Aotearoa’s First World Languages Lilliput Libraries

Imagine arriving in a new country. You meet new people and embrace their history and tradition. You assimilate yourself into their culture and, often, are forced to learn a language that is markedly different than your own. No matter how many borders crossed, you will eventually seek for a sense of belonging. You ponder and compare what makes up your identity, and in that moment, you may realize how strongly you are tied to the culture of where you came from, your home country.

Known as the adventure capital of the world, Tāhuna Queenstown constantly attracts international students, tourists, and workers from every corner of the globe. The town’s strategic location with its picturesque mountain landscape and scenic lakes for tourism, retirement, and new economic opportunities often beckons travellers to call it their new home. Over the last few years, Frankton Library has seen constant growth in catering to the community – especially migrants – needs. To continue the effort, the library has initiated a new project funded by Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing. The project is divided into two parts:

  1. Expanding its in-house World Languages Collection and,
  2. Building New Zealand’s first World Languages Lilliput Libraries through a collaborative community project.

The first part of the project – Expanding World Languages Collection

Frankton Library’s existing World Languages Collection, mostly created through community donations, is limited to four languages only. Thus, expanding the collection is seen to be an important step to amplify the support given to local migrant communities and their wider whānau in accessing reading resources and wellbeing materials in their own languages. The Frankton Library team has carried out surveys on the migrant community’s reading behaviours, gathering preliminary data that helps to shape and reaffirm the library’s World Languages Collection profile. Selective titles curated in multiple languages are being purchased through CAVAL, an organization that sources and catalogues community language and ESL (English as a Second Language) resources from all over the world. Assistant Librarian for Collections, George McGowan, mentioned that the library continues to receive world language donations, some are rare and special materials that would be a great addition to the collection, but we are often required to decline the offers due to storage issues.

Often seen as central community hubs, most public libraries take pride in serving their community’s needs. However, limited resources can be a major barrier for smaller libraries to provide a space that is people-centered, sustainable and reflects local needs, requiring them to constantly think of outside-the-box solutions.

Thinking outside the box, Frankton Library is building the first World Languages Lilliput Libraries in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Over the last year, the Frankton Library has been working on this project collaboratively with Mitre 10 MEGA Queenstown, Arrowtown Menzshed, the Catalyst Trust and 15 local-migrant artists to build six Lilliput Libraries, providing a book exchange space for languages spoken in New Zealand and from across the world.

Colourful and eye-catching, Lilliput Libraries are small boxes of books for passersby to keep, swap, pass on, return and/or share books among themselves. First started by Dunedin local Ruth Arnison, Lilliput Libraries are a network of tiny community libraries, which is a great concept to encourage and grow the love of reading within the community. In 2016, the Catalyst Trust extended the initiative to launch the first Lilliput Library in the Whakatipu and has since been helping to set them up throughout the region.  

Frankton Library’s World Languages Lilliput Libraries will each represent a different continent, or group of countries, with books in multiple languages from:

  1. Africa and Middle East
  2. Asia
  3. Central Asia
  4. Europe
  5. Latin and South America
  6. South-East Asia and Pacific

The six libraries’ boxes were built by volunteers from Arrowtown Menzshed with materials and paint donated by Mitre 10 MEGA Queenstown, and blueprint guidance from the Catalyst Trust. The boxes were then painted and decorated by local migrant artists from Argentina, Chile, China, France, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Poland, South Africa, and Uruguay on a Community Working Bee held at Mitre 10 Mega Queenstown in November 2022. Frankton Library Team Leader, Jessica Payne, mentioned the result has “exceeded [her] expectations and wildest imagination”.

The project stems from the work Frankton Library have been doing to help the Japanese Family Society to house 5,000 Japanese books, when they were forced to move due to the Lakeview Campground closure. While building Lilliput Libraries is not a direct solution to space and access issues, it is the library's creative solution to spatial challenges and highlighting the community's needs through a creative and collaborative community art project.

An official ribbon-cutting and launch of the World Language Lilliput Libraries will be held at the Frankton Library on Saturday, 4 March 2023. Project lead, Natasya Zambri, has plans to bring over some cultural performances and activities such as salsa dancing, Chinese calligraphy workshop, kimono wearing, traditional green tea ceremony, translated meditation in the library, multi-language Storytimes, local migrant author talks and more to the launch event – in celebration of language, culture, and diversity in Tāhuna Queenstown.

Writer Profile

Natasya Zambri is the Community Engagement and Events Library Assistant at Frankton Library. She came to New Zealand from Malaysia in 2016 to pursue her undergraduate studies in University of Auckland. Although her background is in Accounting and Commercial Law, she has spent the last three years pursuing a career in the book world and doing community work. She co-owns a secondhand bookshop in Queenstown called Bright Ink