ULA/MPLA Conference Session Summary 2008

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 World Café Program


The ULA Continuing Education Committee sponsored a program at the joint ULA/MPLA conference, May 1, 2008, called A Smorgasbord of Ideas at the “World Café: Questions and Answers to Help Connect Libraries with Their Multicultural Communities.” Programming based on the World Café format utilizes table discussions to brain storm ideas on predetermined questions. Attendees rotate among tables and are encouraged to write or draw their ideas on butcher paper placed on the tables.


 How can we make our libraries more welcoming and useful to immigrants and refugees?



  • Provide badges for first time visitors (staff will know to greet and help them feel at ease)
  • Be sure to smile and provide welcoming eye contact/body language [Note: be careful not to appear condescending—a smile goes a long way but it doesn’t mean that you have answered their questions.]
  • Know the demographics of your library (get help from the International Refugee Center—IRC can also help with creating signage/handouts in other languages).
  • Create a directory of staff members and the languages they speak
  • Be aware of cultural differences (behavior of children, voice levels)—be sensitive to these differences.
  • Avoid miscommunication.
  • Be aware of staff attitudes toward other groups.
  • Remember and recognize the diversity within groups.
  • Staff should be willing to feel foolish and not let that stop them from trying to help someone.
  • Recognize that there may be some adjustment necessary on both sides.
  • Don’t promise services that you can’t actually provide (ie. providing a calendar in Spanish may lead to the assumption that storytime is in Spanish as well).
  • Be aware of different levels of ability within groups—some cultures have very little experience with libraries in general (concept of a free library is foreign to them).
  • Don’t forget about utilizing your staff members from other cultures—they are an asset! If you can, hire someone from a different group/community (even if only as a shelver) as they can be a great resource (Note: This may mean making your applications more welcoming to other groups)
  • Don’t make assumptions about what your patrons know.
  • If possible, move staff between branches based on the populations and the languages your staff members speak.
  • Encourage feedback from patrons—let them know when you make changes based on their feedback so that they feel valued.
  • Go out to where the families are, such as having story time in malls on weekends


  • Have greeters available to guide them to appropriate areas (in front lobby and on each floor if possible).
  • Have a map for people to place stickers indicating where they are from.
  • Have handouts available in other languages.
  • Provide ESL and citizenship classes.
  • Let groups use classrooms/auditorium for their own events such as family reunion activities.
  • Provide book clubs and events for specific cultures/groups.
  • Create a library orientation film to show to new patrons.
  • Focus on positive signage (instead of signs that emphasize no and don’t).
  • Understand that when the library provides forms (ie. tax forms), people will think you can help them with the forms—if group is large enough, create classes to help with forms(with outside speakers, if necessary).
  • Develop collections with immigrant and refugee-friendly materials, especially those that will help them with issues they’ll actually be facing –ask them what you should collect—do what you can to build at least a basic collection for the groups that are coming to your library. Provide authentic sources (written by people from that culture, not translations)
  • Give library tours at point of need (easier in smaller libraries).
  • Show films from other cultures and hold discussions afterwards.
  • Have a sign with “Welcome” written in many languages (with blank space for people to add their own version if it’s not already on there).

What type of training would be beneficial to help library staff meet the needs of non-English speaking library patrons?

  • Classes in Spanish for library terminology                
  • Have a language phone line
  • Get to know your community; get involved in cultural events
  • Hold cultural cooking classes given by patrons
  • Hold cultural sensitivity classes for library staff & invite the public to attend
  • Invite various cultural communities to give cultural sensitivity classes
  • Train staff to feel comfortable with patrons even if they can’t speak their language
  • Train staff to recognize & understand cultural body language
  • Encourage dialog in the library about the issues: foster continual communication among staff as things happen in the library and let them share learning experiences.

How can we promote library resources and services through outreach activities?

