¡Bienvenidos! Outreach and Publicity for Spanish Speakers
This article is an excerpt from ¡Bienvenidos! ¡Welcome!, by Susannah Mississippi Byrd, published by ALA Editions.
You can build a really great Spanish-language collection. You can put together great programs that engage Latinos. You can provide useful services. You can have helpful and enthusiastic bilingual staff. But all of this great effort will only be as good as the time, thought and resources that you spend publicizing your library in the Latino community.
It is important to understand publicity as a continual process of letting people know what the library does. Publicity is the press release you send out to the media, the fliers you hand out in the community, the time you spend speaking to organizations and individuals about what the library offers, the quality of the services and programs that you offer and the friendly face that greets people when they enter the library. All of these things inform people about your library so all of these things need attention and thought.
Latinos in your community may have different media sources and word-of-mouth networks than you usually use to promote events. Take time to find out how people in the Latino community find out about events and what is going on in the community.
Publicity Through Informal Social Networks
Informal networks are often the most effective way to get out information about the library. People are more likely to respond to a recommendation from a friend or colleague than to an advertisement or a flier, especially if they are not yet familiar with the library. Identify informal social networks in the Latino community built around organizations or well-liked and well-respected individuals.
There are important connectors in any community who people depend on for information. Connectors are usually friendly people who everyone knows. As part of the way that they build relationships with others, connectors collect and share information. Find out who these people are in the Latino community and make sure to keep them informed about your library. Include these connectors on your library board or on an advisory council. Send them email or fax alerts about upcoming events. Add them to your mailing list. Talk to them often.
Yolanda Cardenas-Parra, the Library Circulation Section Supervisor at the City of Commerce Library in California, noticed that even though the Latino community was large and growing that very few Latinos were using the library. In response, she implemented a program called “Embajadores/Ambassadors” to help her promote the library in the Latino community. She asked the branch managers to identify two Latinos who were outgoing and who were regular library users. She met with these identified connectors and asked them to help her promote the library. She asked them for ideas on how best to do outreach in the community. She provided them with a comprehensive review of all the library had to offer. And then she asked them to share what they learned with people in their community.
The embajadores’ job was to go back to their community and look for opportunities to educate people about the library and what it had to offer. For example, if an embajador was talking to a neighbor who was complaining that there were not enough things to do with her children, the embajador would mention all of the great library programs for children. Not only did this help in promoting the library, it helped to eliminate many of the barriers to use by letting people know that the libraries are for everybody and that everyone is welcome.
Because Cardenas-Parra designed the embajadores outreach project to be informal, fun and responsive to the embajadores’ ideas and input, it has taken on a life of its own with the embajadores becoming involved in developing programming and helping to pass out library literature at community events. The embajadores set their own goals and their own agenda with support from Cardenas-Parra. She says that the embajadores program has been an invaluable tool that has increased Latino participation in the library—“The project has opened new doors and new ways of reaching out to the public.”
Trusted businesses or community organizations also play a role in information sharing. Identify businesses or community organizations such as churches, non-profits, community centers, Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and schools that are an integral part of the Latino community. Ask these organizations or businesses to play a role in promoting the library. Ask them if they have a community calendar, a newsletter or a community board where information about the library can be posted. Ask them to cohost events. Make sure that these organizations or businesses receive fliers about events. Be creative about how to use these liaisons to get the word out about the library. For example, a popular fast-food chain in San Antonio agreed to use paper placemats that included information about the library on all of their food trays.
Teachers and school librarians are always willing to let students know about events and opportunities that they think will keep kids engaged in the learning process. Send teachers and school librarians fliers that they can copy and send home to parents. Get to know bilingual education teachers, dual language teachers and migrant education teachers. Put teachers and school librarians on your mailing lists. Ask them for input on programming and services. Ask them to bring their classes to the library.
Ask them if you can come to their classrooms to talk about the library and sign children up for library cards. Promote your library at local Latino festivals, gatherings and community centers. Linda Garcia, the Children’s Librarian at Omaha Public Library in Nebraska, said that marketing to Latinos is “definitely a different marketing than we ever have done. We were caught up in programming as a way to bring people into the library. We are finding out that we need to go out into the community, where the people and the children are. I attend open houses at schools. I pass out fliers at organizations, churches, grocery stores and fiestas. I have found that Latinos need a personal contact. They need a face, someone who speaks Spanish. I get a much better response to the library after people have met me out in the community.”
