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Finding my place: the Fairfield library experience.

"Finding My Place' (FMP) is a library based program designed to assist some of the most disadvantaged members of the community--young people who are disengaging from the school system before they complete a reasonable level of education. With its origins in Western Australia; this paper looks at the program as it has been adapted by Fairfield City Library and partnering agencies. Run as a series of motivational workshops held in the library or, at times, as an excursion, the program aims to engage these young people with the broader community. Edited version of a paper presented at the conference "Learning for all: public libraries in Australia and New Zealand Melbourne 13-14 September 2012'.


Most young people attend school regularly and successfully attain a qualification; a minority leave school early for a variety of personal, family or school related reasons. Others facing complex problems may remain enrolled, but are not engaged in learning and exhibit poor attendance or behaviour.

These young people need to be identified early and provided with extra support to help them to remain actively involved in their learning and achieve Success.


Finding MY Place (FMP) is a program designed to assist some of the most disadvantaged members of the community--young people who are disengaging from the school system before they complete a reasonable level of education.

The program runs as a series of motivational workshops held in the library or, at times, as an excursion. The presenters are chosen for their ability to relate positively to young people who are disengaging from school. This disengagement includes truanting, misbehaving and not achieving the educational requirements needed to stay in school.

Finding MY Place originated in 2003 at the Ruth Faulkner Public Library in the city of Belmont, Western Australia as the brainchild of librarian Natasha Griggs who was concerned that the library was not reaching out to this particular group. As a result of the successful pilot in Belmont, the WA department of education and training financially supported the roll out of the program across public libraries throughout Western Australia in 2004. State government funding for the program in Western Australia has now ceased but residual funds have allowed the program to continue through to 2013. The program is still running in both metropolitan and regional libraries throughout Western Australia and generating very positive outcomes for young people. Whilst state government funding for the program is no longer available in Western Australia, it does not prevent local governments from funding and delivering the model to their own local communities, as has been the case with public libraries in both South Australia and Victoria.

After hearing Natasha Griggs speak at the Auslib 12 to 24s @ Your Library conference (1) in June 2010 Manjit Uppal and Carolyn Bourke were very inspired, and on returning to Sydney put a proposal to the Fairfield City Library Service manager, Anne Hall, to run the program for students in the Fairfield local government area.

Approval was given, but with no access to a budget or engaging speakers it was essential to set up partnerships. This was accomplished through a partnership with South West Connect (SWC). Among other programs SWC runs a partnership brokering program, the aim of which is to build sustainable partnerships to support young people's engagement in education or training to realise their full potential.

Discussions with SWC (2) and Natasha Griggs in WA (3) led to a decision to run a trial FMP program. Marlborough High School, which is within walking distance of Fairfield's main library, was approached to take part in the trial program and responded positively.

SouthWest Connect also introduced the library to Youth Connections (MTC Work Solutions) who became a key partner in the program. Youth Connections run programs and provide case workers who support young people who are disengaging from the school system. It was an ideal fit with FMP.

The program

The FMP program is based on a mutual commitment to assist disadvantaged young people considered at risk of disengaging from the education system prematurely.

The agencies involved started meeting from August 2010 to plan the program, deciding which presenters to source and whether there would be an excursion element. Discussion also took place as to how the effect of the program would be measured and pre and post evaluations were decided upon. It was suggested that evaluations be kept simple with mainly tick box responses. The student surveys would be collated to produce a report for partners to evaluate the program.

The Fairfield Finding MY Place pilot program commenced in week 2 of term 4, 2010 as a series of six workshops designed to motivate students. Workshop presenters were carefully selected (in most cases they were people already known to the agencies involved) to ensure that their stories provided food for thought amongst the students, and would engage students in activities that highlighted their natural abilities. Topics for the workshops included self esteem, confidence building, problem solving techniques, behavioural problems and setting achievable personal goals.

Marlborough High School selected 12 year 9 boys who were either already disengaged or at risk of disengaging. The boys were invited to join the program and the school organised the parental permissions for them to participate and attend the sessions. As we had no budget for the program, Youth Connections agreed to cover the cost of lunch for the students each week.

The pilot

The pilot program ran from the 22 October-26 November 2010. The sessions were held each Friday morning from 9.30am-12.00pm with lunch from 12.00pm to 12.30pm, after which the students returned to school.

The first session was with hip hop/rap artist Matuse who appeared in the tv series Underbelly as Shaka. He spoke about having perseverance, never giving up, as well as making the most of every situation--even the negative ones. He demonstrated the process of writing and rapping and had the boys writing their own freestyle rap pieces. It was at this first session that the boys were asked to complete a short survey asking them about their plans for when they leave school, their feelings about school, what they thought the FMP program would be like and if they ever used the library. The survey would be completed again at the end of the program to see if their feelings had changed.

