Skip to content
Secondary Content

Providing Services

How do I respond to the needs of the community?  Does it make a difference if the library doesn’t have Latino librarians?

Consider the following traits often associated with successful libraries providing effective services for their Spanish-speaking community:

  • The library actively seeks partnering with community organizations already serving the Latino community.
  • There is a high level of organizational support for outreach.
  • The library has sufficient resources (staff, money).
  • There is a positive attitude towards the Hispanic/Latino community among staff and beyond the library walls.
  • The library actively promotes programs through Hispanic media and community service agencies that serve Spanish speakers.
  • There is an institutional awareness of cultural diversity.
  • The library plans for a skilled, competent workforce.

Don’t be discouraged if your library doesn’t share all these traits!  There are ways to adapt or work towards building these traits.  Case studies of several successful programs are available on WebJunction.

But before we can have a successful service, we must understand the cultural context within which we as professionals operate and the cultural context within which our customers live.

What is culture?

  • Culture is the “software” that determines our values, attitudes, and behaviors.
  • We all have culture and we are all culturally programmed.
  • None of us has the same cultural program.
  • We all belong to many different cultures with different cultural rules.
  • We interpret a person’s behavior based on our cultural rules.
  • We make assumptions when we don’t understand.

Cultural Perspective

Adapted from Lee Gardenswartz and Anita Rowe, Managing Diversity, Rev. ed. (McGraw Hill) 1998 
Dimensions of Culture American Culture Hispanic/Latino Culture
1. Sense of self and space
  • Individual space—arm’s length
  • Informal—use “you” for all relationships
  • Hearty handshake
  • Closer than arm’s length
  • Formal—use both formal and informal “you”
  • Warmer, softer handshake, hug, kiss on the cheek
2. Communication and language
  • Direct eye contact
  • Explicit, direct communication—people say what they mean and mean what they say
  • Emphasis on content; meaning found in words—yes means yes
  • Averts eye contact to show respect
  • Implicit, indirect communication—people may hold back to avoid upsetting other person
  • Emphasis on context; meaning found around words—yes may mean maybe or even no
3. Dress and appearance
  • “Dress for Success” ideal
  • Wide range in accepted dress
 Dress seen as sign of position, wealth, prestige
4. Food and eating habits
  •  Eating as a necessity—fast food
  • Dining as a social or family experience
  • Religious rules
5. Time and time consciousness
  • Time is linear and finite—seen as limited commodity
  • Exact time consciousness—handle one thing/one person at a time
  • Value on promptness—time means money
  • Deadlines/ schedules are sacred; needs of people bend to demands of time
  • Time is elastic and infinite—there is always more time
  • Relative time consciousness—many activities going on at once
  • Time spent on enjoyment of relationships
  • Deadlines and schedules easily changed; time is bent to meet needs of people
6. Relationships, family, friends
  • Focus on nuclear family
  • Responsibility for self—children encouraged to live separate, independent lives
  • Value on youth, age seen as handicap
  • Focus on extended family
  • Loyalty and responsibility to family—being independent considered irresponsible, disloyal
  • Age given status and respect
7. Value and norms
  • Individual orientation—independence and self reliance highly valued
  • Personal fulfillment is greatest good
  • Preference for direct confrontation of conflict
  • Group orientation—looking out for others protects one’s self
  • Group success is greatest good
  • Preference for harmony
8. Beliefs and attitudes
  • Egalitarian—all people should have equal rights
  • OK to challenge authority
  • Individuals control their destiny
  • Gender equity
  • Hierarchical—power more centralized
  • Defer to authority and social order
  • Limited control over destiny
  • Different roles for men and women
9. Mental processes and learning style
  • Linear, logical, sequential
  • “Fix it” approach to problems
  • Humans in control
  • Progress and change is good
  • Learning is interactive; learner prefers to draw own conclusions
  • Lateral, holistic,
  • Simultaneous
  • One adapts to problems and situations
  • Accepting of life’s difficulties
  • Change is threat to order and harmony
  • Learning more formal and one-way; learner dependent on written information
10. Work habits and practices
  • Emphasis on task
  • Reward based on individual achievement
  • Work has intrinsic value
  • Emphasis on relationships
  • Rewards based on seniority, relationships
  • Work is a necessity of life


Putting Together a Class or Program

Finding the right instructor

Finding qualified instructors for your classes is one of the most important and most challenging aspects of developing a program.

  • Language Ability – Ideally, the instructor should be a native Spanish speaker.  But most importantly the instructor should be enthusiastic about sharing this knowledge.
  • Technology Skills – The majority of computer-related classes focus on basic skills so trainers need to be comfortable guiding people through the basics.
  • An awareness of cultural difference, such as those noted above is also helpful. For example, Hispanic/Latinos are more likely to behave in a formal way in a class setting and show the instructor a great deal of respect.  They may be uneasy questioning the instructor or acknowledging they don’t understand.
  • Instructors knowledgeable about the local Spanish-speaking community utilize this specific information during training.  For example, if the instructor knows that the majority of Spanish-speakers in the community are from a certain country or particular area of Mexico, the instructor can use this knowledge while citing examples to make the class more interesting or relevant to the patron; for example, while explaining Internet resources, the instructor can point out newspapers from their city, state, or country.

