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Callers complain about Spanish program

by Sheila Gardner

The woman hung up before Library Director Linda Deacy had a chance to talk to her, but the message left by the unidentified caller was clear: Why was Douglas County Library providing special treatment to “those people”?

It was the second anonymous complaint last Saturday regarding the library’s decision to provide a children’s story hour in Spanish at Minden Park as an outreach program to encourage more people to use the facility.

The first caller told the staff he regularly took his children to Wednesday morning storytime, but he was going to pull them out unless the library stopped the bilingual program.

Children’s Librarian Carol Rapacz explained to the man, who refused to give his name, that the library hoped through the program to help the children learn English. She told him that the library has resources in a number of languages to serve the entire community. His response was to “make them learn English.”

As far as Deacy knows, only two people called to protest the bilingual program. The program was instituted at the request of library trustees responding to recommendations made by focus groups of county residents and library professionals.

A library staffer and a Spanish-speaking volunteer offered to conduct the story hour.

“I don’t think this (the phone calls) reflects the feelings of the community,” Deacy said. “This is the direction the board wants to go. They think it’s good for the community.”

n Successful program. More than 20 children attended the Monday night event at Minden Park, which was very successful, Deacy said.

“Some were native Spanish speakers and some were just interested in seeing our bilingual storytime. We want to make storytime a place where people can connect no matter what language they speak,” Deacy said. “This is one of our outreach programs as a result of our library master plan.”

Deacy said the calls protesting the bilingual program weren’t unexpected.

“I was a little surprised, however, that it occurred in a community that regularly teaches Spanish in its schools,” Deacy said.

She said the library hopes to create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.

“One of my concerns is trying to avoid segmentation in this community,” she said. “Given the kind of world we live in, we do everyone a disfavor by not showing the other cultures we have to celebrate.”

As for the argument, “make them learn English,” Deacy said she learned firsthand how important one’s native language is.

“I spent 18 months in Greece, and I had to be fluent in another language. I read, wrote and spoke Greek all day, but I never lost my need to speak English. You don’t lose your attachment to your native language.”

Deacy is a veteran of the strife that can accompany social change.

“My first teaching job was in Georgia in 1969, the year schools were desegregated,” she said. “I’ve seen it as ugly as it gets.”

n Looking for space. Deacy hopes to continue the bilingual storytime; now, she’s looking for a temporary home for the program. With the ongoing library construction, the children’s area is too cramped. Soon, inclement weather will necessitate a need to move from the Minden Park.

“We’re planning a multi-lingual program with English/Spanish/Portuguese/German and any others we can dredge up,” Deacy said. “Who knows what that might inspire?”