Creating and maintaining a connection with the community the library serves is an important role of today’s librarians. The demographics of the population of library patrons provide clues to how the library can achieve this goal. As such, it is important to learn about and understand the people and cultures that exist in the community the library services as it can be quite diverse and multicultural.
Often those most in need and perhaps most unaware of the services the library has to offer are people from other countries and other cultures. These patrons may not realize what is available to them due to cultural or language barriers. Padma Polepeddi emigrated from India and now is the Supervisor of the Glendale Library in Colorado. She recalls crying for joy when she learned that the public library was a free service, as it is not in her home country of India. She says she “loves telling other immigrants about the amazing world of public libraries” and saying “All this is free!” Her library is known for extensive collections in Spanish and Russian and also has expanded its diversity programs. She also travels around Colorado, visiting other libraries to help them develop their diversity programs.
Developing Multi-lingual Collection
This cultural divide can take the form of simply not knowing of the service or knowing that the public library is free to the more difficult obstacle of language barriers. Another concern for librarians is how to develop the collection for other cultures. It can be a tough question for librarians to weed and cull a collection of just one language but when the space and energy is needed for books and materials of another language(s) more problems can arise. On the other hand, providing service and materials is important as well and should be carefully considered. The language people learn at birth has a strong hold, it is the language that they begin to see and interpret the world in, the language they use to communicate with friends and family, and can be a strong cultural identity holder.
There are three ways to think of developing the collection for multiple languages. The first way is to think of building two separate collections, one in each language. The second is to create the primary language collection and build the second with text in both languages. The third is a combination of the two. People learning English as a second language benefit from having the ability to read in their own language both as affirmation and to bolster their confidence in learning to read in the new language.
A few other tips to help the process of introducing new languages to the library are to start multi-lingual book groups, using interactive books for children, and research reliable materials. Just as there are vendor resources for selecting English language books there are resources for selecting quality materials in other languages as well.
IFLA and Language
The Internal Federation of Library Associations works with libraries around the world trying to promote diversity and collaboration. Language is an important aspect of achieving these goals and has always been a key factor as an international organization. There are seven official languages used, which means any formal communication can be handled in these core languages, and all materials are printed in each. The conferences held all over the world are staffed with volunteers from the library world who work as interpreters. The IFLA has a strong commitment to diversity of language in the library community and promoting access to information for all, enriching the library world by bringing many different views and words from around the world.
Questions to Consider:
What issues do librarians face introducing multiple languages to their library?
What are some ways to let the community to know the library has gone multi-lingual?
Diversity, P. f. (2008). Passion for Diversity. Library Journal Movers and Shakers, 15.
Gail Dickinson, K. H. (2008). Celebrating Language Diversity to Improve Achievement.
Library Media Connect, 26(7), 5.
Kapnisi, S. (2009). IFLA and Language Diversity. IFLA Journal, 35(2), 183-185.
Patton, J. A. (2008). You're not bilingual, so what? Library Media Connect, 26(7), 22-25.