Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ALA Spanish Language Resources Discussion

Two librarians wrote differing opinions in the November 2007 issue of “American Libraries” on whether or not libraries should purchase materials in Spanish for patrons. Todd Douglas Quesada wrote “Spanish Spoken Here: Eliminating Spanish-language fiction undermines the validity of public libraries” while Julia Stephens wrote “English Spoken Here: By creating bilingual collections, librarians are contributing to a divided America.”

Some Key Quotes by Quesada:

“I advocate open information accessibility for the millions of Latino citizens who work, pay taxes, and are library users entitled to the same rights as any other American citizen. It is antithetical to public librarianship as a profession to form a collection development policy that involves consciously alienating a portion of the community” (p. 40).

“Much of the library literature from the early 20th century encouraged the active acquisition of foreign-language materials to serve the immigrant populations—an astoundingly progressive mentality given the preoccupation then over ‘Americanzation’"(p. 42).

“Moreover, possessing a comprehensive Spanish-language collection can actually aid in attracting Latino patrons to discover lifeskills; patrons will be more exposed to these resources if they can also find a favorite author, film, or musical group in Spanish" (p. 42).

"While eliminating Spanish-language fiction from a public library’s acquisition policy may appear innocuous on the surface, a profound implication underlies such occurrences: alienating legal Latino residents and U.S. citizens from free and opinion information access” (p. 42).

“Politically manipulating a library’s collection development policy to alienate any portion of a community served is a marginalizing act, rendering the community’s library as no longer truly 'public'" (p. 44).

Some Key Quotes from Stephens:

“Libraries help maintain out American identity and unity as a nation when they stock books in our common language, which ties us together as a country and allies us with Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and India” (p. 41).

“School libraries should offer these students English classes and Spanish books through interlibrary loan” (p. 43).

“School libraries can offer picture books for English learners, Latin American fiction in English, and multicultural nonfiction collections in English at middle and high school media centers” (p. 43).

“When librarians build collections by community population ratios, they give in to ethnocentric demands for diversity equality with Spanish books and websites. The English-language culture that unites us disintegrates into an array of immigrant cultures” (p. 44).

“By creating bilingual libraries, librarians are undermining the American democracy that has created on nation for all. Librarians have a duty to uphold the American way of life and save their English book and journal collections for Americans in the future” (p. 44).

American Libraries

In the inset of the articles, “American Libraries” included three Web site references:

Selecting Spanish-Language Materials for Adults is a course offered by ASCLA. Search for it at:

The link to the REFORMA organization that opposes limiting access to non-English speakers at:

The link to WebJunction’s “Spanish Language Outreach” from OCLC is at:

Also, on page 44 of the issue, there is most likely a purposeful strategically placed advertisement for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services resource, “Civics and Citizenship Toolkit” available at:

1 comment:

IllinoisLibraryDiversity said...

The December 2007 and January/February 2008 issues of "American Libraries" included several letters to the editor about the articles in the previous issue. Unlike some of those writing letters complaining about what Stephens wrote, I am not going to assume that she actually believes what she wrote. It could be that someone just asked her to write on the anti-Spanish side. With that out of the way, besides the factual errors pointed out by other readers in those issues, she misused the word "ethnocentric" in a sentence near the end. There is nothing resembling equality in the word "ethnocentric," so her closing passage makes no sense to me.

For my opinion, I am biased. While living in Moscow, I used the resources of a library which specialized in non-Russian literature. While I was there, I knew that most of the patrons using the resources there were Russian students who went there so they could access materials to help them learn languages besides Russian. I could see first hand the benefits of a library owning non-Russian language resources. The same would be true of libraries which have materials in other languages. Not everybody can afford to buy every book he or she wants to read. Without resources in Spanish, how could motivated American students improve their language skills?

Additionally, while on a trip to Sweden, I met a man from Italy. He knew Italian, German, French, and English yet he apologized profusely for being in Sweden and not knowing Swedish. I saw first hand one man's multi-lingual abilities and his attitude that people should know many languages.

As a country, the United States needs more of its citizens to know more than just English. Otherwise, how can American countries compete effectively in the global marketplace? Americans cannot expect everyone in every other country to learn English. I believe Americans would have stronger partnerships at the corporate level and at the diplomatic level if more of us at least made the effort to learn other languages. If libraries stop including non-English language materials and anti-non-English attitudes persist, then I believe the next step might be to eliminate foreign language classes in high schools and colleges. That would be a shame, and our American citizens would be at a major disadvantage at trying to build strong multi-national corporations and strengthen diplomatic ties to other countries in the future.