a cat lover and because it's in traditional Chinese. There are only two places in the world still using traditional Chinese characters, that is Taiwan and Hong Kong. Traditional characters retain the beauty of Chinese characters; illustrating how a character came to be and provides insight into our culture.

Six Dinner Sid in Cantonese

Six Dinner Sid in traditional Chinese

How did you start your career in Library services?

Edith

I’ve been in Australia since late 1994. Before I did my post-grad in Information Management (Librarianship) I was a Registered nurse and registered nurses were in high demand back then. I really liked working in an information environment. I think by helping people to find information and provide access to information, you can empower people in a different way. When I arrived in Sydney, I was desperate to find a job in information services. It was really, really hard. I put it down to my name being too obviously not local. I just wanted to work in a Library. I got a job straight away after using a library employment agency. After ten years in a special library, I got employed at the State Library. What I like about working here is looking at different things, working with lots of different people who are really nice, and the collection is amazing. I count myself very lucky.

As women from such diverse cultural backgrounds, what do you think is the main quality from your multicultural background that has helped you find your place as Australian women?

Michelle

I suppose there are traditions. I was born in Australia, but I come from a Chinese background and in the early years it was unusual to have a half Chinese, half Australian background. I think I was the only one in my school that had one parent of each. I actually had the benefit of having two cultures growing up, which meant being exposed to two languages and two traditions. I had that advantage and it broadened my view of my own culture and other people's culture.

Edith

It is like you set yourself free from something. Where I come from in Hong Kong it is very western, but also very traditional. Being here has freed me from some of those traditions. The hard part is that you carry the identity of how you look and sometimes you do encounter people that can make insensitive remarks. The accent and the face can sometimes affect how you are being treated.

Michelle

Up until my 20’s, every single day someone would ask me where I was from and I would say Australia. You just don’t know, is it being negative or is it curiosity. I find that it is more accepted today.

Edith

I think in general Australia is a great place and how lucky I am to be Australian.


Throughout Multicultural March the Library acknowledges the diversity of our people and culture through our stories, events, free talks and exhibitions. 

Learn more about Multicultural March

 

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