Utah State Library leverages a local bookmobile library to reach Spanish speakers
In 2003, the Utah State Library decided to use a community assessment tool to see what library services were needed across the state. It quickly became apparent that services to Spanish speakers were high on the list. While the public libraries at large had built a tradition of serving diverse populations, including Spanish speakers, the last 15 years has seen a dramatic growth in Utah's Latino population. The assessment revealed that small, rural libraries were particularly struggling to serve their growing Spanish-speaking communities. Spanish language collections were sparse and staff felt ill prepared to provide outreach. I spoke with Utah State Library's Library Consultant/State Data Coordinator, Juan Tomás Lee, to find out how Utah used their pre-existing bookmobile services to address these issues in one community.
How did the bookmobile project take shape?
Juan Tomás Lee: After the community assessment, the State Librarian decided to set aside funds for libraries that would participate in projects to serve Spanish speakers. The State Library started a grant program for libraries that wanted to develop Spanish language collections, offered training (which included cultural competencies, outreach, marketing, and collection development), and provided technical assistance to librarians, especially with some of the more complicated issues around foreign language material selection, acquisitions, and cataloging.
Early in 2006, I had been traveling around the state asking libraries what kinds of support they needed to serve their Spanish-speaking communities. It was at this time that I became very interested in working in Tooele County. Tooele County is located on the border between Utah and Nevada and the small town of Wendover, Utah sits right on the state line. Nevada's casino industry has brought in a large Spanish-speaking population to service these resorts. I started talking to the Director of Services of the Tooele County Bookmobile Library, Doug Livsey, about participating in a library project for Spanish speakers. Doug and I felt that the bookmobile, which was already visiting schools, community centers, and apartment complexes, could reach out to some of these underserved populations if we bought Spanish language materials for the bookmobile library.
What makes this program unique to other bookmobile services?
JTL: The Spanish Project is an extension of what other libraries and bookmobiles are doing. But rather than just putting materials in a building or a truck and waiting for people to come, Doug and I wanted to be more deliberate about the resources we chose and make sure the bookmobile went where Spanish speakers were already going in Wendover. The idea when we wrote the grant was to create really focused collections so the library could maximize its resources and address specific community needs. We met with several community leaders to find out who was successfully serving Spanish speakers and realized that, by collaborating with these service providers, the bookmobile would be able to leverage the library and enhance the work of the service providers. As a result, the library partnered with three local agencies: Head Start, who needed literacy materials for children and parents as well as training materials that help parents establish a culture of reading in their homes; Holy Cross Ministries, who had an established ESL program and, as a broad social service organization, needed reading materials to connect people with employment, parenting, and health information; and with a local combined middle and high school that has a room devoted to vocational training by providing college, technical school, trade school, military career, and other employment opportunity materials, and works with parents and students to prepare youth for life post-graduation. By selecting materials with these three places in mind, the library became much more focused with their collection development.
What kind of support does the bookmobile receive through the State Library's "Services for Spanish Speakers Project" and what are the benefits?
JTL: The grant project works on a three-year cycle and the bookmobile has just completed its first year. During the first year, grant recipients receive $5000 for collection development and are encouraged to attend workshops and training opportunities presented by the Utah State Library. In the second year, recipients receive $3000 and are expected to match this by 25% using local funds. This money is used to fill in recently addressed gaps in the collection. The final, third year provides $1500 combined with 25% of local funding for fine tuning the collection and acquiring resources that may not have been initially recognized as a need. Over three years, grant recipients are expected to develop the resources and competencies necessary to sustain the collection and services.
The State Library selects six libraries for each grant cycle, which has also allowed a cohort to develop amongst the recipients. The Tooele County Bookmobile Library has just completed its first year of the grant and we're trying to create opportunities for these cohorts for problem solving and imaginative thinking about new services.
The benefits that we've seen with libraries involved in the grants are an increase in the skills and confidence of the librarians that are serving Spanish speakers. We have also seen a benefit in their communities - they now have the resources that they need and want, and the relationships between librarians and their communities have grown stronger by providing these meaningful resources.
What would you tell other librarians who are creating programs to serve Spanish speakers?
JTL: They need to have those conversations with community leaders and find opportunities to establish partnerships. It's not easy - in fact it can be time consuming, but it definitely has a snowball effect! Also, a lot of librarians get frustrated because they don't see immediate results from their efforts. It can be discouraging, but it's important to remember that it's an ongoing effort and you need to make a commitment to serve your entire community. Small accomplishments will pave the way to great success.