Connecting Diverse Students with Diverse Collections

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This month’s One-Question Survey revisited a question we asked back in 2011: “How much of your resource budget is spent on materials in languages other than English?” In analyzing the latest results, Dr. Maria Cahill sees positive developments and the nuances of collection development.

We hope you use these surveys to help you reflect on your own practices.  Subscribers can view our archive of past surveys here or check out the complete May issue, “We Read Diverse Books: Connecting Our Diverse Collections to Our Instruction,” here.

How Much of Your Resource Budget Is Spent on Materials in Languages Other than English?



In the write-up for the August 2011 One-Question Survey Gail Dickinson wrote, “We want our collections to reflect the faces of our students and the faces of our world. We want to present information and ideas to our students in packages that describe their world and the world beyond them. The last bastion of acceptance may be examining the collection to see if it fits the most basic definition, i.e. are the materials in the languages that our students speak?”

At that time, Gail concluded that school library collections did not reflect the diversity of the students, but she also acknowledged that it was possible, though not probable, that the 1QS participants might be serving “in schools where there are no speakers of other languages.” Coming back to this question nearly six years later, our results paint a much more positive picture, but they also point to the nuances of collection development.

As reflected in the figure above, most school librarians are collecting materials to serve students who speak languages other than English, and with social interaction aspects of literacy (Gambrell 2011) in mind, librarians commented that they intentionally sought translations of popular English language titles. Other librarians indicated a preference for bilingual materials, and some mentioned purchasing materials to support foreign language instruction. Several librarians reported purchasing digital resources such as databases and narrated eBooks that can be accessed and used in multiple languages.

On the other hand, nearly one third of the 457 respondents of our 2017 version of the survey indicated that they only purchase English language materials, and the overwhelming majority of those respondents also conveyed that they serve students who speak a language other than English in the home. However, these librarians’ practices don’t reflect negligence, insensitivity, or lack of professionalism. As is typically the case (and what I think is the best part of the 1QS), the additional comments that school librarians provided suggest they are very sensitive to the needs of English language learners, but there are other factors impacting collection development.

As David Huyck, Sarah Park Dahlen, and Molly Beth Griffin have recently illustrated, the lack of diversity in publications for children inhibits librarians’ ability to provide students with materials in their home languages ( Several responding school librarians lamented the fact that they were unable to provide materials in languages to serve their Somali, Burmese, Iranian, Syrian, and Congolese students. Others expressed frustration with the available selection and cost of materials written in more common languages such as French and Spanish.

One of the biggest hurdles to acquiring Spanish books is the availability of popular titles. My Spanish-speaking students want to read the same books as the popular English titles. These titles are often not available in Spanish. Another hurdle is being able to actually order Spanish books. American publishers and library suppliers often don’t carry Spanish books.

Several librarians reported purchasing materials that reflect the diversity of the world but are written in English, and many had rationales for not purchasing foreign language materials. Quite a few conveyed that their students either lack the ability or the desire to read materials in the language of their homes, and others felt hampered by laws related to language of instruction. Sadly, several librarians reported having little or no budget to purchase materials in any language.


Works Cited

Dickinson, Gail. “How Much of Your Resource Budget Is Spent on Materials in Languages Other than English?Library Media Connection, 30, no. 1 (Aug.-Sept. 2011).

Gambrell, Linda B. “Seven Rules of Engagement: What’s Most Important to Know about Motivation to Read.” The Reading Teacher 65, no. 3 (2011): 172-178.

Maria Cahill, MLIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Education. She received her master’s degree from the University of South Carolina and her doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee. She is author of numerous papers in such journals as Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, and School Library Research and has served in numerous professional leadership positions, including on the Educators of School Librarians Section of the American Association of School Librarians and the American Library Association’s Literacy and Outreach Services Committee.
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