The U.S. Hispanic population is surging, and serving this growing community brings new challenges and opportunities to librarians across the country. During this year’s American Library Association annual conference (Thursday, June 26–Tuesday, July 1) there will be several efforts to help librarians understand and meet the needs of their Spanish-speaking patrons, including programs and activities sponsored by the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA).

During ALA, REFORMA will hold several events, including their annual fundraising dinner for their educational foundation on Friday. And on Saturday, REFORMA and Latino Literacy Now will present the International Latino Book Awards for the first time at ALA, after 15 years of holding the ceremony at in conjunction with BookExpo America. With officials noting a 41% increase in the number of entries and almost double the number of judges, the event promises to be larger than ever.

Finally, on Sunday, the prestigious Pura Belpré Award will be presented to a Latino/a writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an work of literature for children and youth. It is cosponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of ALA.

What Readers Want

For the last few years, REFORMA has been active in addressing a wave of anti-immigrant and anti–ethnic studies issues that resulted in book censorship, notes REFORMA president Isabel Espinal, a librarian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. But most of the group’s activities focus on providing support to librarians as they deal with an increasingly diverse Hispanic population. In the past, most U.S. Latinos were of Mexican descent and lived primarily in a few urban areas. Today, however, the nation’s 53 million Hispanics live in every corner of the country, and a greater percentage of new Hispanic immigrants come from countries other than Mexico. And the greatest growth has come from U.S.-born Hispanics that read primarily in English.

To add to the mix, there are now more non-Hispanics than ever before studying Spanish as a second language and these readers have their own sets of needs. In the past, REFORMA focused on identifying children’s books and services the libraries could provide. Now, their focus is on identifying more diverse books.

“Our patrons are looking for books on a wide range of topics,” Espinal explained. “It is no longer just about books on immigration, they are also looking for books on niche topics, such as gay Latino teenagers, as well as books in English about Latinos in this country.” Espinal is hopeful that more publishers and distributors will become members of REFORMA and establish an ongoing dialogue about the needs of this growing, and changing community.

Edward Benitez, a REFORMA member and director of U.S. Spanish Language Sales for Penguin Random House, echoed Espinal’s observations. “Don’t get me wrong, Latinos still look for books on immigration and how-to books but they also want to read the classics and the latest Spanish translations of authors like Gillian Flynn and John Green,” he says. “We will continue do well with books from Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. But we are also doing very well with books such as The Faults in Our Stars.”

Benitez expressed concerned over the number of librarians who don’t speak Spanish yet must acquire Spanish-

language books, and has spent much of his time on the road working with librarians to make better choices. “I would love to see REFORMA as a one-stop shop to which librarians can turn to for information,” he says. “This would require more publishers and distributors to become members of REFORMA, and I am looking forward to connecting with them at ALA.”


Among the many events and resources available at ALA, there will also be several Spanish-language book publishers and distributors—including representatives from FIL, the Guadalajara International Book Fair, which offers free passes to librarians from public, academic. and school libraries (November 29–December 7, with the professional fair on December 1–2).

“In partnership with ALA, FIL provides three nights of lodging for free, along with complimentary registration, part of their meals and an extra stipend toward their airfare,” explains David Unger, FIL’s U.S. representative. “There are only a few spots left so we encourage librarians to apply now.” Librarians must be ALA members to apply for the free pass program. ALA also offers all member librarians $100 toward airfare.

FIL is second largest book fair in the world behind Frankfurt. It is also becoming much more international than in previous years, Unger says, adding that librarians should not think of FIL as a Mexican book fair but an international fair with a growing number of publishers from all over the world.

Unger acknowledges that with the growing number of U.S. immigrants coming from Central America, librarians have new challenges to face: many countries from that region have small publishing industries, and books from Central America are seldom found outside of their territory. FIL has tried to bridge that gap, and a significant number of publishers from Central and South America participated last year.

Don’t worry if your Spanish is not great: FIL has a dedicated bilingual staff to serve U.S. librarians and works with publishers and distributors to make certain there are industry representatives on hand during social and professional activities. Additionally, ALA’s International Division prepares an orientation session for new librarians on the Sunday before the professional days begin. “FIL is a place for librarians to meet with publishers, see the books first hand, and share their issues and concerns, Unger says. “Many of the U.S. distributors are on hand to facilitate these meetings and almost all of the mayor publishers now have bilingual staff at their booths.”

For more information on the fair and the free pass program, librarians are invited to stop by FIL’s booth at ALA (booth 1548) or visit

Leylha Ahuile is owner of PromoLatino and founder of the online literary magazine