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Librarians Reach Out To Spanish Speakers

Sep 26, 2012
Originally published on September 26, 2012 1:49 pm



We just talked about the changing demographics in this country. In fact, the Pew Research Center says Latinos will make up more than a quarter of the U.S. population by the year 2050. So we talked about how that might affect our public schools, but there's another group that's paying very close attention to these changes, and that's librarians.

The Joint Conference of Librarians of Color gathered this past weekend to figure out how libraries can cater to up and coming demographic groups. Joining us to talk about it is Loida Garcia-Febo. She's a library consultant helping different libraries from all over the world strategize in how to serve multi-ethnic populations.

Loida, welcome to the show.


HEADLEE: Well, explain to me. You were at this conference. Why would librarians be particularly concerned about the change in demographics?

GARCIA-FEBO: Well, for one in six Americans, as per Census 2010, is now Hispanic and demographers predict that by 2050 the population in the United States will be mostly of minorities. It will include African-Americans, Asian-Pacific, Latino, Native Americans. And so librarians are getting ready in terms of serving these populations. And, if we look at the composition - the demographic composition of our communities across the nation, we are very multicultural and multilingual. So librarians are equipping themselves with resources and tools to serve our communities.

HEADLEE: OK. Well, let's just bring it down to, say, the shelf level. I mean, every library has to have Mark Twain. Right? I mean, every library has to have a thesaurus and a dictionary. What do you have to change in terms of what you put on the shelf if the demographics of the U.S. are changing? Anything?

GARCIA-FEBO: Yes. In terms of - if we want to narrow a little bit to the Latino population, our collections - in this case, if we talk about materials - mirror our English language collections because, after all, our communities - our Latinos are living in the states, so they are aware of translations and best-sellers, but we are also including materials that celebrate the culture and diversity of our Latinos.

We are having here Latinos coming from 20 different countries, so we do want to have Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and works by Argentina authors and Puerto Rican authors and so on. But libraries are much more than books. We are also celebrating the cultures of our Latinos by presenting cultural programs and programs celebrating their music, their cuisine and other programs that are more social, and those programs help our Spanish speakers to understand public school systems in the United States and how to access health care if, for instance, they don't have health insurance, which is very important nowadays.

So libraries are becoming this wonderful hub in the communities partnering with other community centers, as well, to provide the information our Latinos need.

HEADLEE: I even read that some libraries are filling out public school papers for parents who are having trouble filling out the forms, but that requires you to have a relatively diverse staff. And, right now, I saw a report that said the American Library Association shows Latinos make up 16.3 percent of the whole population, but only 3.1 percent of librarians - just as an example. It's also the case for blacks and other minorities, as well. What do you do to even out that ratio?

GARCIA-FEBO: Yes, absolutely. First of all, that's why it's so important for librarians and library workers to continue advocating for different programs that will help our populations that - maybe to become more aware of our profession and the different needs of our communities. And this starts in high school, so if we have a good education system in place, our Latinos and our people from different minority groups will become more interested in becoming librarians. And so that's one part.

And the second part is continuing working with other community associations and elected officials to see how we can partner with them to hire more workers that reflect the diversity of our communities.

HEADLEE: This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm here with Loida Garcia-Febo. We're talking about the new ways librarians are trying to cope with the changing demographics in the United States, especially the Latino population. This does happen to be Hispanic Heritage Month.

You know, many immigrant groups have talked about the library as a source for the resources they need to sort of get ahead in American life, to become part of the American dream. How does that translate into modern times? How does the modern library help new immigrant populations do that?

GARCIA-FEBO: Oh, yes. Well, for one, Latinos now are looking for jobs and they have always looked for jobs and everybody is looking for jobs, but a very interesting thing that - besides learning how to write their resume or cover letters, they have to learn now how to fill out forms online because there are not many job applications on paper anymore. So librarians are helping them to get online, understanding how the different employers are placing their different forms and that's one part - very important now for our population now and our users.

Librarians are teaching more access to social media, Google documents and that is for all the job seekers to also be aware of their different profiles, including LinkedIn and so on.

And then another aspect is that many Latinos are going online. Many of them are carrying mobile phones with them and different smart devices. Most of them are also going to the Internet. Sixty-four percent of Latinos 18 years old and on are accessing the Internet. So, libraries have to be there, too, as well as libraries are providing services, online services, to English speakers, and we also have to start thinking about serving Latinos online in Spanish. But our libraries have to continue these type of conversations and making the public aware of it.

HEADLEE: Loida Garcia-Febo joined us from our New York bureau. She is a library consultant. Thank you so much for joining us.

GARCIA-FEBO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.