Katie Scherrer is a library consultant and training specialist whose work focuses on improving library services to Latino and Spanish-speaking children and families. She is the instructor for two courses with Library Juice Academy: Connecting with Spanish-Speaking Communities, and Bilingual Storytime at Your Biblioteca. She has agreed to do an interview for us, to give people a better sense of her background in teaching these classes, and a sense of what is covered and what they will learn from them.
Katie, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I thought I would start by asking you to tell us about yourself in general – what you are doing as a library consultant, what you did before, and how you got into doing this.
Thanks Rory! In 2012 I started my consulting business, Connected Communities, with the purpose of helping libraries, early childcare education providers and other organizations to improve their service to and inclusion of Latino and Spanish-speaking children and families. I do this in a variety of ways. One way is through training, such as the online training that I am offering with Library Juice Academy. I also work on special projects, provide in-service workshops, provide consulting services and design custom webinars.
I have been working with Latino and Spanish-speaking families in libraries since I began my library career in 2005. In 2007, I participated in a Spanish Language Outreach (SLO) workshop offered by Webjunction. Following this workshop I created and implemented a pilot outreach project for the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML). This work was recognized by Webjunction as the best outreach project from a SLO participant that year, and resulted in the creation of a new position at CML, Spanish Language Program Specialist. I held this position until 2009. In it, I provided targeted outreach to Spanish-speakers through many channels. I worked with community leaders, Latino media, community agencies, churches and schools providing outreach and bilingual programming. I then moved to the unique and completely bilingual Village Branch of the Lexington Public Library, where I worked as a Children’s Librarian. In this bilingual environment I worked with a predominantly Latino community providing programming, storytime, early literacy education, information and referral services, and outreach. Through these experiences, I developed a keen understanding of the challenges faced by recent Spanish-speaking immigrants integrating into a new society. I came to understand the barriers that block these communities from full library access. I also learned that trust and relationship building are key components to providing effective service. In my work now, I help others learn how to build those relationships and offer high-quality, relevant programs and services to Spanish-speakers.
It should be said that the Latino community in the United States is extremely diverse and there is no one “Latino” experience or community. My work focuses specifically on helping organizations that are serving new and growing communities of first-generation Spanish-speaking immigrants and their families, especially when those organizations lack bilingual/bicultural staff.
I am very active in the ALA-affiliate organization REFORMA, the National Organization to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking. I am the current President of the Southeast Chapter, and an active member of the Children and Young Adult Services Committee. I also served on the 2013 Pura Belpré book award selection committee.
Thanks, that is great. I wonder if you could say a few words about how you first got interested in this area of work. I find it noteworthy that you have committed yourself to it so strongly.
It actually sort of happened by accident. I have spent a lot of time traveling and working abroad, including being in Asia for nine months where I could neither speak nor read local languages. While I was there I learned how intimidating every day interactions like riding the bus and shopping at the market can be when one faces a language barrier and does not fully understand local customs. This made me really sensitive to the experiences of immigrants in the United States. When I began working at CML, because I speak Spanish, I was able to assist customers who were previously unserved. When visiting local schools or community events, I could talk to people who had never used the library before and sign them up for cards, invite their children to the Homework Help program, etc. Pretty soon people were coming to me at the library for help with all kinds of things, and I really began to see how truly underserved Spanish-speakers are in some communities. This moved me and directed my career path. Libraries provide so many resources that can help people learn valuable skills and adjust to life in a new society, and it’s all FREE! I want to do what I can to help ensure that everyone has full access to those resources.
Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. Could you go into a bit of detail about the classes you are teaching for us, so that people can get a sense of what they would be getting out of them, who they are intended for, etc.?
Communities small and large across the country are experiencing growth in their Latino communities. Libraries are responding to this in various ways. However, some libraries find it very challenging to connect with new communities of Spanish-speakers. As a result, these communities are underserved. “Connecting with the Spanish-Speaking Community” addresses this challenge. Participants learn how Latino cultural values impact library use. They learn about the barriers that block Spanish-speakers from fully accessing the library and how specific outreach steps and effective marketing can overcome those barriers. Case studies, discussions, online resources and sharing from my own experience provide the participants with a framework for understanding how they can better connect with the Spanish-speakers in their service area. Each participant uses information from his/her own community to create an Outreach Plan for his/her organization which breaks down the outreach process into sequential steps. This course would be most valuable to librarians who are new to serving communities of first-generation Spanish-speaking immigrants and their families. The course is designed for librarians and support staff working in outreach services, adult services, youth services and management.
Bilingual storytime is becoming more popular in libraries. Even librarians who do not speak Spanish are working with volunteers and partners to offer bilingual programs. “Bilingual Storytime at Your Biblioteca” is for anyone offering or interested in bilingual storytime programming (English/Spanish). It covers structuring the program for various ages, tandem storytime for librarians who do not speak Spanish, and selecting materials to make English storytimes inclusive of Latino culture. Many ready-made bilingual storytime plans are shared, as well as recommended books, music, and online resources. Video demonstrations of bilingual songs, rhymes and storytelling are also shared. Each participant will create two complete bilingual storytime plans by the end of the course. This course is designed for youth services librarians and support staff.
Thanks, that sounds good. I wonder if you could say a few things about the most common challenges that librarians face, that is, librarians who don’t have a lot of experience doing outreach to communities where the culture is different from what they have known. What are the most common issues, and how do you help address them?
One of the most common challenges that I see is that when a library notices growth in the Spanish-speaking community in their service area, they want to respond to perceived information needs, so they develop a Spanish language collection or begin offering a Spanish storytime or something along these lines. They invest money and effort into this and are then disappointed when it is not well-used or well-attended. When whatever they first tried doesn’t prove successful by traditional measures, some libraries give up at that point. While it is a good thing that libraries want to offer services to this community, what is often missing is the outreach and relationship building that is critical for serving new immigrants who do not have a tradition of library use before launching a new program or service. In my course “Connecting with the Spanish-Speaking Community,” I help participants understand how an effective model of service to Spanish-speakers differs from traditional service. I provide participants with practical ideas for how they can begin their outreach process and how they can sustain it. I also connect them with excellent resources which they can continue to access after the class ends.
Thanks, that makes sense. I have a final follow-up question. I wonder if you could tell us, based on your experiences working in this area, what you might envision, in terms of programming or services that libraries might do very differently than they are currently doing them. It’s not an easy question, so you can feel free to answer it unrealistically if you want, or let’s say in a way that doesn’t address all of the challenges to implementation at this stage. But what would you envision as a new way of serving immigrant or underserved communities?
Ideally, I would love to see a time come when libraries across the country are so embedded in their communities that no one is going unserved due to a lack of awareness of what the library has to offer. Newcomers to this country hear wonderful things about the library from their neighbors, friends, cultural media and trusted community leaders. When they visit, they feel welcome, respected and included from the moment they step into the building. They see others who look like them and hear their language spoken among the customers and the staff. They find materials and services which reflect their interests and address their real information needs. Honestly, I think that this ideal is what public libraries are already striving for! It’s simply a matter of learning how to be this inclusive of your community as it changes.
That’s a good vision. Thanks very much for doing the interview.
You’re welcome Rory. Thanks for taking the time to ask these great questions. Anyone who is interested in either of these courses who would like further information is welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.