A place to share books, music, techniques, and all things related to bilingual storytime!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Virginia Hamilton Conference Follow Up

What an honor it was to present last week at the 26th annual Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth at Kent State University!  The authors were moving, the artists fascinating, and the breakout sessions highly relevant to today's librarians and teachers serving increasingly diverse communities.  My greatest take-aways are from Laurie Halse Anderson to STOP being too nice and fight back when schools and governments slash library funding, and from Ken and Sylvia Marantz that the "picturebook" is its own art form and not merely a book of pictures (picture book).

I was thrilled to present my session on Bilingual Storytime to a group of interested individuals on Friday, including a group of international scholars from Egypt and Brazil.  You all asked some great questions!  A few of your questions have stayed in my mind, and so I am going to share them here over the next several days, along with more complete answers.

During the presentation, I commented that there are many reasons for establishing a bilingual storytime program, including to reach out to the Latino population in the community.  However, bilingual storytime should not be the first step in an organization's outreach effort.  If the Latino community is not using your library, the reason is not because you don't have a Spanish or bilingual storytime.  In response to this, I was asked: What are the first steps for a library wanting to reach out to the Latino community?  

In my opinion, the first step is to get outside of the library and get to know the community.  Find one key person who can help you connect with others; this first key person may not be Latino him/herself, but will be more deeply involved in working with the community.  Places to look are local Hispanic/Latino organizations, churches, ESL teachers, other agencies working with the Latino community, the local Spanish or bilingual newspaper and local businesses catering to Latinos.  Be prepared to ask these key folks what you want to know: why doesn't the Latino community currently use the library?  Then, be prepared to respond to what they share with you by making the changes you can to make your library and its services more accessible and relevant.  To accomplish this, you need buy in and support from the upper levels of administration and leadership in your organization, which can be tricky to gain.  Even well-meaning administrators may not have a clear understanding of how to serve the Latino community.  Find an ally with authority in your organization from the beginning, and bring them along with you as much as possible.  Try to encourage the people in charge at your organization to come with you, so they are part of meeting key leaders and hearing directly how the library can improve.  This will have more impact then your words alone.  Outreach needs differ depending on many variables, such as the experience of the community you are trying to reach, the perspectives and commitment of your administration to serving the community, the work your organization has already done to reach the community, and the staff, services and programs you have to offer.

There are many resources out there that can help you in your outreach process.  I recommend the following for getting started:

Crash Course in Serving Spanish Speakers by Salvador Avila.  There are many great book resources out there on library services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking, but I have found this to be the most straightforward, simple and practical for getting started.

Webjunction's Spanish Language Outreach Course.  Available to take online at your own pace for $20.  This course will provide an overview on what is means to do outreach to your Spanish-speaking community and provide a highly functional framework for doing so.  If you are reaching out to Latinos in your community and can encourage someone in your administration to take this course as well, it may help them to understand what you are doing and why.

"Latinos and Public Library Perceptions."  This study was conducted by Webjunction and the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.  It is a major research project that surveyed over 2,000 Latinos from across the country on their library use and perceptions.  This is a very eye opening study, and it can reveal what are the most important factors your organization should focus on as you approach your outreach.

And of course, join REFORMA - the National Organization to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking.  The listserv is active and the people involved do an excellent job at sharing resources and ideas.

Latinos are already the largest minority in the USA and the fastest growing.  Serving Latinos in no longer "optional" or "extra" for libraries - it is essential for remaining relevant to your community!  Those who do not start reaching out and cultivating staff who can effectively serve this community will find themselves in a situation of playing a lot of catch-up down the road.  Buena suerte as you initiate an outreach project and do the necessary work to make your organization inclusive in all ways of the Latinos and Spanish-speakers you serve.

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