Larry Maynard, the Spanish Outreach Coordinator for the Glendale Public Library in Colorado, also commented, “The more you take yourself out of your comfort zone in the library and put yourself in their world, the more success you will have. I have a done a lot of programs offsite to establish relationships and trust. Then people are more comfortable coming to the library once they know a friendly face will be there who speaks Spanish.”
Media outlets that respond to the particular demands of the Latino population can be found in many communities throughout the United States. Media formats might include bilingual or Spanish-language production of news and information, or news and information from the Latino perspective. Finding opportunities to highlight your programming and your library through these media outlets on a continuing basis will help you to build an identity in the Latino community.
In your community, it is important to become familiar with Spanish-language radio, television, Internet and print media and Latino-specific radio, television, Internet and print media. Spanish-language media is often more interested in news about cultural programs than English-language media.
Spend some time getting to know the editors and reporters for these media outlets. Invite them out to your library for an introduction. Let them know what you are trying to do. Ask them for their ideas. Ask them what kind of information and news they want to focus on. Ask them for the best way to get story ideas noticed. How soon in advance do they want to know about the event? Do they prefer email or faxed media releases? Do they prefer media releases in Spanish? Do they produce and broadcast public service announcements (PSAs)? What types of events will be considered for a PSA?
Put these outlets on your media list, and keep them informed about upcoming events. If you think an event is especially important, ask broadcast media to produce and air a PSA. Always follow up a media release with a friendly phone call and an invitation to attend the event. When the media attends events, help them to find people to talk with about the library. In short, you will find great allies in the media when you actively help them put together a good story for their audience.
As a courtesy to Spanish-language media, Jack Galindo, the Public Relations Coordinator at the El Paso Public Library, provides Spanish-language media releases. This saves the media the time of translating material into Spanish for their audience. If you don’t have the capacity to do this, most Spanish-language media have the capacity to translate material from English to Spanish.
Also, if the Latino population in your area is really growing, the traditional media will be looking for stories or ideas that will bring them a Latino audience. Look for ideas about Latino authors, Latino-focused reading groups or other events to pitch to this media.
Library signage is a subtle, important and necessary way to communicate that the library welcomes Spanish speakers. If you have bilingual staff, put a big sign outside saying “Bienvenidos. Se habla español” and include this phrase in promotional material. This is a great way of letting Latinos, specifically Spanish speakers, know that they are welcome and will feel comfortable in your library.
To help Spanish speakers navigate the library, make sure that all directional and informational signs are in Spanish as well as English. It is also important that the placement and the size of the signs are given equal weight and value as the signs in English. If you don’t pay attention to this, you may inadvertently send the wrong message. For example, I was in a public building once where two signs in Spanish and English asked people to put their trash in a garbage can. Because the Spanish sign was much larger and was in a much bolder font, the message I took from that was that the officials who put it there thought that Spanish speakers were more likely to litter.
Translate library forms, documents, informational brochures and your website into Spanish. Include the phrase “gratis/free” on promotional material if you know that many Latinos in your community don’t know that library services are free.
Developing Promotional Material
If a large portion of your target market speaks Spanish, develop bilingual promotional material. The best approach to developing bilingual material is to include Spanish on one side of a flier and English on the other side. This gives the Spanish and English equal weight and importance.
It also makes the text easier to read. Bilingual formats where the languages are in different fonts or where one language is in italics and the other is not can be confusing and hard to read. It is very important when translating English into Spanish for publicity purposes that the translation is accurate and authentic. A poor translation can seriously undermine your efforts. Make sure that the Spanish is reflective of the Spanish spoken in the local community and reflective of your audience’s preference for formal or informal Spanish. It is important to be aware of regional variances in Spanish. Make sure that the material is well-edited with proper punctuation and accents in place. Never use computer software to translate material.
Promotional material should be culturally sensitive. Don’t use offensive or stereotypical imagery or symbols. Ask community volunteers to help you create high quality promotional material that will be well received in the Latino community.
PLUS: Public Libraries Using Spanish
Description: On their website, PLUS (Public Libraries Using Spanish) has library forms, documents and signage in Spanish.
OLOS: The Office for Literacy and Outreach Services
Description: OLOS serves the American Library Association by supporting and promoting literacy and equity of information access initiatives for traditionally underserved populations. This website has useful information and ideas to help you strengthen your outreach initiatives.