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Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries: Language diversity

Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries

Librarians and library staff shall support the preservation and promotion of linguistic diversity, and work to foster a climate of inclusion aimed at eliminating discrimination and oppression based on linguistic or other diversities.

Linguistic restrictions and prohibitions, such as the English-only concept, have been used throughout American history as the dominant culture’s method of dealing with perceived threats to linguistic, and thus cultural, homogeneity.

Demographics in the United States have changed dramatically in the last ten years, and will continue to transform society. This change has affected our interaction with each other as colleagues, co-workers, and as information service providers striving to serve our diverse populations and to collaborate in our multiethnic/multicultural library workplaces. Among all the parameters affecting these interactions, language diversity—the vocal, audible aspect of diversity—poses challenges to librarians, library staff, and library administrators.

Language as a means of communication encompasses all languages spoken by librarians, library staff and constituents, and also includes the needs of the disabled (sign language) and those with speech and/or hearing difficulties. 

The following guidelines serve as incentives towards equity and understanding in interactions and communications with each other. Librarians and library staff shall seek to:

  • Provide and advocate for the provision of information, reference, referrals, instruction, collection management, and other services in the language appropriate to their constituencies, including the use of interpreters.
  • Master reference interviewing techniques that reflect an understanding of the role of language in the client’s culture.
  • Acknowledge the efforts of English-language learners or the constituent with speech impediments. Patient listening is necessary. Consider alternative ways (technology or writing) to communicate with the constituent.
  • Review the current and emergent demographic trends for the library’s constituent populations to determine the need for the provision of interpretation and translation services.
  • Collection managers should be attentive to represent the linguistic needs of library constituents, and assure that library resources in print or electronic formats are available, especially to support the academic curricula reflecting all diversity issues, including those of visually disabled constituents.
  • Clear signage, perhaps in more than one language appropriate to the library’s constituencies, should be used prominently. Translation of guides to the library and other important documents should also be considered.
  • A guide and/or directory containing the language (including sign language) proficiency of the library’s staff who would be willing to be called as interpreters should be created.

Standard 6 Readings