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Friday, October 21, 2011

How Does a County Service like the Library Address our Multilingual Population?

Like most community organizations today our County library is attempting to have available materials to distribute that foreign born residents request.  The challenge today is with the new medias developing all the time how do you use your limited and sometimes diminishing revenue to have materials in each media form.  Remember when libraries were just printed books, magazines and newspapers? Now we have CD's, DVD's, audio books and digital books.  Add on the need for materials for special populations such as the blind, deaf and foreign born populations and you begin to see the fuller extent of the challenge in providing the needs of a diverse community. We all know that the Howard County Library has one of the highest book borrowing rates per capita in the Country.

With the foreign born population that may not walk into the Library and be able communicate their needs or find materials in the language they can read the Library has to rely on other sources to identify the materials and methods to provide these materials.  Like many other organizations the Library partners with the Howard County School System's International Student and Family Services Office, Howard Community College's English Learning Center and organizations like FIRN (Foreign Information and Referral Network) to identify the different foreign born residents in the County and what their interests might be.  Some of these resources are online like the online resource at the University of Maryland that identifies childrens books in many languages that can be read online.
 One way the Library has attempted to serve the foreign born population is their Project Literacy program.  According to their website,

"Howard County Library System's Project Literacy, a highly successful adult education initiative, is made possible by grant funding from the Maryland State Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Library instructors and volunteer tutors have taught 6,500 adults since 1987. Representing 33 countries, the students learn basic math, reading and writing skills through free, one-on-one tutoring and class sessions. One hundred forty-eight students have received their high school diplomas, and 122 have become U.S. citizens."

"Last year, volunteers and teachers provided 11,000 hours of tutoring to 405 students -- 109 students in the tutorial component and 296 students in the ESL track."

Finally I want to  mention a program that the Library started in 2005 with a grant called Cultural Connections.  This program is described on their website as,

"Begun with grant money from the Maryland State Department of Education, Cultural Connections was initiated in 2005 by Howard County Library System to address and enhance the educational needs of Howard County’s diverse multicultural population. Library staff and ethnic liaisons work with the community by distributing a survey and running a series of discussions focusing on the following five components:
  • Classes and events for all ages
  • Library building/signage
  • Library catalog
  • Materials including books, music, movies, magazines, newspapers, and electronic databases
  • Cultural awareness training for staff
The collected information is then analyzed and a service plan for each ethnic group is written and implemented.

Library Staff Working with Cultural Connections

Each Howard County Library System branch has a designated Cultural Connections representative. In addition InterpreTALK , a telephonic interpreting service linking non-English speakers with skilled interpreters, is available at all branches. 


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