Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ideas for Serving Diverse Communities

At the Alberta Library Conference last spring, I was sitting in on a session that discussed serving the needs of newcomers to Canada and I heard a quote that struck a chord in me – “What harbor can receive you more securely than a great library?”  The quote is from Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and if I had a quote in my email signature, this would it be it. Public libraries have a long history of serving the shaping demographics in their communities and being central spaces for everyone to come and find information and entertainment. In the fall of 2012, Public Libraries Online published the article, “Meeting the Needs of Diverse Communities,” written by a PLA Contributor which focussed on New Jersey’s Piscataway Public Library's (PPL) initiatives to better serve their diverse communities. I've outlined these ideas below - click here to read the full article from Public Libraries Online. 

1.       Going straight to the source: The librarians at PPL wanted to directly elicit the opinions of those patrons who regularly read multilingual materials.  They first tried to approach patrons in person while they were browsing the shelves but found this route too abrasive.  Alternatively, they decided to approach patrons through a printed survey which they kept at the circulation desk and would hand out each time a multilingual book was checked out. They found that users were more open and honest in filling out the survey than they would be speaking face to face with library staff and they were able to use this information to further develop their collections. 

2.       Facilitating better communication:  The library created a welcoming space by ensuring that signage in the library included translations in other languages to better guide users in the library.  With inspiration from the Philadelphia Free Public Library, they created a “Translation Aid.”  This is a flip chart containing commonly used library phrases and questions such as “I have a book on hold.”  Library staff were also able to use this station with patrons to point to essential questions such as “Do you need a library card?”     

3.       Multicultural programming:  PPL’s Diversity Committee works to develop programs that celebrate ethnic diversity and heritage.  They used a display case to feature cultural items brought in by patrons.  It houses art, pottery, traditional costumes, and other cultural artifacts.  This helped library staff and patrons become familiar with a variety of customs and traditions. They noted that, “The consistent theme, however, was the positive results gained by involving library staff and users in efforts to promote communication and understanding.”

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