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By: Marcela Saldivia-Berglund, Ph.D., Latino Services Librarian
For: Red Rock News
Date: May 15, 2009


RIDGING CULTURES AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH: THE ROLE OF LATINO SERVICES AT SEDONA PUBLIC LIBRARY

(PART I OF II)

The Latino Services position at Sedona Public Library was created in August 2003 to fulfill the needs of, and provide services to, our growing Hispanic community. The Latino Services Librarian is expected to continue development of the adult Spanish language collection and to implement new programs and services that will help the Hispanic public to successfully integrate into American life. How to achieve this goal and the reasons why Sedona Public Library is committed to it are the main issues that I am going to focus on here.

It is of interest to note that the Spanish language collection started in the Children’s Room more than 10 years ago. Because of normal school homework, Hispanic children came to the Library bringing their parents along. In the year 2000 Youth Services Librarian Pam Comello recognized the need to have more than a handful of Spanish and bilingual materials available for young Hispanic patrons. Through special funding, Pam purchased about 100 Spanish and bilingual books which initiated the Library’s Spanish Children’s collection. The increasing numbers of Hispanic adult patrons soon made it obvious that there was a need to build a collection and provide information resources for this latter group.

In 2003 Carla Felsted, an assistant reference librarian with a passion for Spanish culture, was hired. By 2006, under Carla’s care, the adult Spanish collection increased from about two dozen mostly donated books to approximately 1,000 carefully selected titles. Carla built up this collection using standard library practices, but most importantly, she developed a greater understanding of the needs of the Sedona Latino community through outreach activities and one-on-one interaction with patrons.

Knowing and understanding the Latino community is of paramount importance in order to effectively formulate an outreach plan, programs and services, and a Spanish-language collection. That was why – after Carla retired – the Library Director and the Board of Trustees decided to recruit a native Spanish-speaking professional to take care of both the Spanish collection and Latino services.

Before I can talk about my job as Latino Services Librarian, I find it necessary to clarify a few misinformed assumptions about Latinos or Hispanics. The terms “Latinos” or “Hispanics” used by the U.S. Census, politicians, marketers and universities are contested by many Spanish-speaking people who claim they are misleading since there is not a Latino or Hispanic state or nationality. For practical reasons of census count and politics, these peoples are lumped into a single homogenous group. But the so-called Latinos in the U.S. are composed of heterogeneous ethnic groups from diverse cultural backgrounds and cannot be viewed as a homogenous whole.

Contrary to the popular assumption that for Hispanics libraries are not a regular part of their lives in their home countries, libraries are viewed in the same ways as in the U.S. The great Latin American cities also have great libraries, and people appreciate their services just as they do here. What leads to this false idea is the fact that significant numbers of Hispanic immigrants who come to this country in search of jobs (mostly in the hospitality industry, construction, landscaping and other services) represent a minority in their own countries of origin, mostly coming from underdeveloped rural areas.

Logically, these low-income groups do not have access to higher education and are used to hard work from a young age in their home countries. When they come to live and work in the U.S., they are ambitious for their children to have the education they were denied. This is one special group that libraries target because of their obvious need to be well-informed and educated in order to function successfully in all realms of American life.

Building a Spanish-language collection and providing public services to Latinos is not peculiar to the Sedona Public Library but rather is a nationwide initiative. Effective outreach strategies to the Latino community are a challenge for most public libraries. There are many cultural barriers and misconceptions about Latinos in the U.S. that need to be counterbalanced with the proper information about both cultural differences and commonalities between Spanish-speakers and mainstream Anglo-Americans. This is one of the primary roles that the Latino Services Librarian plays within the Library’s Strategic Plan.

Changing attitudes toward Spanish speakers and other disenfranchised groups has been a serious task undertaken by librarians throughout the nation. There are educational and professional-development organizations such as REFORMA – the National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking (an affiliate of the American Library Association); on-line resources such as WebJunction for Spanish language outreach programs; and Latino book review magazines such as Críticas. These are valuable resources to keep Latino-oriented librarians updated with workshops, outreach programs, discussion groups, book fairs, courses and seminars on how to develop programs and services to meet the specific needs of Spanish speakers and help them fully integrate into mainstream society.

In the next column I will continue this discussion focusing on the Sedona Latino community and the new programs to reach out to both Hispanics and Anglos in an effort to bridge cultures for the benefit of all.

Marcela Saldivia-Berglund
Marcela Saldivia-Berglund, Ph. D., author of this week's article,
is Latino Services Librarian of the Sedona Public Library.

Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News
and is also presented on: Gateway to Sedona and Sedona Biz.

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