This year the interactive section of RA in a Half Day was led by our guest speaker, Keren Dali who provided us an opportunity to share insights, develop conversations, and exchange ideas about serving immigrant and ESL readers.
In discussing the use of fiction or films set locally, such as in Vancouver, the thought was that this would generate good integrated programming for newcomers, “old-timers” (immigrants already settled into the community), and native residents. Struggles included how to attract the mixed audience, how to evaluate it, and, in smaller communities, finding specific local materials.
The suggestion when talking about inclusive and integrated book clubs was that you could encourage integration by building immigrant reader opportunities into an existing book club. Concerns included worries about choosing materials translated into enough different languages, who would select the titles, could the library have them available in all necessary languages, and how to promote it. Dali encouraged us to accept the idea that libraries will not always be the place where readers get their copy of the book. Discuss this issue with the book club members, because if you buy the book in many languages, many of those books will never again circulate after the book club is finished with them.
In discussing the solicitation of feedback from immigrant groups including operating multilingual advisory groups, it was easy to list numerous advantages. A multilingual advisory group could crowd source local expertise in literature from various languages, helps the library develop a clearer picture of the need of these readers, mitigates the lack of formal research available on the subject of immigrant and ESL reader communities, and increases awareness of the collections and services libraries offer while building comfort and agency in that section of the community. There were definite concerns over having some local language communities or certain individuals dominate the conversation, a concern that Dali actually stressed on several occasions in her talk. In addition there were concerns about the level of understanding and expertise that the community had in using library tools like BiblioCommons or even in how to analyse the qualities of and recommend reading material.
In thinking about specific ESL communities that our libraries serve, the issue of having staff who speak the language of the immigrant communities was a major theme. Some libraries were struggling to serve smaller foreign language communities when they have a huge dominant foreign language community they have already identified and designed significant services for. A big part of the discussion revolved around how to break into these smaller language groups. Additional concerns revolved around how to assess the literacy level of various local language communities in their own native tongues so that our multilingual collections are representative of their reading level needs.
A discussion on multilingual collections including selection, management, and marketing them included some useful suggestions including building community partnership programs, employing pop-up surveys on the website and in house, contacting local adult education programs, and advertising to immigrant families via story time. Concerns included finding a good source for materials purchases, managing the scope including both your staffing and monetary resources, figuring out how to make the contacts, and dealing with a significant lack of knowledge in our communities generally (but yes in immigrant communities especially) about what is offered at libraries. They really encourage perseverance in connecting with these communities and educating them on library collections and services, a point that Dali re-enforced as being critical. Keep talking about your libraries programs and collections and keep working to build trust in with community.
A big thanks to the wonderful RA in a Half Day participants who shared some great conversations and ideas!