Radiant, proud, diverse and strong: ALIA at Sydney Mardi Gras 2024

For the third year running, ALIA has had a float at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. This year, the theme ‘Library Love’ was chosen. A simple statement, yet one that embraces a multitude of possibilities: the love that communities feel and express for libraries; the love library workers bring to their daily professional practice; love for the transformative experiences that occur every day in libraries through access to information, programs and services.

The theme was the perfect springboard to celebrate libraries with positivity and joy, a counter to the intentions of the collection and program challenges that many Australian libraries faced throughout 2023. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras theme itself was ‘Our Future’ and what better way to manifest a positive future than through the power of love!

Photos above (L to R): the group arriving at Hyde Park before entering the marshalling area (photo credit Shea Coffey); Jacqui, one of the float organisers, showing off her fabulous challenged books crown (photo credit Jacqui Lucas); Natasha, Laura and Jess from Libraries ACT ready to soar with their library love (photo credit Ildika Koppen)

A feature of this year’s float was the diversity of participants. Not only was there representation across the LGBTQ acronym, people travelled from far and wide including major cities Meanjin/Brisbane, Narrm/Melbourne, Newcastle, Central Coast, Wollongong and Canberra. Regional centres were well-represented this year with library folk coming from Canowindra, Muswellbrook, Queanbeyan and even Mparntwe/Alice Springs! We had teacher librarians, school librarians, library technicians, medical librarians, university and TAFE librarians, public library people, art library people, LIS educators, representation from the National Library of Australia, and most excitingly, a number of LIS students from Charles Sturt University. It truly was a library rainbow!

In the lead up to the big day, participants learned a choreography routine to a mix of Donna Summer’s ‘Love to Love You Baby’ and ‘I Feel Love’. Everyone worked on costumes which involved an ALIA ‘Library Love’ t-shirt but apart from that, self-expression was fully encouraged. Much bedazzling, t-shirt adaptation and the creation of accessories, such as headdresses, homemade recycled book page scroll wings and skirts with lights sewn in, was undertaken and progress reports joyously shared in a chat group.

Library folk always have hidden talents and the ALIA float was joined by Michael on his unicycle with programmed digital poi, and Alana, an accomplished burlesque and drag performer who, with gorgeous feather fans, was like a library angel looking over the group.

For a beautiful moment in time on Saturday 2 March the group were all finally together - supporting each other, pushing limits, radiant, proud, diverse and strong, all united by the shared purpose of contributing to a better world through the power of libraries.

Immense gratitude goes out to previous ALIA State Manager Rob Thomson who not only brought his trademark care and wisdom to the show, but who supported the float with excellent driving of the utility truck he arranged and coordination of sound equipment.

Photos above (L to R): fireworks going off as the ALIA float marches on; Shane (CSU LIS student), Ron (Alice Springs Libraries), and Rossanne (Canowindra Libraries) holding the ALIA float signs (photo credit Shea Coffey)

Although the ALIA float was only on the ABC broadcast for a few seconds, tens of thousands of people experienced the float as a live audience, creating many touching moments for the marchers. One moment in particular was as the library float passed the 78ers (the first Mardi Gras participants), they excitedly reached out, touching hands and expressing their gratitude for libraries as safe spaces and important actors in the preservation and telling of LGBTQIA+ histories. Calls and cheers from the crowd of “We love libraries!” and “Thank you libraries!” punctuated the entire journey.

Many new and lasting connections were formed throughout the process of preparing for and performing at Mardi Gras, some of them professional networking connections and some enduring friendships. The camaraderie and warmth of the group truly embodied the theme of ‘Library Love’.

Photo above: we made it! The group winding down at Moore Park after the high of the march (photo credit Shea Coffey)

Now that the party is over, ALIA remains committed to supporting a diverse library and information workforce and ensuring that libraries exist as safe spaces with representative collections. At the ALIA National Conference in May we will be reigniting the ALIA Rainbow Group. Any ALIA members interested in being involved can email [email protected].