Building the case for reaching out to the Hispanic/Latino community
What has been done already? Why must the library reach out to Spanish speakers? Where do Spanish-speakers live and work in Utah?
Context for Reaching Out to Spanish-speakers
- Since 1971, Reforma, an affiliate of the American Library Association, has promoted library and information services to Latinos and the Spanish speaking.
- Since 2004, WebJunction in partnership with State Libraries and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has sponsored Spanish Language Outreach programs.
- Since 2004, the Utah State Library Division has funded the grant “Library Services for Spanish Speakers Project” to develop or enhance library services in rural and small libraries.
- In 2007, the Utah State Library Division joined the Spanish Language Outreach program developed by WebJunction.
- Traditionally, public libraries have offered materials and services to community residents for whom English is not their native language.
- Many smaller and rural libraries have experienced large increases of Spanish-speaking residents in their communities and have decided to enhance the library services.
With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WebJunction launched a successful pilot of the Spanish Language Outreach Program in August 2004.
Additional funding from the Gates Foundation has made it possible to extend the program to the rest of the country. WebJunction is an online community of libraries and other agencies sharing knowledge and experience to provide the broadest public access to information technology. WebJunction serves as the nexus for a growing online community of interest focused on serving the needs of Spanish-speaking patrons.
In the early 1990s, the term “digital divide” was coined to describe the growing gap between the technology haves and have-nots. This gap in the use of information technology has been attributed largely to socio-economic factors of race, income, education, and geography. In the report, “Toward Equality of Access: The Role of Public Libraries in Addressing the Digital Divide,” the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation notes that despite gains in internet usage among all groups in the 90’s, traditionally disadvantaged groups continue to be less likely to have the access and skills to effectively use computers and the internet.
Given the increase in the Hispanic/Latino population and the digital divide confronting the population, the need for greater access and skills is important challenge facing the Spanish-speaking community today. Public libraries are in a unique position to help meet this challenge by providing skills training and increased access.
In Utah, the State Library recognized the increased pressure that many rural and small libraries faced trying to develop or enhance effective library services for Spanish speakers and in response launched a very successful pilot project in which five public libraries in targeted areas of the State received training and funds to develop a library collection for Spanish-speakers. This extraordinary effort developed into the multi-year project “Library Services for Spanish Speakers.”
As of 2011, 27 public libraries throughout Utah have participated.
The Role of Public Libraries in Outreach
What is outreach anyway? What does effective outreach look like? Why should the library reach out to Spanish speakers?
Definition of Outreach
- “The extending of services or assistance beyond current or usual limits.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition.
- “Provision of services to those unable to seek them.” Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (1989).
- Identify the needs of the community and address those needs through strategic services.
- Make the connection between the specific need of the patron and the services you provide. Demonstrate how the library is relevant in their life.
- Create a welcoming environment and let your community know they are welcome.
- Deliver services in a culturally competent manner and move beyond mere cultural sensitivity.
Making the case
Libraries can play an important role in closing the gap in library services between English and Spanish speakers, but doing so requires effective outreach to Hispanic/Latino communities.
“…in order to meet the changing and growing needs of our communities, it is becoming a basic service to reach out beyond our walls and make library services not only accessible but also relevant to diverse populations.” Serving Latino Communities: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians by Camila Alire and Jaqueline Ayala
“Effective library services for Spanish-speakers cannot be ‘business as usual.’ We must see and understand that buying materials in Spanish is only part of the response to the need… Outreach is the other part of the solution.” ROSSA Workshop Fall 2008, Utah State Library Division.
As you build your own rationale consider these elements
- Changing local demographics
- Social and economic characteristics
- Contributions of Latinos to local economy
- Hispanic/Latino children in K-12 schools
- Professional responsibility of librarians
- Your own library’s mission statement
Building Support within the Library
- Become the voice of your patrons – advocate for their needs.
- Talk to your library director and your library trustees.
- Involve all levels of staff.
- Get a philosophical commitment – include services for Spanish speakers in the library’s strategic plan and mission statement.
- It is OK to start small, but plan for the long term.
- Do not use the “shotgun” approach. You need to establish priorities, select a segment of your community (a targeted group), identify a specific need, and develop a specific response.
- Formulate specific action plans. Identify measurable outcomes and keep track of your outputs.
- Document, evaluate, adapt, and report – Tell your story!
Building Support within the Community
- Acknowledge that changing attitudes and values is difficult.
- Focus on what’s in it for the community.
- Reward, acknowledge, and recognize efforts.
- Provide frequent, safe opportunities for people to learn about/interact with Spanish-speaking community.
- Collect stories, anecdotes from Spanish speakers and share them with the community at large.
- Use relevant examples and statistics to persuade, for example: local drop-out rate of Latino students
- Include benefits of living in a well-supported and diverse community.