Episode Six: Emerging Bilingual Library Services

Welcome multilingual Guernsey tourismThis week we look at the topic of service to our emerging bilingual community members! There is so much to cover here, we just looked at a few library programs and resources. Send us your programs, materials, ideas; and we will post all of them to our website!

You can listen to our podcast here, or get it from iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

These services are traditionally described as aimed at English as a Second Language (ESL )or English Language Learners (ELL), but Emerging Bilingual is a better descriptor of people adding another language to their current one(s). Learning a new language is hard, and we want to be respectful of the work people are doing

Access to Materials is Tough!

Currently more than 100 leagues are spoken at home in Minnesota, and more than 350 languages are spoken at home in the United States. This is a tough thing for libraries – particularly those serving small and rural communities – as they work to provide quality service to everyone. It takes money and access to resources in these languages to be helpful.

From School Library Journal: “School librarians often face acute situations, from funding shortages to impossible-to-find books. “My library has a very, very small amount of non-English materials,” says Sara Frey, instructional media specialist–librarian at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, near Philadelphia. “One of our biggest populations of ELL students is Nepali. Good luck funding Lord of the Flies in Nepali.” Frey more often works with teachers to find materials in appropriate languages for Social Studies and other content areas, in print and audio format.”


Knowing What To Do is Also Tough!

Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) has issued a set of Guidelines for Library Service to Spanish-Speaking Patrons. “Library services to Spanish-speaking users can be complex: nationality, regional differences, and culture provide myriad combinations within that community. As an example, there are significant linguistic and cultural differences reflected in the varieties of Spanish spoken by Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Spanish-speaking groups. To recognize and respond correctly to these differences is a major theme within these guidelines. Although the committee is aware of numerous terms for this target population, it has chose to use the term “Spanish-speaking” in order to encompass the many users that make up this diverse community instead of the outdated and limiting term of “Hispanic” ( see appendix).”

Spanish is the language most frequently spoken in the US, after English; so providing quality service is a priority for any library. But this introductory paragraph emphasizes the challenges of even that service. Language-based services are a good start; but language and culture change dramatically for different groups of people.

Let’s Gather Information!

One of the issues we found, when seeking out information for this podcast, is that there is a lot of information and programming – but it is spread all over the place, with many libraries having just small pieces of it. Most libraries are providing some levels of service, and some types of service; but it is hard to pin down specifics. These services tend to be staff-specific; so when a staff member who works in this area leaves, the work may not be picked up again.

We want to provide a basic one-stop-shopping information experience for our members who are looking for information on providing great service to their Emerging Bilingual community members; so please send us your suggestions and ideas so we can share them!


Library News:

A few stories we covered:

  • Rogers Public Library: Bilingual Teens as Teachers and Tutors (Rogers, Arkansas)
  • Berkley Public Library Annual ESL Poetry Reading
  • Portland Public Schools ESL department
  • Arlington Heights Public Library ESL and Literacy programs
  • Reaching out to learn about the Spanish-speaking population at Columbus Metropolitan Library
  • Libraries with English conversation groups, letting everyone come together and practice both language and learning idiosyncrasies about American culture
    • El Cerrito Library Come by the library to practice English, meet people, and have fun. The group is led by experienced, certified ESL teachers, is free and open to all levels.
    • Scottsdale Public Library Improve your English speaking skills in a fun, energetic and nonthreatening atmosphere. You will learn about your new country first hand. Learn proper pronunciation of words, English slang, American customs, American sayings, American Holidays, etc. and have fun doing it. Interactive games, designed to make you “think” in English, one-on-one conversations with people from other countries. Learn how to properly structure sentences and questions. You will speak in this class, we focus on PRACTICE – PRACTICE – PRACTICE !
    • Brookline Public Library  Literacy for Immigrant Families is a program where parents and students come together to read grade-level books and learn how to support literacy development. The program is designed for emerging and struggling readers in grades 1-5. Students have opportunities to practice reading skills using different strategies. After reading a book, students complete a book review and discuss the elements of a story to enhance reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. Parents participate alongside their children. The program is supported by partnerships between the district’s ELL program and the Brookline Main Library.

Books We Read:

We are library people, and we like to read books! Each week we share a book or two we read; check them out to see if you might like them too! Do you have book suggestions? Send them in!


Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren “On the night Ronia was born, a thunderstorm raged over the mountain, but in Matt’s castle and among his band of robbers there was only joy – for Matt now had a spirited little black-haired daughter. Soon Ronia learns to dance and yell with the robbers, but it is alone in the forest that she feels truly at home. Then one day Ronia meets Birk, the son of Matt’s arch-enemy. Soon after Ronia and Birk become friends the worst quarrel ever between the rival bands erupts, and Ronia and Berk are right in the middle.”

The King of Elfland’s Daughter, by Lord Dunsany “The poetic style and sweeping grandeur of The King of Elfland’s Daughter has made it one of the most beloved fantasy novels of our time, a masterpiece that influenced some of the greatest contemporary fantasists. The heartbreaking story of a marriage between a mortal man and an elf princess is a masterful tapestry of the fairy tale following the “happily ever after.” ”


Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, by Georges Jeanty (Author), Joss Whedon (Creator), Michelle Madsen (Illustrator) Series creator Joss Whedon brought Buffy the Vampire Slayer back to life with this comics-only follow-up to Season 7 of the television show. This hardcover edition contains the first two arcs of the series, plus two one-shots, written by Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Runaways), with art by the acclaimed Georges Jeanty! After the destruction of the Hellmouth, the Slayers – newly legion – have gotten organized, but it’s not long before new and old enemies begin popping up. Buffy, Xander, Willow, and a very different Dawn are introduced to the season’s big bad, Twilight, and are only beginning to understand the incredible reach of this mysterious threat. Meanwhile, rebel Slayer Faith teams up with Giles to handle a menace on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s a dirty job, and Faith is just the girl to do it!”

