¿Hablas español?: Serving Spanish-Speaking Patrons at Bloomington Public Library

By Olivia Buck

It can be difficult for libraries to reach out to the members of our communities who speak a language other than English. Not all staff members can communicate with patrons who speak other languages, the patrons may not understand the speakers at our programs, documents can’t be translated into every language we may need, etc. As someone who minored in Spanish in school (and someone who is passionate about languages in general), I have spent time trying to think of new ways to reach out to those who primarily speak Spanish (or other languages). I am always excited to hear about the ways that we can serve these members of our community.

I talked to several staff members at my library to create a list of all the various ways we reach out to non-English speaking members of our community. Below you will find a list of the various methods our library has used in order to try to engage with the non-English speakers in our area.

  • Self-Checkouts have a Spanish language option available.

Patrons can tap a button that allows them to use the self-checkout in Spanish. This way they can easily checkout, view their accounts, and renew their items.

  • Spanish Checkout Guides and Marketing

At BPL, we have had a Spanish Checkout Guide for many years. The guide introduces new patrons to our services and library card policies. When signing up new cardholders, I have used this to help me explain the card in a way that will make the most sense to Spanish-speaking patrons. We have also translated some of our Summer Reading Program documents into Spanish.

  • World Language Collections

Our World Language Collections include a variety of languages including Spanish, French, German, Hindi, Tagalog, and several others. We have materials for patrons of all ages which include books, movies, music, and audiobooks. We also have e-books and e-audiobooks available in Spanish for our patrons to check out online.

  • Language Learning Resources

Our library has a variety of language learning resources available to our patrons. In addition to books, movies, and audio CDs, we have online resources available as well. These include: Duolingo, Mango Languages, Sign Language 101, and Transparent Language Online.

  • Programming

Our library has hosted various programs that may appeal to those of other cultures and backgrounds. Examples include the following: Celebration of India, Día de los niños, and the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.

Our library’s Outreach Library Associate also attends various community events that reach out to groups of people the library may not have contact with otherwise. She has attended meetings with a group called Conexiones Latinas de McLean County and signed up library cards for ESL students at the nearby community college.

  • Spanish Book Club

In February 2019, Bloomington Public Library started a Spanish Book Club (club de lectura en español). As the name suggests, the selected book is written in Spanish and the book discussion is largely in Spanish as well. Discussed titles have included Mi negro pasado, Más allá del invierno, and others. The club is facilitated by a Spanish Literature professor from a nearby university. The Spanish Book Clubs have been well attended, by both native speakers as well as a few attendees who were learning Spanish. The participants come from all different backgrounds including patrons originally from Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries. Attendees have expressed excitement about the book club. In fact, they have organized their own meetings outside of the library and have put together a Facebook group to keep up with members of the book club. At the first meeting of the book club, approximately 50% of attendees had never had a library card before, and signed up for a card that day.

  • Foreign Language Contacts

On our staff webpage, we have compiled a list of staff members who speak other languages. The staff members volunteered to be a point of contact for patrons who speak various languages. Currently these languages include Spanish, Italian, and German. It has been a helpful resource. As a Spanish language contact, I have been called upon to help Spanish speakers sign up for library cards, inquire about lost or damaged items on their accounts, assist with computers and printing, and a variety of other topics.

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