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This week marks the 50th annual National Library Week, a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries—and librarians.
The theme for this year’s National Library Week is: “Libraries lead.” This is not just a nice sentiment—it’s a fact, reinforced by our dealings with more than 1,000 libraries throughout the US and beyond. We are proud to work with librarians to bring language learning opportunities to their communities.
Despite the US position on the world stage, politically, economically, and socially, our country faces a language deficit so serious that the Boston Globe recently called it a national emergency. Language skills are in high demand from employers, but schools continue to cut language programs to balance their budgets. A national report commissioned by Congress called for “closing the language gap”, lest we risk being left out of any conversation not taking place in English.
While schools, employers, and other organizations will have a role to play, libraries are leading the charge to close that gap.
Libraries around the country are expanding their foreign language collections. We’re thrilled to work with Queens Library, who maintains the largest multilingual collection in the country, providing material in 40+ languages. 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.
Libraries offer online language learning opportunities. Most libraries around the country provide free access some kind of online language platform, including the hundreds of libraries who offer Transparent Language Online to all library card holders. This allows busy community members to learn from home or on the go using their laptops, tablets, or phones—no visit to the library necessary.
Libraries facilitate foreign language and ESL conversation groups. Speaking and using the language is integral to the learning process, but a good conversation partner is hard to find. Not so if your local library hosts regular conversation groups.
This fun, informal group is a great place to work on your English skills! We’ll have volunteers from Kirkwood Community College here to help with conversation skills, expressions, pronunciation, and more, Friday at 10 a.m. in Meeting Room E. pic.twitter.com/GkoYXsqqIy
— Iowa City Public Library (@ICPL) April 4, 2018
Libraries offer formal language classes. For some, an app or a conversation group is enough. But libraries also cater to serious learners who have the flexibility and motivation to regularly attend a class. We were thrilled to hear one of our library partners, Jacksonville Public Library in Florida, won a Top Innovator Award for their blended language classes. The library combines the power of a human instructor with language technology, offering 3-part French and Spanish courses in the library’s computer lab. Learners receive in-person instruction, supplemented by the language, grammar, and cultural materials provided in Transparent Language Online.
Language and culture go hand-in-hand. Many of the benefits of learning a language—increased empathy, the ability to see from different perspectives—stem from experiencing and understanding another culture.
Libraries celebrate their diverse communities, highlighting community members from different backgrounds, observing their holidays, presenting their traditions, and, of course, teaching their languages.
#heybangor “Perspective of a UMaine student from Kazakhstan” with Aliya Uteuova on April 18th at 6 pm. Through poetry, images, and essays writer Aliya Uteuova will share her journey through the U.S. as a foreigner.https://t.co/jfT7qJ7Rmg #MaineMultiCulturalCenter pic.twitter.com/YjRz4UJNIZ
— Bangor Library (@bangorlibrary) April 3, 2018
As the cultural landscape of our country changes, public library programming changes accordingly. Libraries provide multilingual and multicultural resources, like the ones above, that meet the needs of a diverse population. When it comes to encouraging and embracing multilingualism and multiculturalism, libraries do indeed lead.