A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Connecting Communities with Language Resources

by Adeline Lennon, University of Wisconsin-Madison iSchool student, PLA 2024 Scholarship Recipient on May 3, 2024

The PLA 2024 Conference was jam-packed with sessions dedicated to supporting librarians as they serve their communities in meaningful ways. The only negative about attending the conference was having to make difficult decisions regarding which sessions to attend! So many sessions resonated with me, but there was one in particular that made me immediately eager to share my takeaways with classmates and colleagues.

“Spanish for Library Staff: Bridging the Language Barrier” was presented by Cristy Moran of Colorado State Library and Caroline Smith of South Carolina State Library. The presenters offered unique perspectives of their experiences engaging library staff in Spanish language practice in order to better serve their patrons.

Some of the major takeaways I had from this session included:

  • Confidence > competence! I am not a native Spanish speaker but am conversational. I sometimes get embarrassed when engaging with patrons that my grammar is imperfect or I’m communicating “incorrectly.” The presenters helped me feel more confident in showing up, even if I’m showing up imperfectly.
  • Language learning is an opportunity to explore cultural competency. This will look different in any community; it’s important to engage in outreach in order to understand what the Spanish-speaking community needs where you are and to be culturally specific.
  • Bilingual/multilingual staff are valuable and should be treated as such. Learning a language can be incorporated into the work day and staff should be paid for their time. Despite the Spanish language groups being informal and not “classes,” the value of increasing cultural competence should be emphasized.

The resources shared by Moran and Smith are extremely helpful for replicating similar language programs in other communities. I have already begun exploring MakeMake, a database of Latin American books from Colombia. The database has over 1,200 Spanish language titles, and is great for native speakers and learners alike. There are options to have books read aloud, which can help with listening comprehension while reading along. I am also excited to share resources like News in Slow Spanish, a podcast that is exactly what it sounds like. A great way to increase vocabulary and stay up to date with the news at the same time!

Overall, I left PLA 2024 feeling rejuvenated and excited to continue connecting with library professionals in my community. As a library clerk at a mobile library in Madison, I am eager to continue going out on routes and connecting with Spanish speaking patrons with a newfound confidence (despite my imperfect language skills). I’ve already begun sharing resources with classmates and colleagues, and can’t wait to see the integration of more Spanish resources into public libraries across the country. Thank you, PLA!

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