multicultural library with ethnically diverse booksAccording to 2013 Census data, nearly 13% of the US population is now foreign born and about 1 in 5 residents age 5 and older speak a language other than English at home. These figures are expected to increase, and are considerably higher in many areas of the country. Many new immigrants are struggling to learn English while maintaining their connection with their heritage language and country.

Innovative Ways for Libraries to Attract Ethnic Populations

As the United States has become increasingly diverse, more and more librarians are implementing creative strategies to attract and meet the needs of their ethnic patrons. Many libraries have transformed themselves into centers of information and learning for the diverse community. Following is a list of innovative ways librarians are welcoming and attracting their ethnic populations:

  1. Presenting story times in various languages.
  2. Offering newspapers in multiple languages.
  3. Developing a collection of bilingual children’s books for language learners and families trying to teach a heritage language to their children. Patron feedback has been especially positive when librarians set aside a “bilingual book display area” instead of simply including the books in their stacks.
  4. Sponsoring/hosting English as a Second Language (ESL) classes or creating “literacy centers” to help adults learn English.
  5. Offering special programs, such as citizenship classes or cultural programs that highlight important ethnic holidays (e.g., Chinese New Year, El Día de los Niños).
  6. Displaying colorful multilingual posters, and putting up signs in multiple languages.
  7. Carrying books that promote an acceptance of diversity, have multicultural themes and include illustrations of ethnically diverse characters.
  8. Accepting alternative forms of identification (such as a Matricula Consular from Mexico) and address verifications (such as utility bills and rent receipts) in order to increase access to the library. REFORMA, a national network of library organizations dedicated to promoting library services to the Spanish-speaking communities, suggests that this will help ensure that libraries serve the community regardless of a patron’s legal status.
  9. Hiring staff that speaks the language(s) of the immigrant communities (another recommendation by REFORMA).

Starting Your Multicultural Library

For librarians just beginning to develop their programs and collections for ethnic patrons and language learners, here are a few recommendations to get started:

  • Look up census data to determine which languages your library should support. The Modern Language Association offers a Language Map where users can find the number of speakers of each foreign language by zip code, city, county or state. The information also is available directly from The US Census Bureau.
  • Conduct an informal (or formal) survey of patrons to find out which newspapers they would read and which language books are most in demand.
  • Start with a small collection of children’s books and display them in a bilingual or foreign language book area. This will stimulate interest, and drive more patrons to share their own needs. It also will provide an opportunity to assess which books are checked out most.
  • Post multilingual posters and/or signs to welcome all patrons.
  • Ask around to see if there is a volunteer parent, board member or teacher who would be willing to conduct a bilingual or non-English story time.

Ethnic patrons truly appreciate when libraries increase their language holdings and offer services and programs to meet the needs of non-native-English speakers. Small, gradual steps to move forward in this area are met with great response, and establish libraries as true centers of learning for the entire community.

Tell us about an outstanding multicultural library in your neighborhood by commenting below!

This article originally appeared in Language Lizard’s Culture Connection Newsletter.  To receive this newsletter, please sign up here.

Photo “New Public Library In Dun Laoghaire, Officially Called DLR Lexicon Opened To The Public Today And It Is Worth Visiting Ref-100534” by William Murphy via Flickr, licensed under CC By 2.0.

Giveaway & New Site to Celebrate Our 10th Anniversary!

by languagelizard April 2, 2015 classroom

We are very pleased to announce the launch of our newly designed website! Just in time for our 10th anniversary, the new site is designed with a fresh new look, user-friendly navigation, and a variety of features to help educators, parents and librarians support their language learners. Finding the Right Bilingual Products Has Never Been […]

Read the full article…

Using Multicultural Resources to Support Language Learners and Enhance Diversity in the Classroom

by languagelizard March 17, 2015 classroom

Many educators successfully use multicultural resources to teach their students about other cultures and to make their classrooms more welcoming for a diverse student body. However, some teachers may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of adding “multicultural education” to their expanding list of things to do. They often are already dealing with new testing requirements, […]

Read the full article…

Celebrate “World Folk Tales & Fables Week” in the Classroom and at Home

by languagelizard March 3, 2015 At Home

This year, World Folk Tales and Fables Week is from March 16 through March 22. It’s a week dedicated to encouraging children and adults to explore the lessons and cultural background of folk tales, fables, myths and legends from around the world. Reading folk tales is a great way for children to explore different cultures […]

Read the full article…

Relationships and Bilingual Families

by languagelizard February 16, 2015 At Home

by guest blogger Christine Jernigan, Ph.D. I recently wrote the book, Family Language Learning: Learn Another Language, Raise Bilingual Children. In my interviews with parents, they frequently spoke of the language “bond” they shared with their children. Let’s look at this connection. What does speaking another language do for familial relations? How does it affect interactions? […]

Read the full article…

Your Springboard & Cheerleader: ‘Family Language Learning: Learn Another Language, Raise Bilingual Children’ by Christine Jernigan

by languagelizard February 12, 2015 At Home

Family Language Learning: Learn Another Language, Raise Bilingual Children Written by Christine Jernigan, PhD Paperback and ebook Review by Sue Kwon Inspired by her experiences with foreign language learning, in professional settings and in her own family, Christine Jernigan, PhD, set out to write a unique guide for parents who want to raise their kids […]

Read the full article…

Helping Children of Different Languages Communicate, Learn & Play – ‘New Words, New Friends’ by Karen Nemeth

by languagelizard January 28, 2015 At Home

  New Words, New Friends Written by Karen Nemeth Illustrated by Diego Jiménez Manzano Paperback and ebook Available in English and Spanish Ages 4-8 Review by Sue Kwon Theo and Wyatt, two friends at school, are at the center of New Words, New Friends, the latest children’s book from Karen Nemeth, a national expert on early […]

Read the full article…

Chinese New Year & Dental Health Month: Discounts & Resources

by languagelizard January 13, 2015 At Home

Plan early – the month of February brings two great events to enjoy with the kids: Chinese New Year and Dental Health Month. Read on for discounts and free resources that will add a bilingual twist to your celebrations! (Read about other New Year celebrations around the world here.) Chinese New Year Chinese New Year is […]

Read the full article…

A New Year’s Resolution for Language Learners

by languagelizard January 1, 2015 At Home

If your plans for 2015 include learning a new language with your kids, or passing on your native language to them, there is one New Year’s resolution that will help your kids learn faster and also make the process more fun for the whole family. Bilinguals: “Brain Bodybuilders” In addition to the many and varied […]

Read the full article…

Celebrate with Holiday Foods from Around the World

by languagelizard December 16, 2014 At Home

photo by Anderson Mancini via Flickr Your little ones are home for winter break, perhaps stuck inside because of bad weather. Or you have out-of-town guests visiting, and many meals to plan. Don’t let holiday stress get you down! Take a culinary journey by trying out these winter holiday dishes from all around the world. […]

Read the full article…