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Serving U.S. non-English Speakers

I was pretty busy last week (12 flights and 9 speeches in five days) so I got behind in blogging and you might have already been alerted to this ALA report but I think it’s important enough to post too.
Serving Non-English Speakers in U.S. Public Libraries: 2007 Analysis of Library Demographics, Services, and Programs.
American Library Association (ALA) study provides new information about library services and programs developed for non-English speakers, including effectiveness of services, barriers to library use, most frequently used services and most success library programs by language served. Download the full report. (41 page PDF)
Key Findings
Spanish is, by far, the most supported non-English language in public libraries. Seventy-eight percent of libraries reported Spanish as the priority #1 language to which they develop services and programs. Asian languages ranked second in priority at 29 percent. Another 17.6 percent of libraries indicated Indo-European languages as a second priority.
Smaller communities are serving a larger proportion of non-English speakers. The majority of libraries serving non-English speakers are in communities with fewer than 100,000 residents (484 of all responding libraries). The majority (53.6 percent) of residents in these smaller communities traveled between 1-3 miles to reach a library, and another 21 percent traveled between 4-6 miles.
Literacy is both a barrier for non-English speakers and is what most libraries support in specially designed services and programs for these patrons. Reading and library habits negatively impact use of the library by non-English speakers (76 percent). Knowledge of the services offered by the library was the second most frequent barrier to their participation (74.7 percent) identified by librarians.
Libraries reported the most successful library programs and services developed for non-English speakers were: English as a Second Language (ESL), language-specific materials and collections, computer use and computer classes, story time and special programs.
About 21 million people in the United States speak limited or no English – 50 percent more than a decade ago. Staff is faced daily with someone who needs services and does not speak English.
These study findings can provide a venue for developing better and more precise materials, services and programs for those linguistically isolated. Librarians can better predict what specific language materials and services may be required to optimally serve non-English speaking groups by learning from the experiences of librarians in other parts of the country serving these groups. Research and experimentation can occur not only in a public library environment but can also use and incorporate other public agencies that are also challenged by communication with linguistically isolated populations in these studies.”
It’s an interesting report. Technology preparation (such as Unicode, multilingual browser settings, the right printer drivers), programs and collections are just the thin edge of the wedge. I think that it is very interesting that smaller communities are dealing with a bigger issue in this arena.

Posted on: March 31, 2008, 1:40 pm Category: Uncategorized

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