  • Discussion focused on ESL patrons
  • Librarians can keep themselves informed about minority populations in their community through The Diversity Times and other publications
  • Marketing programs can take advantage of existing events like Cinco de Mayo
  • It’s important for libraries to hire a diverse staff for outreach programs. Staff members who understand the needs of minority communities can give a lot of help.
  • Libraries may have recruitment foreign language speakers.
  • Volunteers from minority populations can help libraries design the collections and services necessary for outreach.
  • Multi-cultural collections, such as books in different languages, are best developed after librarians have determined which minority groups are in the community. It’s important not to make assumptions.
  • Signage makes a big difference. Signs that welcome patrons and give directions and instructions in different languages can make ESL patrons feel more comfortable.
  • Cooking classes were suggested as a fun way to have different groups in the community interact with one another.
  • Libraries can partner with other organizations. This is especially important because libraries don’t receive as much money as they need to fully help minority populations. Partnering with schools might be a possibility.
  • Racial and ethnic groups aren’t the only ones with special needs. Different age groups and education levels also need attention in library collection development and services.
  • Adult classes, such as computer classes and foreign language videos, are ways to provide service to minority groups. ESL children often teach their parents in these computer classes.
  • Immigrants do things as a family, including trips to the library. An entire family may use the same book and this leads to underestimations of how many times ESL books are used, affecting budgeting.
  • The Laura Bush Grant could help.
  • Free public libraries aren’t a widespread concept in the world. ESL populations can be confused about the rules for checking out items, and whether they need to pay.
  • Less affluent populations need more help from libraries.
  • Create displays related to different countries/cultures (ie. mannequin in native clothing)—this makes native people feel more welcome and allows other cultures to learn about the one on display.
  • Provide website interface in other languages.


What could you do to temporarily “transport” your library to… Jamaica, Dundee, Alakanuk, Rio de Janeiro, Wounded Knee,etc.?


  • Decorate library to take patrons into a different world culture.
  • Pictures and decoration , both exterior and interior


  • An essential task is to add materials to the collection written or performed in the language that is the focus of the ‘transport’ activity.
  • Spotlight representative groups in your own community, and reach out to bring these new patrons into your building.
  • Have finding aids, guides, signage, bookmarks, computer links, etc., all written in the focus language.
  • Use images and symbols, as is common in international airports, that will provide the patrons universally understandable symbols for information.


  • Music is often representative of specific cultures, and can add greatly to the experience.
  • Language: Have bilingual staff (or use volunteers), who can help people of other cultures feel especially welcome, and intensify the “transport” experience for all patrons.
  • Provide special outreach efforts to bring in the target groups during the experience.

Taste and Smell

  • Food: The culinary arts provide strong ties to various cultures, and food has an almost universal appeal.
  • A library might consider partnering with a specialty restaurant or cultural market to provide refreshments or treats at a special activity that highlights the cultural selection.


  • Try an “immersion” week or month to transport the library to particular places and cultures.
  • Partner with other community agencies and organizations to produce educational programs.
  • Reach out to segments of the community that may not have yet been involved in library activities.
  • Plan and advertise whole year’s programming.


Challenges of a short term “transport” activities

  • The challenge of expense and manpower.
  • Some non-English speaking, and non-Western people may not really understand the concept of a ‘free-library’. It was mentioned in our discussion that several of our participants had very different and mostly negative experience using libraries in some foreign countries. People were given very limited choices as to what they could check-out, and the circulation period (if any) was very restricted.
  • To some cultures, an item is ‘mine’ or ‘yours’, and the concept of borrowing may be easily misunderstood if clear communication is not possible in their own language so that the concept may be fully explained.

How can libraries develop collaborative partnerships in the community to better serve multicultural groups?

Examples of collaborative efforts

  • Health and Safety Fair
  • In student housing: AV materials, library card sign-up
  • South Main Clinic: collaboration between physicians, public library, medical library

What are the key considerations for collaborative efforts?

    • Understanding the target audience
    • Working together for a common goal
    • Takes time away from normal work duties
    • Players need to be committed
    • Need feedback from all sides
    • Need to break comfort zone
    • **Have the Love**

How can you get involved with collaborative partnerships?

    • Word of mouth: if you do one, someone may call for another one
    • Find a need, form a group
    • Be active in local events
    • Be willing to volunteer
    • Communicate with other orgs in a community and discuss ways the groups could collaborate—have them in for lunch to talk about it

What benefit would your organization receive from the partnership?

    • More people coming
    • Increased staff knowledge
    • Additional funding, or broaden and diversify sources of funding
    • More good will
    • Prove the library’s worth in the community
    • Meet community needs
    • Expand / diversify an audience or user base
  • Enhance use of collections or programs
  • Leverage or expand resources
  • Develop future bi-lingual librarian

What benefit would the multicultural group receive?

  • Increased literacy skills
  • Appreciate worth of library services within Latino community
  • Meet a need
  • Build the Latino community or other ethnic groups
  • Feel more a part of the city/ community
  • Expand educational opportunities
  • Start donating books


  • Lack of funding
    • Staff hesitation to be involved
    • Time factor
    • Money
    • Commitment
    • Librarians who don’t ask questions