Embracing Diverse Narratives

Improving your services to minority populations

March 1, 2018

Living Languages
Living Language for Libraries provides access to online courses in more than 20 languages.

Libraries strive to create a welcoming space for all members of the public. Part of that process involves engaging with diverse communities and building understanding. The following services will help you guide readers toward materials that reflect their experiences and explore the experiences of others, and help you—and others—learn new languages and incorporate multicultural concepts into storytime.

Living Language for Libraries

Living Language for Libraries, from Books on Tape, provides access to online courses for more than 20 languages, teaching grammar, vocabulary, and culture from beginner to advanced levels. Courses include traditional tools such as flashcards and audio recordings as well as games designed by native speakers and other learning tools that allow learners to tailor lessons to their individual learning style.

In addition to its in-depth language courses, Living Language offers overview courses designed for travelers, businesspeople, law enforcement, health care workers, and librarians. These courses cover specialized vocabulary and specific cultural notes as well as grammar and pronunciation.

Librarian-specific language courses in Spanish and American Sign Language are free with Living Language for Libraries subscriptions. The courses teach library-related vocabulary and provide guides to common library interactions like accessing digital resources and providing information to newcomers to the area. Libraries can also supplement their English-language learner programs with Living Language ESL courses tailored to a number of first languages, including Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish.

Patrons access the courses online or through an iOS app, with no limit on the number of concurrent logins. Built-in reporting features provide information on how often patrons use the program and for how long so libraries can assess which courses are being used. Books on Tape provides customer support services and marketing materials to help libraries promote their courses.

Pricing is based on the size of the population a library serves and the languages it chooses to offer—for a quote and free trial code, visit bibliotheca.com. For more information, visit booksontape.com/living-language.

OurStory Pro

We Need Diverse Books, a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 to address a lack of representation in children’s literature, launched OurStory in mid-2016. This book discovery app that matches young readers with books that examine a range of experiences—including LGBTQIA people, people of color, people with disabilities, and other minorities.

OurStory app
The OurStory app guides readers to diverse reading recommendations.

While kid and teen versions of the app are free to the public, OurStory Pro is designed specifically to aid librarians and educators in readers’ advisory and to supplement diversity-oriented programs and curricula. This paid version of the app includes booktalking kits, reading guides, and printable graphics. Three pricing tiers grant access to a range of We Need Diverse Books materials, including exclusive author and illustrator content.

At the center of the OurStory discovery process is an interactive quiz that guides users as they seek recommendations in various categories, from genre and reading level to character types and experiences. The app then generates a list of books that meet the criteria. Search results include book summaries, links to reviews, and a list of categories that each book falls into, with searched terms highlighted. A “more like this” link directs readers to similar books. OurStory also offers book purchases directly through the app. Volunteer readers, including librarians, teachers, and educators, read these books before they are selected for inclusion in the app’s recommendation database.

OurStory is accessible through any web browser and, while a mobile app is available only for Android, more versions are currently in development, including an expanded version of OurStory Pro designed for public libraries.

Subscriptions start at $5 per month, paid annually. For more information, visit diversebooks.org/ourstory.

Bilingual Birdies:

Eve Doganges
Eve Simone Doganges

User: Eve Simone Doganges, senior children’s librarian, New York Public Library Mott Haven branch
Product: Bilingual Birdies
Description: Bilingual Birdies teaches language and cultural awareness through live music and movement, and offers professional development courses to help educators incorporate these elements into their own programs.

How do you use Bilingual Birdies’ professional development courses?
The Bilingual Birdies professional development course covered ways to add movement, singing, musical instruments, and wordplay into storytimes. I enjoyed it immensely because it was very theatrical and dramatic. My International Fairy-Tale Hour incorporates much of what Bilingual Birdies emphasizes. I often open my program by finding on a wall map where the fairy tale is based. We also stop every now and then to discuss vocabulary words, and children ask questions about culture, food, and dress. Children get a geographic, linguistic, musical, cultural, and moral lesson while having fun. They also learn how to express their ideas and become more eloquent in the process.

How does Bilingual Birdies serve your library needs?

A Bilingual Birdies professional development workshop.
A Bilingual Birdies professional development workshop.

Bilingual Birdies is a wonderful way to introduce our little (and big) ones to rhythm, music, and a new or familiar language. Multilingual and multicultural storytelling is an excellent approach to early literacy as it invites people from all cultures to participate in the program through music (a universal language) and the languages of the world. Spanish is often a first language in our community, so we use it as a fun and effective icebreaker and a warm, familiar, and welcoming way to invite Spanish-speaking parents in.

What are the main benefits?
Bilingual Birdies’ music and multicultural language play is yet another tool to add to our early literacy arsenal, and cultural diversity should be on the map of children’s awareness.

Besides introducing little ones to music and language, it provides early exposure to different cultures and promotes a heightened awareness, openness, and tolerance of those differences. This awareness boosts an appreciation for the beauty of variety while embracing the common bond of humanity.

What would you like to see improved or added to the program?
An expansion of the same kind of programming would be the main improvement. More programs that emphasize multicultural songs, stories, language, and music can reach a much wider audience, and with it bring a strong and joyful message of inclusion and unity.


Patrisse Cullors and Marley Dias in conversation at the Opening Session of the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Denver. Photo: Cognotes

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