Place of exchange: Jane Stratton on Lost in Books
Lost in Books is a multilingual children’s bookshop in Fairfield, Sydney. A project of the Think+Do Tank Foundation, the shop’s mission is to celebrate and support multilingual literacy and creativity. Jane Stratton, creative director of Think+Do Tank and founder of Lost in Books, shares her bookseller’s diary.
In July, Lost in Books celebrated our second birthday and these last two years have flown by in a whirl of opportunity, growth and challenge. When we opened, we had the big idea to bring beautiful books in all the languages of the community to local children. Also, to be a public living room—a place for women, children and artists to gather, create, exchange languages, celebrate and grow.
Thousands more books now fill the shelves in many more languages than when we opened. But every day at Lost in Books people are as likely to visit to find a book as they are to participate in one of our many creative and community programs.
Our regular activities include Forked Tongues, a multilingual storytellers training program; We Love Music, baby and toddler music time; Sound System, a contemporary music program for young people and emerging musicians; Textiles, a women’s drop-in sewing and handcrafts workshop; English Language Lab, an adult English conversation group; Homework Club, for primary and high school students with adult mentors; and Speak Before You Write, a language academy for speakers of a language to learn to write in their language. We have begun with Arabic, reflecting the community around us.
There is no doubt we are still learning a lot about running a bookshop. We started Lost in Books with a lot of passion and experience in the arts and social change, but not much knowledge of bookselling. We have been bowled over by the welcoming book industry community we have found outside of Fairfield. David Gaunt of Gleebooks and Leesa Lambert of The Little Bookroom in particular have done so much to support us and to help us find our feet and our voice. Local publishers such as Scribble, Allen & Unwin, Penguin Random House and Affirm have all backed us in different ways. And authors such as Oliver Phommavanh and Davina Bell have put in time and energy to work with children in our local community.
Our book collection is expanding to include a wider range of languages and to give greater depth in each language for which we have demand. We are always building new relationships with the international publishers that make the great quality books that families, schools and early learning centres are searching for. Being able to recommend and supply books which showcase Australian First Nations’ languages is also a great joy to us.
We are also big supporters of Australian books with diverse stories, created by authors and illustrators that reflect the cultural richness of the Australian community. We would love to see more publishers that are willing to support writing in languages other than English. In Fairfield, more than 75% of the community speaks a language other than English in their home. This language diversity is now the reality for many parts of Australia, and not just in capital cities. We are very keen to show that there is a market for stories that reflect this reality. Through a residency program we have supported four groups of creators to develop work in bilingual or multilingual formats. We would love to see their stories end up on our shelves as fully developed works.
In the second half of this year we are excited about expanding our Sound System music program, running the second In Other Words multilingual arts festival, launching a bus and mobile arts centre, and beginning Lap Time, a book club for under-fives and their carers, supported by a Puffin bookseller grant that we are pleased to have received.
Our commitment to diversity on our shelves has also led to us to notice the lack of diversity in the publishing and bookselling community in general. Hiring an experienced bookseller who is from the local community has been a challenge, and understand- ably. There aren’t many independent bookshops in Western Sydney where locals can gain experience! So, we are excited to be currently recruiting for a trainee bookshop manager to train alongside Elizabeth Allen, a very experienced bookseller, who as well as working in many of Sydney’s best indie bookshops is also an accomplished poet. We are looking for someone local, multilingual and passionate about books. We have been really delighted with the applications so far and look forward to introducing the trainee manager to you!
Our dream is to grow and give opportunity to more emerging booksellers who can make the whole ecosystem more diverse and reflective of the Australian community.