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The zombies of Tullamore: A library youth programme with a difference

As my regular readers will know, Friday 9th November saw a very special event in Tullamore, New South Wales. Australasian libraries have run a lot of innovative youth activities in recent years – but I think this was the first time that they had gone so far as to summon the living dead in the name of literacy…

A zombie lurks at the windows of Tullamore Library, New South Wales

The remote town of Tullamore has just a few hundred people – but it has been one of the most exciting communities I’ve worked with during my recent stay in Australia and New Zealand. Back in September, I ran blogging and book trailer workshops for students from Tullamore Central School, and was amazed by their passion, creativity and commitment.

For those workshops, the students had to travel 100 kilometres to education and library venues in the town of Parkes. Tullamore has its own library, but it is a tiny space which opens on just one day each week. I was so impressed by the students that I wanted to offer them a special event in their hometown as part of my work creating library activities for Parkes Shire Council.

The kids I had worked with showed incredible practical ability – proudly showing off videos of their pig hunting trips or explaining how to change the engine on a VS Commodore! – as well as a real curiosity and passion about the wider world beyond their personal experience. Tullamore is small, rural, and prone to floods which occasionally cut off access to the town.

Waking up at 5.30 one morning with three words in my head – “Zombies for Tullamore!” – I was inspired by America’s Centers for Disease Control, which had used a zombie-themed comic book to promote community preparedness for real-life disasters.

I decided that a live-action zombie siege of Tullamore Library could bring together literacy objectives around reading, research and planning; disaster preparedness through the co-operation of the local Fire Service; and, of course, the sense of play and immersion which has been the hallmark of my Australasian outreach sessions.

An incredible team including Parkes Shire librarians, staff from Tullamore Central School and Parkes High School, Tullamore’s Fire Service, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s community outreach section ABC Open, came together to make the adventure happen. Local volunteers generously gave hours of their time to shamble through the streets of their town, terrorising the young and inspiring some great literacy activities.

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You can read an account of the event written by teen participants under the tutelage of ABC Open producer Luke Wong.

There’s also a photo gallery of the event available online courtesy of the ABC.

I was interviewed on the day itself by ABC Central West Radio. The station then followed up with a news report and an interview with Tullamore Central School Principal Sandra Carter.

Sandra was especially eloquent about the educational benefits of our event. Children and teens returned from the “zombie apocalypse” inspired, enthused, and ready to participate in rich writing activities when they returned to school on the following Monday.

After the zombie outbreak, there was blogging coverage from Parkes High School librarian Tracy Dawson and the personal blog of ABC Radio correspondent Kia Handley.

We’re now looking at plans for 2013. After you’ve besieged an entire community with an army of the walking dead…where do you go from there?

Just you wait and see.

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