Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Educating Bilingual and Multilingual Librarians: A Case of Library and Information Science Education in Rwanda

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Educating Bilingual and Multilingual Librarians: A Case of Library and Information Science Education in Rwanda

Article excerpt

The importance and need for bilingual librarians is steadily being felt, but most library and information science (LIS) schools do not incorporate bilingualism in instruction. Rwanda is in a unique and complex setting in which bilingualism is being used in its LIS program. Such an education is ideal if our libraries are to have bilingual or multhingual librarians. However, this approach has many challenges when it comes to implementation, especially when the two languages of instruction do not happen to be the first language (L1) of the learner. This paper sets out to show how the bilingualism policy in Rwanda is affecting the LIS program and how it is being implemented in the program.


There has been a need for bilingual and multhingual librarians as a result of the growth of library collections in foreign languages. The need was expressed as early as 1890 in the United States of America. Not only have these librarians been critical in cataloging information resources, they were also greatly needed as international and regional networks in the scientific community developed. Britain highlighted the need for bilingual librarians in the 1940s because they could save scientists' time in knowing the gist of articles published in foreign languages.1 In addition, more countries are now needing bilingual librarians than ever before because populations in these countries are continuously becoming diversified as a result of globalization and immigration.2

These librarians have thus become instrumental in offering effective reference service to users with limited language proficiency in addition to playing a critical role in enhancing reader's advisory service, and collection development.3 They are instrumental in helping users with low proficiency in the language spoken because such users tend to be fearful of using library services. In order to better serve these kind of users and to be effective, librarians who are to work in the public services section of the library ought to take classes in foreign languages.4

By 2005, there were 1 92 million international migrants worldwide.5 This led some individuals and organizations strongly advocate incorporating diversity among the library staff by recruiting multicultural librarians because the benefits are immense.6 From 1971 to 2001, there has been an increase in vacancies for youth services librarians in the United States, many requiring one to be at least bilingual.7 A similar situation is found in Canada where in 1998, 46% of the library vacancies that had been advertised in Quebec required the applicant to be bilingual.8

However, hiring bilingual or multhingual librarians can be a challenge. Establishing new positions requires sufficient finances; current library staff may resent reallocation of positions; and advertising for an ethnic-specific position may be in violation of labor and union rules or simply given low priority.9 In spite of these challenges, for the most part, libraries in the United States that employ bilingual librarians tend to employ native speakers of those languages.10 Some Hispanic/Latino librarians have felt discriminated against and libraries in some communities in the United States have cut services to Latinos in an emotionally charged context of illegal immigration."

In spite of the constant discussion about the importance of having bilingual and multhingual librarians, there seems to be no study addressing intricacies involved in educating library and Information science (LIS) students in instances where neither of the two languages of instruction are the students' first language (Ll). The purpose of this paper is to provide insight into how bilingualism and multhingual policy in Rwanda affects the LIS education program and how this policy is being implemented in the program.

Definition of Bilingual and Multhingual

Bilingual education has variously been defined.12 In this paper, we are going to use the term bilingual as the use of two languages in instruction such as where learners are taught approximately 50% of the courses in one language while the rest are taught in another. …

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