Getting the Pelota Rolling
In early November of 2004, a group of library trainers gathered in Seattle for an Outreach Training Institute to learn how to teach library staff in their states to better serve the needs of Spanish speakers. The Institute was part of WebJunction’s Spanish Language Outreach Program, an 18-month pilot funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Facilitator for the Institute was Yolanda Cuesta, a California-based multicultural outreach consultant who specializes in helping libraries and other nonprofits serve the needs of Hispanic/Latino communities. The 18 trainers came from the states included in the pilot phase of the program, chosen because they had either a high percentage of Hispanics or a rapid increase in percentage of Hispanics between 1990 and 2000. The specific aim of the Training Institute was to teach trainers techniques for connecting with Spanish-speaking communities and identifying ways in which technology can improve their lives. Following the Institute, the trainers will conduct up to ten local workshops in each state to teach local library staff members these techniques.
Yolanda began the workshop by providing a foundation in concepts of culture in general, along with the specific characteristics of North American Hispanic/Latino culture. For example, the very term “Hispanic/Latino” captures the ambiguities and nuances that libraries need to keep in mind as they reach out to their Spanish-speaking communities. In some places, “Hispanic” is the term of choice; others prefer “Latino”, and there are additional variations in other communities—and often different generations prefer different terms. Yolanda’s advice: make sure you listen carefully to the preferences of your local community.
The importance of local participation was a recurring theme of the Institute. A major focus was the need for partnerships between libraries and other community organizations—crucial to understanding local Spanish speakers’ needs, building networks, and initiating grassroots marketing. Many participants felt that one of the highlights of the Institute was a panel discussion by three Seattle-area community leaders: Maru Mora Villalpando of CASA Latina, Guillermo Carvajal of Seattle Public Schools , and the Seattle Public Library’s Ana Alvarez. On the second day, the Institute moved from the conceptual to the practical: participants each took a section of the curriculum and modeled it for the rest of the group.
The trainers were energized by the experience, and looked forward with enthusiasm to the opportunity to deliver training in their states in the coming months. Comments by three participants sum it up: Annette Colbert said, “The variety of people involved was THE major plus. The variety of experience that this group brought to the table was very valuable.” Dana John added, “The Training Institute was highly effective in training the trainers to go back to their states and start workshops of their own. The panel of speakers [from community organizations] is key!” And Paula Wallace said, “I like that we were partners in completing the curriculum, but we were given excellent examples and tools to work with. It was especially helpful having the mix of people there, all knowledgeable but with differing areas of expertise and experience.”
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