The second session was equally powerful with Tony Hoang from the tv show Gangs of Oz and youth worker Claude Robinson speaking about their drug dealing and consequent prison sentences. Both of these men have turned their lives around and now work with youth. Both speakers had an enormous impact on the boys--some even sought out one on one chats with them after the sessions were completed. Later, during our program debrief, we learnt that one of the students had sought Tony out and was now being mentored by him.

Other sessions covered issues such as job readiness, interview techniques, resume writing, car maintenance and an excursion to the Australian College of Make Up and Special Effects (Acmuse) where the boys had the opportunity to try out some special effect makeup--bruises, wounds etc--and to learn about a career option that was new to them all.

The final session dealt with constructive ways to manage anger without resorting to violence. In the final session the boys were asked to complete the program survey again and also a program evaluation to gather feedback about the individual sessions and presenters. This was followed by a graduation ceremony.

The graduation was attended by the principal of Marlborough High School and the library manager, Anne Hall, who presented certificates to all the boys. Three of the boys volunteered to say a few words. This was especially encouraging, as public speaking was something they would never have contemplated before being involved in this program.


Feedback from students before and after program surveys showed that after the program 66.7% wanted to complete their HSC (as opposed to 25% at the beginning of the program), and only 1 student (down from 4) was planning to leave school as soon as they turned 17.

Feedback from partners showed that the school had observed significant improvements in the attitude of some students and our other program partners felt that their key outcomes were being met through the program. This meant that all were keen to continue from the pilot to run more sessions.

Areas for improvement were identified through a debrief meeting with the partners and included things such as library membership forms being completed before the start of the program to allow access to material straight away, food for lunches being standardised to reduce staff time in preparing it, and the importance of students attending all sessions to be highlighted. There also needed to be clear lines of responsibility for presenters, library staff and teaching staff. Presenters were responsible for providing content within the guidelines given. Library staff were responsible for organising the room, equipment, food, evaluations etc. Students were to remain the responsibility of the teaching staff whether in the library or offsite at an excursion.

The ongoing program

Since the success of the pilot program several more FMP programs have been run at Fairfield. In 2011 two programs were run. The program in term 2 2011 with Highfields High School, was an all girl group, and the topics covered with them included meditation and relaxation, body image, self esteem, healthy relationships and self defence, rage anger management.

Term 4 2011 saw the first mixed group of students from Bournville High School. These sessions included motivation and goal setting, drum beat, youth coaching life skills, employability, gang life, making positive changes, Rock and water (an anger management/social skills workshop) and the graduation.

At the graduation, two of the students spoke on behalf of the whole group about what they had gained through being involved in the program which was extremely positive. One student actually shared that through the program she had decided that she would like to be involved in education as a career.

Below are some of the points the students came up with collectively about what the FMP program has meant to them and helped them with

* positive thoughts on life

* food

* felt comfortable through the sessions

* not getting in as much trouble

* physical activities

* tree of life

* learning things about other people

* I am able to handle my anger

* work with people who are not my normal friends.

Other benefits of the FMP program

The FMP program has also provided opportunities for the library and its partners. For the library it has been a great networking opportunity with the schools which highlighted other events/programs we can work on. The 50th anniversary of Bournville High School is in 2013--the library will be working with the school linking into this anniversary with our achievers day program which each year showcases the history and achievements of schools in the Fairfield local government area.

One of the MTC partners works in several of the schools involved in the program. Students who have come to know him through FMP can follow through at school if they choose. This also provides another source of ongoing feedback about the impact of the program.

Feedback from the youth worker
   FMP at Marlborough High saw eight
   participants move into case management with
   youth connections and 1 from Bournville at
   present but that will possibly increase next year
   as the youth consultant will have a chance to
   approach them. He couldn't this year due to
   time and caseload constraints.

   ... James, John and Jordon have seen me
   several times for careers and educational
   options as well as have sought me for a couple
   of incidents when they may have been in
   trouble at school where we discussed how to
   address the situation and speak to deputy
   principals respectfully in order to be assertive
   and explain their side of the story well without
   letting their temper get in the way of them
   being heard.

   I also met with another three of the girls earlier
   in the year and found that they were much
   stronger as students and felt that they had
   benefited a lot in terms of self esteem and they
   are aware that I'm still around but have had no
   reason to approach me as yet.

The most recent FMP program

We ran the fourth FMP program in Term 2 2012, with a mixed group of year 9 and year 10 students from Fairfax High School. At this school the transition adviser coordinated the program and the Police Citizens' Youth Club (PCYC) joined us as a new partner in the program.

The first session of this program saw two student representatives from the previous program return to talk to the new students. They spoke to the group about their experiences of the program and had some wonderful things to say about it. Although they admitted that when they attended the first session they were not thrilled about being there, or being involved, they went on to say that all that changed as the weeks went by. They ended on a positive note to say that they had made changes in their lives due to this program.

