While many public libraries in the U.S. have been serving Spanish-speaking patrons for years, in some parts of the country libraries are just beginning to engage this part of the community. The areas with the largest concentration of Hispanics continue to be the West and South, with the greatest growth is primarily coming from Southern states.
Hispanics are not just moving to different cities in different parts of the country—they are also moving from cities to suburbs. A 2010 report from the Brookings Institute found that for the first time, more Hispanics live in suburbs than in cities. A 2010 American Community Survey study had similar findings.
It is often challenging for librarians to engage the Spanish-dominant patron as many such patrons are not familiar with the many services a U.S. library offers. There are language barriers, issues of trust, and the challenge of navigating a new system that must be overcome. Many libraries have become very successful at engaging the Hispanic patron, but much has been done by trial and error. In order to assist librarians who might be new to servicing this community, PW spoke with seasoned librarians on the challenges they have faced and the solutions that are working for them.
Many Hispanics are not familiar with the U.S. concept of a public library; what they are and how they work, so don’t assume anything and explain the basics:
● Membership is free
● Books must be returned
● A library card is issued regardless of immigration status
Get to know your community—although Hispanics share a language, they come from different countries and therefore are likely to be interested in different types of books.
Offer services that are needed by members of the community. Here are a few examples:
● Basic computer classes in Spanish
● Conversational English classes
● Partner with reputable community organizations that offer services such as
– Voter registration
– Signing-up for new health care coverage
– Study groups for citizenship classes
– Career choices for Latinas
– Financial literacy classes on creating a household budget, purchasing a home, planning for retirement, and saving for children’s college education.
● Once they attend an event, let them know of the many services the library offers.
Community outreach— advertise and engage potential patrons where they are and not just within the library. Here are a few things you can try:
● Place promotional material in places they frequent such as:
– Hispanic grocery stores
– Currency exchanges or places used to send money to Latin America
– Doctor’s office and health clinics
● State on all of your material that the services you offer are free of charge.
● If any of the services are available in Spanish, highlight that as well.
The ‘confianza’ (trust) factor—build a trusting relationship. Unfamiliarity brings about a lack of trust, and when language barriers are added to the mix, trust is what keeps many from utilizing the services offered by their neighborhood library. Trust will help you build a strong and lasting relationship with your Hispanic patrons.