Crossing Threshold Fear at State Library

Walking into State Library of Queensland on a Monday morning, a meeting room of unassuming participants is buzzing with scribbles of pen on paper. Chatting with the individuals around the table and hearing their stories, it becomes clear just how powerful it is that they are here, taking ownership of the space. The Word on the Street Program, delivered by School of Hard Knocks in partnership with SLQ, has been an opportunity for the library to engage with a community that traditionally might not utilise the facilities. As many of us working in large institutions are aware, threshold fear is a very real issue for many clients we hope to reach. So how do we overcome threshold fear? How do we get new audiences through our intimidating front doors?

The School of Hard Knocks is a charitable organisation based in Melbourne, which aims to empower disadvantaged adults through the arts. They opened a Queensland branch in 2014 and approached SLQ as a partner for Word on the Street; a creative writing project working predominantly with mental health service users. The Word on the Street Program has been a success through supporting a previously marginalized group to come to SLQ and feel welcome.

An independent evaluation report demonstrated how the project had significant impacts. The report identified key outcomes for participants including increased energy, optimism and sense of closeness with others, the ability to think clearly and make good decisions, a perceived improvement in mental health and a significant increase in rating of life satisfaction. One participant stated that ‘writing was my first introduction to getting out of my room for years… after agoraphobia… It’s like a natural high. I look forward to it. If I could do this class every day I would’. (Dingle, G, Williams, E., Sharman, L, & Jetten, J. School of Hard Knocks QLD – Final Evaluation Report, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, 2016).

Furthermore, School of Hard Knocks Operations Manager, Susan Gilmartin, noted that SLQ is becoming ‘like a second home’ to participants and is now their meeting place, as participants feel comfortable and safe here. This outcome is particularly significant because it suggests a reduction in threshold fear, which would not have been possible without the partnership with School of Hard Knocks. We continue to build on the work with them by supporting participants to gain access to the wider programs and services on offer at the library, for example, participants have performed at SLQ events. This work is about the long game so participants feel that the library continues to be a place for them.

Strong partnership work is at the heart of our plans to reduce threshold fear. Through collaborations with carefully selected external organisations, we are able to connect with communities that we may not otherwise be able to reach. It is these relationships that enable us to learn more about the communities we are here to serve, to gain knowledge in how to best meet their needs and create positive outcomes for them in the way Word on the Street continues to do.

About the author:

Alison Burnley is an arts manager with over thirteen years’ experience working in the arts and cultural sectors producing theatre productions, arts projects, festivals and events with community groups and organisations. Alison has worked with libraries for six years and is currently on the Partnerships team at SLQ.