Bilingual story hour sparks kids' curiosity


When Jasper Public Library Children’s Librarian Christine Howard arrived at Maple Grove Village a couple months ago to hold the first bilingual story hour, the Latino kids in the area flocked to her, asking questions about why she was there and about the library.

“It was just very sweet,” Howard said.

The Jasper Public Library began holding bilingual story hour at the beginning of the year after a local teacher, Rossina Sandoval, offered to help with outreach. The library staff had been talking about ways to reach out for a while, Howard said. Sandoval spurred them to action.

For public libraries, ensuring access to everyone in the community is part of the mission. The American Library Association, which the Jasper Dubois Contractual Library uses, has a Library Bill of Rights that lists six guidelines for libraries.

The first states, “Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” The fourth is similar, stating, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.”

For the Jasper Public Library, bilingual story hour is a way to adhere to those guidelines and to promote multiculturalism.

The goal of the event is to help primarily English-speaking kids learn some Spanish and to help primarily Spanish-speaking kids learn more English.

At the library, however, the event didn’t seem too popular. Rather than cutting the program, they wondered why it wasn’t working out, figuring the Latino kids didn’t have a way to get to the library. They decided to try the event at Maple Grove, one of the neighborhoods in Jasper with a large Latino population.

“If they’re not able to make it to the library, let’s bring the library to them,” Jasper Dubois County Contractual Library Director Christine Golden said.

At Maple Grove, the program is a success, consistently attracting between 10 and 12 kids each month. At the events, a member of the library staff reads the story in English, and a volunteer reads the same story in Spanish.

All the kids can speak English, Howard said, but Spanish is their primary language. Reading the story in both languages helps the kids pick up new words. And if English-speaking kids come, hearing the story in both languages will help them pick up Spanish words, too.

At June’s event, Howard said, one attendee primarily spoke English. The hope is that more primarily English-speaking kids will start to attend.

The next one is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Maple Grove shelter house.

Library staff have also discussed offering bilingual story time in other neighborhoods where Latino families are concentrated.

The bilingual story time is one way the Jasper Public Library is working to reach Jasper’s Latino population. Since getting to the library seems to be the biggest barrier for Latino families, Golden said, library staff are looking for ways to partner with other community organizations, such as churches, to offer transportation to and from the library every so often. Those ideas are still in their infancy.

Library staff have also considered taking a mobile library to Maple Grove. With a mobile library, library staff would bring books and other materials in a van that the kids could check out. They would have the ability to sign people up for library cards on tablets.

“I’m excited,” Howard said of the ideas.

For now, Jasper Library staff are focused on serving Latino kids, mostly because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of demand from adults. Golden figures about 10% of patrons coming into the library speak primarily Spanish, but they either also know English or bring someone to translate for them.

Still, the library is focused on offering more materials in Spanish and is constantly adding translations of English language materials — James Patterson’s books are popular — to their collection, both on the shelves and as e-books on Overdrive, an online database accessible with a library card.

At the Huntingburg Public Library, Director Lisa McWilliams is still settling into her new role as director. She began in the position in June. Once she’s settled in, McWilliams said, she plans to look at ways to better serve Huntingburg’s Latino population.

She said her library does have Spanish-speaking patrons, but they generally bring people with them to translate. There aren’t many, though, and McWilliams hopes that future outreach will help attract more patrons from that demographic.

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