By Anne Nagrant
My experience living abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer made me very sympathetic to those in our local communities for whom English is not their native language. No matter the level of English a patron has, public libraries should be prepared to serve all.
Inside the library, signage and pictures can help visitors find what they need. Library staff can enunciate clearly and try saying the same thing in different ways. Because some immigrants prefer reading to conversation, offer flyers and handouts to take home. Order free Spanish-language print materials from Gale’s ProMo site to promote Informe Académico or PowerSpeak Languages.
The library website is another important path for connecting with your community. Here are three strategies to help ESL/EFL patrons utilize your electronic resources:
1. List resources under relevant subjects
Where do resources for English-learners belong? Choose a subject area(s) that makes sense for your community. Libraries may use categories like ESL, ELL, Foreign Language, Language Learning, Spanish, or En Español.
Wicomico Public Library in Maryland places Testing & Education Reference Center, which includes citizenship test preparation and help with TOEFL and TOEIC exams, in a “American Dream – ESL Lab” area of their website.
2. Meet them where they are
If your library is already serving English-learners, promote your relevant resources to this established audience. Place resources online where they’re already looking.
The LifeLong Learning Center (LLC) at Vigo County Public Library in Indiana offers services for many adults in their community, including those improving their English skills. The library found that Gale Courses is a perfect complement to the work of the LLC, so they placed a link on the LLC’s website.
Kenosha Public Library in Wisconsin offers classes for Spanish-speakers in their community. They share PowerSpeak Languages promotional items and information about library resources in outreach with local non-profit organizations. One of their state-of-the-art language learning opportunities was been made possible with funding from a federal LSTA 2014 literacy grant to improve services to Spanish speakers, especially those learning English. Learn more…
3. Translate important information
There is nothing quite as comforting as finding something written in one’s native language. If a library resource contains foreign-language content, describe it in that language!
Ocean County Library in New Jersey provides an entire page of “Bases de Datos” on their website. They place links to these resources, such as Informe Academico on their standard Databases A to Z page too.
Many Gale resources allow the interface and/or articles to be translated into different languages. Ocean County Library’s description for Gale Virtual Reference Library: en Español explains how to set the interface to Spanish.
If your population of non-English speakers is significant, consider creating a library overview page in a language that’s common in your area. Robert L F Sikes Public Library in Florida provides information in Spanish. Thomas Crane Public Library in Massachusetts maintains three webpages in Chinese (pictured above).
Following these tips will make it easier for ESL/EFL patrons to find, access, and understand public library resources. It’s a win-win situation, for the library and for newcomers. They will certainly appreciate your efforts.
What does your library do to serve non-English speakers? Comment and tell us!
About the Author
Anne Nagrant is a Customer Care Consultant who serves public libraries throughout the US and Canada. She came to Gale in 2012 after a fun career in historical museums, specializing in educational and public programs. Anne taught English in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania from 2003 to 2005. The experience changed her life.