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LIS 950: Libraries and community

The purpose of this seminar is to explore an important topic in library and information studies in depth — in all its intertwined historical, cultural, philosophical, and political aspects — through a graduate reading/discussion seminar. The topic varies each time the course is taught; this time around, we will focus on "libraries and community"

Monday, September 05, 2005

"Bilingual Material in Libraries Draws Some Criticism" (NYT/AP)

An Associated Press article today in the New York Times illustrates the local debates playing out around the country concerning which communities should count in terms of public library service: "In some places [...] critics say taxpayer money should not be spent on a population that can include illegal immigrants or on proposals that promote languages other than English." For example, in Denver, CO:

In Denver, where the foreign-born population tripled between 1990 and 2000, largely because of Mexican immigrants, the public library system is considering reorganizing some of its branches to emphasize bilingual services and material.

[...]

Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, sent a public letter to Mayor John W. Hickenlooper of Denver this summer asking if the library was considering Spanish-only branches or converting to Spanish-language material at the expense of English material. Mr. Tancredo, an outspoken critic of American immigration policies, said he had been contacted by concerned librarians and patrons.

"When you have a strong cultural identity and there aren't set incentives to become American, it creates a lot of tension and divides the community," said Mr. Tancredo's spokesman, Will Adams.

Those concerns were echoed by Michael Corbin, a radio talk show host who helped organize a protest outside Denver's central library after sexually graphic content was found in some Spanish-language adult comic books, which were later removed.

Denver library officials say they are not considering Spanish-only branches in their reorganization plan but are simply trying to accommodate a city where 35 percent of residents are Hispanic.

Janet Cox, adult services supervisor at the Pueblo Library District, said: "We provide material to meet the needs of the people in the area, whether that be in English or Spanish or another language. That's important. That's what libraries do."

Hmmm ... I find it interesting how both a Republican representative and a local talk-radio personality are both mobilizing against library service to a third of the city's population. I find it interesting that reading Spanish-language material is not considered a valid part of "becoming American" when that language had permeated the continent's culture centuries earlier than 1776. And I find it interesting that there's a bait-and-switch going on somehow linking "sexually graphic content" and "comic books" with Spanish language material on order to stereotype this culture's reading interests as prurient and juvenile.

What do the rest of you think?

2 Comments:

Blogger bundy said...

"Janet Cox, adult services supervisor at the Pueblo Library District, said: "We provide material to meet the needs of the people in the area, whether that be in English or Spanish or another language. That's important. That's what libraries do.""

My first reaction to this is how timely (too bad that this sentiment isn't that uncommon throughout this country)but my more strong and lasting reaction is hooray for Janet Cox! That is exactly what I would hope a questioned librarian would say regarding this issue.

Does being and American mean that one must speak and/or read English? Are English speaking American's un-American if they read in Spanish?

Although my knee-jerk reaction to this is how this parallels the Harris piece it some what contradicts one of the major themes: that of the role of the library as a "pacifier" several times the author has quotes referring to the library in such a way. But if the goal is to make men and women behave in a certain way . .. or to think a certain way . .. wouldn't it logically be more effective to start with a familiar language?

I obviously have some frustration with this.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, library systems are strongly in favor of creating bilingual materials for its community of users. Why not embrace this population rather than alienate them? Perhaps Mr. Tancredo's spokesman, Will Adams, needs a few lesson in civics since he mentions "there aren't set incentives to become American."

And to link "sexually graphic content" and "comic books" with Spanish language material just creates a scare tactic with the community at large. Comic books usually get the short end of the stick - why is "sexually graphic content" specifically linked with "Spanish-language adult comic books?" There are current English language adult graphic novels that contain graphic content that are probably on Denver's central library's shelves. Instead, mention is made to point out the removal of the sexually graphic content of the Spanish-language adult comic books as though this is what you get if you have bilingual materials. How appalling!

1:17 AM  

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