In this blog post I will provide guidance on how to select materials for a Latino User Collection. I will also briefly discuss associated issues and offer recommendations based on my experiences as a public and academic librarian serving Latino populations for the past 16 years. Basically, some tips and tricks and best practices I’ve developed during my career. [Editor's note: This is obviously written from a large library perspective, but please keep reading regardless - there's advice here we can all use.]
1. Review Collection Development Policies and Practices: If you have a formal collection development policy, you need to review it to identify practices and procedures that are potential barriers to your multicultural collection development efforts. Some well-meaning policies unintentionally hamper the development of collections for Latino users. Your policy should clearly indicate that your library collections are for the benefit of everyone in your service area and that some information needs in your community can only be met by purchasing library materials that are bilingual or in languages other than English. Including this idea in your collection development policy is a clear signal that you are serious about meeting the information needs of all your citizens. In addition, a policy statement will give you backup in case any members if your community complain about the noticeable increase in the number of Spanish materials in your library. Some libraries favor the purchasing from one or two major vendors, discouraging the purchase of items from small or specialty presses in the United States, publishers and distributors outside the country, neighborhood bookstores, or conferences and book fairs. This practice to established library policies adds a complication to selecting materials for your Latino users.
2. Link Collection Development to Information Needs: You will gain much-needed support and assistance from Latino users by showing that your attempts to meet their identified needs are sincere. A step in the right direction is making certain that your collection development efforts are linked very closely to the results of your library’s Latino demographic and community needs assessment. Analysis of your Latino demographic, and community needs assessment, will help you determine where the greatest needs are—and will enable you to develop the library’s collection for Latinos users, based not on any preconceived ideas of what might be needed, but on the needs expressed by them. Finally, you will need to develop a plan that shows how your library will allocate collection development funds to meet these needs. It is impossible to obtain everything that is needed all at once; but, it is crucial that you make a good-faith effort to obtain materials where they are needed.
3. Establish and Listen to a Latino Advisory Group: A voluntary Latino advisory community group may be helpful in developing a collection for Latinos. You can share your ideas on the allocation of resources with members of this advisory group to get feedback on and support for your library strategies and fiscal allocations. Members of advisory groups can provide direct assistance in several ways:
- When new books are processed, they can prepare bilingual handouts and or bibliographies publicizing the new book arrivals.
- They can review the newly acquired materials and write bilingual articles about them for your library’s social media platforms.
- They can be involved in organizing Spanish book clubs based on the new arrivals.
Your local situation will best inform you to think of other possible uses for this advisory group. Remember that this advisory group can also serve as one of your political action groups when needed.
4. Handling Spanish and Bilingual Materials: Your library’s selectors who are unfamiliar with Spanish will have difficulty choosing Spanish library materials that are the most appropriate for your Latino library users. Just as an English-speaking American might have some difficulty with British English or with English from several hundred years ago, so too might an Americanized Latino have some difficulty reading books in Spanish from different Latin American countries. If the language barrier is too great, the material will not be used or enjoyed. Generally speaking, the selector should try to select materials that are closest to the vernacular used by Latinos in the community, but this is not an absolute rule.
Bilingual materials also present a problem to English-monolingual selectors, as they will not be able to judge the quality of books that contain inferior translations. One solution is to have bilingual and bicultural library staff that can make these kinds of judgments. The next best solution is to encourage selectors to interact with and get advice from bilingual individuals in the community.
A significant number of English-speaking Latinos have very limited Spanish speaking and reading skills. Consequently their preference will be for English-language materials on a wide variety of subjects. You cannot assume that all Latinos want or need Spanish or bilingual resources.
Make sure that your collection includes English-language materials about the history of Latinos in the United States, with particular emphasis on the history of the particular subcultures represented in your service area. It should also include a selection of literary works by U.S. Latino authors writing in English, as well as English translations of major literary works from the Spanish-speaking world. Your collection probably already addresses many of the needs of Latinos whose first language is English but remember to utilize the community needs data and Latino advisory members as sources of suggestions and trends.
5. Support Selectors: You need to help provide a supportive atmosphere to ensure that selectors can develop skills and confidence in selecting Spanish library materials. Most likely, starting a Latino user collection from scratch will necessitate change, some of which could be drastic. Some staff will respond quite well; others may have a more difficult time. Useful strategies include the following:
- Establish in-house teams to discuss Latino collection development issues and resolve any problems that arise.
- Support attendance at national, regional, and state conferences and workshops where Latino collection development issues are discussed.
- Cooperate with other libraries and library associations to bring outside speakers and experts to local workshops and conferences.
- Encourage collection development staff to interact with the Latino community and solicit ideas on improving the library’s collections.
Being aware of these issues and dealing with them constructively will establish and help ensure your library’s overall success in collection development as it may very well depend on how effectively staff can respond and adapt to the needs of customers.
Roberto C. Delgadillo is a Humanities, Social Sciences and Government Information Services Manager/Librarian with the Peter J. Shields Library at the University of California, Davis. Before UC Davis, he worked as a Public Services Librarian and Copy Cataloguer at the Inglewood and Beverly Hills Public Library systems. He rants daily on his Facebook under the nom de guerre The Broken Token.