Overcoming the Language Barrier

While a native or fluent speaker is ideal, non-native or even non-fluent library staff members often end up teaching a Spanish language.  The following are some ideas for bridging the language gap:

  • Ask for referrals from the community leaders.
  • Talk to ESL teachers or program coordinators at local schools.
  • Make handouts that are very easy to follow; show pictures and not so much text.  For example, a library in Des Plaines, IL uses step by step screen shots that are accompanied by directions in Spanish for class handouts.  These handouts also serve as a great reference.
  • Use interpreters – CAUTION: Realize that the length of the class will increase significantly and some students get distracted by switching languages and the interaction between the teacher and the interpreter.  If an interpreter is not available, consider asking a student who speaks some English to aid in communication.

Class Logistics

  • Scheduling – Be aware of multiple jobs, school schedule, etc.  Many libraries have found that consistent, regular, predictable course offerings often result in the highest overall attendance levels.  Many have found evenings to be a popular time.  Other have had success by using a rotating schedule of evenings, mornings, and Saturdays, as members of the Spanish-speaking community have widely varying work schedules.
  • Marketing – Advertise outside of the library, take the library flyers, IN SPANISH, to places where Spanish speakers already gather.  Consider making the information about the program available in Spanish via your web site or phone line, in addition to print fliers.  Use native media as much as possible.
  • Word of Mouth marketing is very important.  Partnerships with community organizations, schools, and churches can also help get the word out.  Marketing materials should be simple and in both English and Spanish (see WebJunction for examples).
  • Personal Invitation – The power of the personal connection cannot be emphasized enough.  When library staff take the time to talk to Spanish speaking patrons about upcoming programs or classes, patrons acknowledge the special effort being made and often respond with increased attendance to library programming.
  • Enrollment – Many libraries have found it helpful to forego formal registration and have adopted a first come, first served policy.  As most students lead very busy and complicated lives, many can’t attend class sessions regularly.  The first come first served policy eliminated the administrative time required to oversee enrollments and maintain a waiting list.  Most libraries encourage students to come when they can and retake classes if needed.
  • Transportation – If lack of transportation is an issue, consider delivering the class or program elsewhere in the community.  If your library is accessible by public transportation, include this info in marketing materials.  If your library is not easily reached by public transportation, it may be difficult for some students to attend class.  Some libraries have partnered with community agencies to provide transportation.
  • Babysitting – Some libraries have found it very helpful to offer babysitting or children’s programming at the same time as computer classes or other programs for older audiences.  Other libraries have provided children’s activities in the classroom or have designed classes for children and adults.

Preparing for a Computer Class

  • Before class – Set up the computers by opening needed files and browser windows.  Change the language if you are planning to utilize the Spanish profile.  Add needed Web sites to Favorites list.
  • As class begins – Anticipate that some students may be late arriving, spend time with introductions, and present information about the library and services first.  Address factors of fear and embarrassment openly, create a positive and trusting environment, keep the mood light.  In the first class, or in every class if turnover is great, demonstrate basic computer and keyboarding skills like holding a mouse, clicking, double clicking, minimizing and maximizing windows, using close buttons, etc.
  • Throughout class – Explain all computer terminology and provide handouts with clear directions in Spanish.  Empower students by giving them tasks they can complete.  Try to use culturally relevant examples and tasks.

Service Success Principles

  • Make no assumptions about what the community knows about the library or its services.
  • Establish trust and respect one person at a time, one day at a time.
  • Integrate the library into the heart and soul of the community.

Marketing & Working with Ethnic Media

Key Concepts

  • Focus on selling the service or program in terms that “connect” or mean something to the user — that relate to their needs, problems, life situations, etc.
  • Focus on selling the idea that the life of the user will be enhanced.  Avoid focusing on selling the “library.”
  • Build personal relationships.
  • “You cannot invite people to YOUR event and expect them to make it THEIR event.”  Yolanda Cuesta, October 2007.

Developing Messages That Connect

Instead of a brochure publicizing the Spanish language collection, develop flyers (with colorful book cover illustrations) that call attention to specific materials.  For example:

  • Are you expecting a baby? What can you do to be sure your baby is born healthy and strong? These materials are available to you for free at the public library.
  • Are you going for a job interview? Do you need to know what to expect and how to prepare for a job interview?

Instead of simply publicizing a list of computer classes, talk about what the classes will help them do:

  • Communicate with your family in Mexico!  Send e-mail messages from the library.
  • Are you looking for a job?  You can submit your job application on the computer.

Use kids to market the FREE services at the library and showing that the library is a welcoming place.  For example, to advertise a Mother’s Day program, create a “card” for kids to take home to mothers inviting them to a free knitting class at the library.

Tips on Preparing Marketing Materials

  • Emphasize the visual. Use color.
  • Emphasize the 4 F’s: Free (Gratis), Family, Food, Fun
  • Use their language
  • Get it down to basics
  • Get help reviewing translations. Always get a second opinion.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Word of mouth refers to passing information from person to person. Originally, word of mouth referred specifically to verbal communication, but now it is understood that it includes other means of communication, such as face to face, telephone, email, and text messaging.

“This whole notion of word-of-mouth marketing in the multicultural market is tightly related to social networks. The marketer needs to know who is in the social network. Penetrating a community through opinion leaders makes for a good chance that the product will be adopted.”  Felipe Korzenny, Marketing News, July 22, 2002

  • 48% of Latinos get advice about a product through someone they know who has already used the product.
  • 62% of Latinos gain knowledge about a product from their relatives.
  • 16% of Latinos get their information from a newspaper or magazine.
    Marketing News, July 22, 2002

For better word of mouth exposure

  • Promote service among local community leaders.
  • Hold special events within the community tailored to community needs and interests.
  • Partner with community organizations to celebrate local events.
  • Contact the ethnic media to help spread the word.