Friday, September 12, 2008

Diversity @ the Library

Public libraries have an obligation to serve the entire community and to present a broad variety of viewpoints. This makes us naturals for supporting diversity. We're not exclusively a children's library, a men's library, a Christians' library, a straight library or a white library. We're not exclusively a Muslim's library, a women's library, a teen library or a library for people with disabilities. We're all of those and more. We're everyone's library; our resources and services reflect it.

Our local paper, the Post-Crescent, ran a story a few weeks ago: "Valley getting more diverse," and it's true. While the article focused on the growing Hispanic population, we have grown more ethnically diverse in lots of ways. Some would say we had a lot of catching up to do: though there's no evidence there was ever an actual ordinance to the effect, Appleton had reputedly once been a "sundown town" where African Americans could not spend the night. Thankfully, that's changed!

In addition to visible and active African American and Hispanic populations, Appleton is blessed with a thriving Hmong community. This morning, Jennifer Gaines Bates of the Hmong American Partnership addressed our staff and we had a good discussion about Hmong culture and traditions and how we might better serve this population. One thing we've done recently is to establish a Hmong Resource Center collection, including all our materials in the Hmong language or about the Hmong culture.

Hispanic culture and collections being larger and more diverse, we can't so easily pull together all the Spanish language materials or everything about Spain and Latin America. But we're working to develop those collections and make them easier to access. Our online catalog has a Spanish language version. We're also exploring issues: last night we hosted a spirited discussion of immigration issues following a showing of the film Crossing Arizona, an award-winning documentary about illegal border crossings.

In a couple of weeks, we'll be hosting the Consulate General of Mexico for a few days, as they work to make updated visas and other identification available to Mexican citizens. Our Mayor's office has arranged this for the second year in a row and we'll have volunteers from local Latino groups helping. And we join many other libraries in recognizing National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15.

Our community is blessed not only with a great variety of ethnic populations, but with organizations that support diversity. Our library is a longstanding member of Toward Community: Unity in Diversity and the Fox Cities Rotary Multicultural Center. Library staff attends meetings of inter-agency coordinating councils serving local Hmong and Hispanic communities. We've done some multilingual story hours and we're planning more. It's exciting to see how diversity has enriched our community and library.

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