Magazine article American Libraries

The Fruit of Their Labors

Magazine article American Libraries

The Fruit of Their Labors

Article excerpt

A small Mexican girl of six or seven walks shyly up to the bookmobile, peers in, and hesitantly steps on board. She has begun a journey into the world of libraries that will help her adjust to a new life in California. She will take her new experiences back to other children in the farm labor camps of the eastern Coachella Valley, and to their parents, too.

This child has just been introduced to the Campesino Library Service (CLS) program, an attempt to reach the 10,000 Hispanic farmworkers (campesinos) and their families living south and east of Palm Desert with the resources and services of the Riverside City and County Public Library.

Bookmobile Librarian Barbara Cousins says, "Our goal is to provide desired or needed library services in a nonthreatening environment where Spanish is spoken. We have a unique opportunity to share community resources and serve as a bridge for those seeking to survive in a new culture."

Needs of a special population

The men and women who pick and pack the grapes, grapefruit, dates, and other fruits and vegetables grown in the fields of the southern California desert range in age from 25 to 40 and speak little English. Many are recent arrivals from all parts of Mexico; others have been working the fields for years but have not had the opportunity to learn English. They read and write Spanish, however, and they want to increase their knowledge of English and of the land they now call home.

Campesino Library Service started last year with a grant of $83,300, part of the State Library Partnerships for Change program established in 1989 to improve library services to California's diverse ethnic population. A second-year grant of $59,400 covers costs for Spanish-language materials and administrative support of the program.

In addition to using the Coachella Valley Bookmobile to take the library to farmworkers in the fields, camps, and trailer parks on weekdays and on Saturdays, the Coachella and Mecca branch libraries reach out to campesinos and their families with story times and read-alouds for youngsters as well as Sunday open houses for all members of the family. Special presentations include earthquake preparedness programs in Spanish, Cinco de Mayo celebrations for the whole family, and the El Protector program of the California Highway Patrol. This is a traffic safety program for Hispanics designed to decrease the number of fatal accidents and arrests on California highways.

Impressive stats tell the story

During the first quarter of 1990-1991, 182 bookmobile stops were made, 3,345 patrons came on board, almost 13,000 items were circulated, and 2,001 reference questions were asked. The average number of patrons on board each 30 minutes was 18.

Since the program began, more than 2,500 library cards have been issued--one quarter of the target population in the first year! Circulation of Spanish-language materials has increased significantly, too. More than $10,000 has been spent on Spanish-language materials, with more on the way. In addition, the program will buy more than 100 English-language picture books for children, English-as-a-Second-Language textbooks, and citizenship materials for parents. Plans are underway to prepare a Spanish-language library orientation handbook for children.

Increasing staff sensitivity

One of the objectives of the program is to increase sensitivity of the staff to the cultural background and needs of the target population. One way to do this is to conduct in-service training sessions for all library staff serving the campesinos. …

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