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How US Libraries Survive—and Thrive—in the Changing Linguistic Landscape (Part 2) Posted by on Sep 9, 2015 in Archived Posts

The United States is now home to more Spanish speakers than Spain, the number of foreign language speakers has grown 94% since 1990, and 1 in 5 U.S. residents now speaks a foreign language at home. As libraries strive to serve their communities, they must consider more carefully how best to serve members who speak a language other than English. Fortunately, we’ve worked with enough librarians to know they are always up to the challenge.

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how some of our library customers are establishing citizenship programs to help recent immigrants and resettled refugees in their communities. In this part (and the parts to follow) we’ll share examples of how our partner libraries support language learners.

While it may seem obvious, many libraries are responding to the changing linguistic makeup of their communities by investing in more multilingual reading materials. But it goes way beyond language dictionaries and those workbooks we all used in our 6th grade Spanish class way back when.

Libros en Español by Enokson on Flickr.com | CC BY 2.0

Libros en Español by Enokson on Flickr.com | CC BY 2.0

We’re thrilled to work with Queens Library, who boasts the largest multilingual collection in the country, including material in 40 languages as of 2015. The collection includes popular fiction from all genres (sci-fi, romance, mystery, etc.), self-help books, and even cookbooks.  Many U.S. immigrants also rely on libraries for news from abroad. Queens Library consists of 62 branches, each of which has the option to subscribe to newspapers that are most relevant to their specific patrons.

The library staff goes to great lengths to acquire these materials from overseas libraries and publishers; serving an area where 50% of residents speak a language other than English, Queens Library believes multilingual materials help patrons (and their children) stay connected to their home country and culture.

Queens also recognizes the different needs and lifestyles of their patrons. Beyond the stacks, the library hosts a Multilingual Web Picks site, where staff compiled a directory of the recommended websites in more than 10 languages. Organized by language and category, readers can find digital materials on everything from art to history to religion. The site was designed to support community members who can’t regularly access a library branch, but have Internet access.

And of course, all of these materials (physical and digital) are also available for English-speaking Americans who are immersed in another language and need new, authentic reading material. Because as our country becomes increasingly diverse, we can all benefit from picking up another language.

Looking to better serve your community? Download our free white paper, 6 Ways Libraries are Responding to Changing Linguistic Landscapes, for more examples, including on-site language courses, online language-learning resources, and multilingual websites.

languages in libraries paper 3

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