The remainder of this program included returning speaker Tony Hoang who on this occasion was joined by other former gang members Andrew Zutitus and Jason Nguyen. In the program evaluation surveys Tony and his colleagues scored an excellent 100% rating. Other topics for this program included coaching young people for success, motivation and goal setting. Two of the sessions were held in the PCYC (across the road from the library). The first session included a tour led by the senior constable, as well as a lesson on self defence, and traffic awareness. PCYC memberships were made available for those students that wished to join, courtesy of MTC.

Library membership applications were included with program consent forms that were sent home for the parents of participating students to sign--this ensured that most students had a library card from the first week of the program. Not surprisingly the library induction did not entirely enthuse this group, but having the program in the library did create an awareness of the library as a space to hang out. A few weeks into this program one of the students was in the library during school hours with some friends. Having lost her library card she approached a staff member she recognised to help resolve her issue, and she remained in the library for at least a couple of hours. We later discovered she had been suspended from school, and it was wonderful to see that she chose to spend time in the library rather than on the streets. She also turned up for the program session the following day despite being on suspension from school.

An incident worth mentioning was one of the students turning up at school on the Friday morning to attend the FMP program but as he was wearing sports shoes and not school shoes (a breach of the school's uniform policy) and the deputy principal spotted him, he was sent to the office to get a pair of the spare shoes. Unfortunately none of these were a fit and subsequently he was made to miss the program for that week. Considering the purpose of the FMP program this was a rather disappointing outcome.

Issues also arose for certain sessions in which sports uniform would have been the appropriate attire eg gym activities during the PCYC sessions. However due to strict school uniform policies no dispensations were made. This placed undue stress on both the teacher and the students.

The graduation from this program again saw the school principal attend to present the certificates. One student was heard to comment that this was the first time he was receiving something from the principal for doing something good--this struck a chord with most of us.

While not all students provided comments about the program, those that were received from the Fairfax High School group included
   Finding C Place was great because we did a lot of
   good things and met a lot of good people. Justin
   Finding MY Place was fun, I had fun with friends
   and I learnt a lot of helpful things. Paul

   Finding MY Place program was fun and everyone
   we met at the library was nice and friendly. I had a
   lot of fun and I loved the activities. The food was
   great after the activities. I would like to say thank
   you to everyone for letting me come to the
   program. Matthew

   Finding MY Place helped me with a lot of things
   such as my behaviour and my personality. I think
   many other students should give this program a go
   because it could really help them. Jacob

   I think that the Finding MY Place program was
   really good. Most of the activities in this program
   have taught me so much, especially the guys from
   'Once upon a time in Cabramatta' and the girls
   from Rock and water. The program was totally
   worth it and I would love to do it all again. Jocelyn


Finding MY Place at Fairfield Library is a program that is run on a shoestring, often with no immediately visible results. The aim is to assist at risk students to re engage with the education system in addition to teaching and building life skills through nonconventional means; helping them acquire knowledge after hearing about the life experiences of the various presenters, and teaching them strategies to deal with challenging or difficult situations. Certainly the survey feedback leaves us feeling optimistic that the students will reflect on their own lives and make changes for the better by taking a proactive approach to their futures.

There are no guarantees, but if we can positively impact the lives of the students participating in the FMP programs in any way, we have been successful. As long as the agencies remain committed, we intend to continue to run the program. Modifications are made after each program to fine tune them, and we continue to learn and make changes.

We would like to be able to offer each high school in our local government area, the opportunity to be involved in at least one FMP program.


1 Partnerships are not always easy but can make the difference in an idea becoming a reality.

2 You have to be committed and prepared to put in the hard work.

3 Exposure to other networks/partnerships is invaluable.


(1) Griggs, N Finding MY Place a Western Australian public library program with national potential for at risk youth, in Bundy, A ed 12 to 24s @ your public library in Australia and New Zealand Conference, Beenleigh Qld 11-12 June 2010 proceedings Adelaide, Auslib Press 2010 pp42-45; also published in Australasian public libraries and information services 23 (3) September 2010 pp 103-106

(2) Rose, P Email correspondence with author 28 August 2012

(3) Griggs, N Email correspondence with author 24 August 2012

Note: Names have been changed to protect student/school privacy

Manjit Uppal Children's and Youth Librarian Fairfield City Library Service NSW

Manjit Uppal works as outreach librarian children & youth, Fairfield City Library Service. In this role she provides children's and youth services in a very multicultural and diverse community and is involved in researching, planning promoting, implementing and evaluating services and programs. Manjit is also an active committee member of Aliacys NSW, organising events as a support service to children's and YA staff in NSW. She finds providing library services to a diverse population both challenging and rewarding. Address: Fairfield City Library, Railway Parade, Cabramatta NSW 2166 email
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Title Annotation:Fairfield City Library
Author:Uppal, Manjit
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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