Guest Post: Multiculturalism: Best Practices and Reaching Out


The following is a guest post by NPSIG volunteer Mary Marques. Mary currently works with REFORMA Northeast. More information, including links to her various projects, is included at the bottom of the post.


From left to right: Mary Marques, Jennifer Chang, Fred J. Gitner and Tess Tobin at the 4th Annual Staff Day Development at the Free Library of Philadelphia
From left to right: Mary Marques, Jennifer Chang, Fred J. Gitner and Tess Tobin at the 4th Annual Staff Day Development at the Free Library of Philadelphia

How to serve diverse and immigrant communities at the local, regional, national and global level? Multiculturalism: Best Practices and Reaching Out In-Service Staff Training presented at the fourth Annual Staff Development at the Free Library of Philadelphia highlighted the need to bring “everyone together in a dialog or conversation” as a starting point for sharing ideas on best practices and tools that can aid library leaders, in their own organizations, with the development and improvement of library services to multi-ethnics communities at all levels.

The question that opens the conversation in any brainstorm session is how the libraries, of all sizes, are reaching out this goal? In this workshop, the answers appointed to the need of library leaders to understand not only the information needs of the target group, but also to pay close attention to the internal communication flow among their members and the external communication relationship with the host culture. In order to have a successful community partnership, library leaders must develop action plans that allow “access to information” to everyone regarding the nationalities, the cultures and the languages spoken by these global citizens.

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Multiculturalism: Best Practices and Reaching Out Workshop encapsulated two important topics: “Serving Diverse Population at Your Library” and “Reaching Out to Immigrant Communities: Tips for Serving New Americans.” In the first part of the presentation, the speaker Tess Tobin -Associate Professor in the Schwerin Library at New York City College of Technology, the City University of New York, Executive Board member of REFORMA Northeast Chapter and REFORMA National, Past Chair of the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) of the American Library Association (ALA), and current Chair of the Library Services to Multicultural Populations section of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutes (IFLA)–  mentioned that libraries in general must develop collections and promote materials in “multiple languages” providing, at the same time, a “trusting environment” especially for newcomers. Tobin added that library services toward multicultural populations must “reach out to all members of the community” regarding the international languages that are being spoken at the neighborhood at large. In addition, professor Tobin highlighted the need to go beyond of just developing ethnics collections because “providing information is not only [offering] books.”

In the workshop, Tobin provided a list of great resources for librarians that are working in the United States, but also mentioned abroad and global library organizations that can aid any librarian with primary resources and guidelines to develop library services, programs and collections to multi-ethnic communities. Some of the resources highlighted in the training were the following: The Office for Research and Statistic Office for Diversity (ALA), EMIERT round table from the American Library Association (ALA), REFORMA the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutes (IFLA), the LYON Declaration on Access to Information and Development, Multicultural Communities and Guidelines for Library Services, IFLA/UNESCO Library Manifesto, and IFLA/UNESCO Library Manifesto Toolkit.

In the second part of the workshop, Fred J. Gitner –Assisting Director New Americans Programs and International Relations at Queens Library, co-editor of the books “Bridging Cultures: Ethnic Services in the Libraries of New York States” and “Connecting Cultures: Ethnic Services in the Libraries of New York States,” board member of NYLA Ethnic Service Roundtable, co-chair of the Europe Subcommittee of ALA’s International Relation Committee and member of the Standing Committee of the Section on Services to Multicultural Populations of IFLA- highlighted the need to serve the diverse and changing population in Queens, New York. He mentioned that “Queens residents come from more than 190 countries and territories and they speak more than 160 languages.” In addition, Gitner mentioned that “serving immigrants is an integral part of the library’s philosophy.”   

As a result of this commitment of serving new Americans, Queens Library and its sixty-two community libraries provide library services in thirty international languages maintaining collections, library services and cultural programs to the newcomers. Also, Gitner mentioned that immigrants come to the United States without a concept or history background on “public library traditions.” In Queens, he emphasized, “no one is one mile [away] from a library.” Queens Library New Americans and International Relations Program aims to contribute to the acculturation process of the new Americans helping the community at large to build bridges of integration and cultural understanding with the host culture. Furthermore, Queens Library provides to newcomers multicultural family programs, bilingual targeted programs, adult literacy, citizenship and coping skill classes, medical workshops in the native language of the target community, cultural art and literature programs, festival celebration of ethnic groups, multilingual web page, and multilingual telephone service with a basic library information, just to mention a few of the services that Queen library offers to the multicultural community. Furthermore, Gitner highlighted that in order to have a successful relationship with the multi-ethnic community, library leaders must take a few essential steps to understand the development of the neighborhood profile and make the effort of having an “ongoing community analysis; [in addition to] identify [the] target population, identify funding, meet community organizations, find bilingual staff or volunteer and develop partnership with the community.”

Tobin and Gitner emphasized the need of library leaders to recruit, mentor and retain bilingual/multilingual staff as an important point of multicultural leadership. According with Gitner, “success [at the library] means facilitate [the process of] acculturation and develop a lifelong library habit [and] celebrate [at the same time] the variety of cultures that enrich our life.” For additional information or question about these presentations, please contact Tess Tobin at ttobin@citytech.cuny.edu and Fred J. Gitner at fred.j.gitner@queenslibrary.org.


marymarques Mary Marques works as a reference librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP), United States. She serves on the Free Library’s New American Committee and as REFORMA Northeast Vice President/ President elected for 2014-2016 period. In addition, she supports REFORMA NE as the State Coordinator for Pennsylvania. Mary holds a Master Degree in Library and Information Science from Clarion University, United States, a  second Master Degree in Bilingual/Bicultural Studies from La Salle University, United States, and a Bachelor Degree in Communication Science, Journalism, from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega University, Peru. Mary loves to travel and to learn about other cultures. She enjoys capturing special moments with her creative photography. If you would like to contact her, please write to marquesm@freelibrary.org.

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