(Mary’s note: this is one of four volumes for Season 8 – and yes, I read every single one of them!)

Spotlight Library:

For the first time in the illustrious history of the Linking Our Libraries podcast, we have a repeat Spotlight Library: the Hennepin County Library! When we were looking at these assorted services, we repeatedly read about the resources and services they are providing. So here is some information about their work; you can check them out any time for more information!

From School Library Journal

Click on the website of Minnesota’s Hennepin County Library (HCL), and a photo of a hijab-clad woman reading to preschoolers prominently appears. The image is just one sign that this library system is working to serve the increasingly diverse population of the Minneapolis area, which includes English language learners (ELL) from a variety of homelands. Minnesota has long been a destination for immigrants. In the 1800s, Germans, Irish and Scandinavians arrived on the plains. In the 1970s and 2000s, it became home to many Hmong and Vietnamese placed by refugee relocation

programs. In the 1990s, Somalis escaping the war in Mogadishu began settling here.


The 41 HCL branches employ community outreach liaisons for Spanish, Hmong, and Somali speakers. Serving these communities goes beyond providing translation or books in native languages. It involves understanding traditions and political histories of immigrant homelands and incorporating them into a variety of library programs.


Historically, American libraries have provided a gateway for newcomers adjusting to life in the United States. Today, as non-native English speakers comprise an increasingly diverse part of the population, public and school libraries are striving to meet their needs. With few official programming directives about how libraries should serve these patrons, librarians interviewed by School Library Journal said that they often design their own initiatives.


In Minnesota, Ali relates a similar trajectory as Cisneros’s. He finished high school in Somalia and attended college and graduate school in the United States. “I understand both cultures, both languages. I understand the religion,” Ali says. He explains that there are several cultural barriers for new Somali immigrants, including the fact that many have spent years in refugee camps with little education. Women, who usually bring kids to the library, have often left school at an early age.

To serve the estimated 70,000 Somalis in greater Minneapolis, HCL offers English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults four to five days a week. This spring, Ali will be working with Somali poet Mariam Hassan to lead a creative writing program encouraging Somali teens to write their own stories and perspectives of living in America.


The Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area is also home to the largest Hmong (an ethnic group originally from the mountains of Laos) population in the United States. Chaleng Lee serves as HCL’s outreach liaison to the Asian American community, 64,000 in the Twin Cities area. “There are no libraries in Laos,” says Lee. To create cultural-specific programs, Lee worked with community agencies and visited ethnic stores, churches, and community and holiday events—such as Hmong New Year’s and Hmong Fourth of July. “In the Hmong and any other immigrant communities, it’s always a struggle to gain trust,” Lee says. “However, once you have, your programs will always get good attendance.”


For many public libraries, collection development—including foreign language materials—is part of the annual budget allocations. But locating books in some languages can be a challenge. The Hmong written language, for instance, was created in the 1950s. “It was really difficult to locate print materials when I first started my position at HCL, because there just weren’t that many books published in Hmong,” says Lee. Fortunately, the only Hmong bookstore in America is located in St. Paul, which helped HCL develop the largest collection of Hmong books, DVDs, and CDs in the United States. 
Locating Somali books also poses a challenge. Many authors are scattered around the world as a result of two decades of political unrest in their homeland. Ali also looks for English-language books about Somali culture, history, or politics, as well as Arabic titles, also important to the predominantly Muslim population.


Ultimately, local libraries must identify their particular communities’ needs. Ali stresses the importance of hiring librarians from the immigrant communities they serve—who can assuage fears that may prevent people from setting foot in the library. “When they come into the library and everyone looks the same—Caucasian—it’s hard,” Ali says. “When they see someone who looks like them, they ask questions. They need to be able to speak the language, not just be ethnic Somali or Hmong.” This points to the profession’s need to recruit more broadly, as well.


Lee advocates for long-term programs, rather than one-time events. In his work with Hmong immigrants, he often calls families a day before a storytime or class, since they rely on memory and not calendars for their schedules.



List of languages (and on the website, they give the library branch where each language is located)

  • Amharic Arabic              Chinese           French German           Hindi   Hmong            Japanese Korean Laotian            Ojibwe            Oromo             Russian                       Somali             Spanish                        Thai     Vietnamese


English language tutoring

Work with a volunteer tutor at Nokomis Library to learn English or improve your English language skills. New students will complete a placement test to determine their level. This program is free, and all materials are provided.

Open Door Learning Center

Group classes at Sumner Library to learn English and prepare for the U.S. citizenship exam or GED.

Call 612-377-5399 or stop in to register and get more information.

Offered in partnership with the Minnesota Literacy Council.


Conversation Circles

Practice your English and make new friends.  Non-native English speakers: practice your English and make new friends in an informal, volunteer-led setting, and learn about the library, too.

Franklin Learning Center

Located in Franklin Library, the Franklin Learning Center serves adults who are studying English, math, science, social studies, technology and life skills, and preparing for the GED and U.S. citizenship exams.

Learners work one-to-one or in small groups with instructors and volunteer tutors. Registration is required.

We support libraries!