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Language Is No Barrier to Immigrants' Use of Public Library

September 08, 1986|MAYERENE BARKER | Times Staff Writer

Natividad Alvarado, a young mother with her three children in tow, returned a well-worn issue of Vanidades, a popular Spanish language women's magazine, to the San Fernando Public Library and asked for a more current issue.

But Alvarado was out of luck and had to settle for an even more tattered copy of the magazine, which features articles on beauty, child care, homemaking and other subjects of interest to women.

"The current issues are checked out right away," said head librarian Barry Shemaria. "We just keep the old magazines until they are worn out because they are so much in demand."

The library's collection of about 4,000 Spanish language books, paperbacks, magazines, newspapers, music tapes, records and video cassettes is just one example of how area libraries are meeting the demands of a growing minority population by expanding their foreign language collections.

News of Homeland

To Alvarado, who has been in the United States for only two years, and other new residents from foreign countries, the libraries' foreign language collection is a way to keep in touch with the events, trends and cultures of their native countries.

The foreign language collections of all Los Angeles County libraries have expanded during the last 15 years to reflect changes in the county's population. For example, the county's Latino population grew from 1.5 million in 1970 to 2.7 million in 1980, according to U.S. census figures. The number of Asians living in the county more than doubled from 178,335 in 1970 to 434,854 in 1980.

The Valencia Public Library in the Santa Clarita Valley has added several hundred books in Asian languages during the last six years.

In addition to 500 Spanish volumes, the library has 225 titles in Japanese, 125 in Chinese, 150 in Vietnamese and 25 in Korean. Librarian Madgalena Bastos-Connelly said the foreign language collection is growing.

Policy to Fill Request

"We do have quite a large population from the Orient now," Bastos-Connelly said. "And we have an ongoing policy to provide books the patrons ask us for."

One Chinese family visits the library each Saturday, reads the library's Chinese language newspaper, then leaves, she said.

"They just want to find out what's going on at home," Bastos-Connelly said.

When the library gets a special request, she said she is usually able to borrow it from another library.

"A while ago we were asked for a book in Russian," Bastos-Connelly recalled. "It was for someone's visiting relative. I was able to get it."

The San Fernando and Valencia libraries are part of the Los Angeles County library system, which allows its libraries to select the foreign language books they need and then buys them through its Asian Pacific and Chicano resource centers.

"It is considered the responsibility of the local library to select books that reflect community needs," said Dick Beebe, county community access library coordinator.

Los Angeles City library branches have their own collection of foreign language books, mostly in Spanish. The libraries depended heavily on borrowing from the collection of the fire-ravaged main library downtown for books in other languages.

The city's West Valley Regional Library in Reseda has "all too few" books in Cambodian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese, said reference librarian Mary Engberg.

"We have six books in Vietnamese," she said.

City libraries are not buying many new foreign language books because of limited budgets, Engberg said. The library is able to borrow some books in Chinese from the city's Chinatown branch library, she said.

Hopes to Expand

Panorama City reference librarian Patricia Clark said the library recently added to its collection of Vietnamese and Spanish books. That branch has mostly fiction books in foreign languages but, Clark said, the library is attempting to expand into nonfiction.

"We recently acquired some computer books in Spanish," she said.

The library could use new books in Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese "and anything we can get our hands on," Clark said.

Los Angeles city branches in North Hollywood, Pacoima, Sylmar and Canoga Park also have collections of Spanish language books.

At the county's San Fernando library, librarian Shemaria said there are few requests for Asian language books. But the library's Spanish language collection, which is heavily used, represents almost 10% of the small library's total number of volumes, she said.

"We try to reflect the needs of the community," she said.

Spanish 'Mother Goose'

Available to Natividad Alvarado's two older children, Ignacio, 9, and Elizabeth, 8, are the library's 650 children's books, magazines and records in Spanish. Some are published in Mexico and other Latin countries. Others are American classics, such as "Mother Goose" and traditional Walt Disney stories that have been translated into Spanish.

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