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Toolkit

2. Developing Multicultural Collections

Ongoing changes in the linguistic and cultural mix of the Canadian population and recent developments in information technology require - and at the same time enable - new approaches for developing multicultural library collections. Statistics Canada reports that based on data from the 2001 census "Canada is becoming more and more a multilingual society in the wake of growing numbers of immigrants whose mother tongue is neither English nor French." Canadians reported more than 100 languages during the census. In 2001, almost 5 335 000 individuals (18 percent of the population or about one out of every six people) reported having a mother tongue other than English or French. This group is also growing at a faster rate than are the English or French segments.

Canada can be defined by four major population sectors when considering language and heritage: the Aboriginal peoples, the French, the English and other language groups. It is incumbent upon libraries that serve significant populations of any of these sectors to provide access to collections that can meet the needs of these different groups.

Users of multilingual library services in Canada come from multicultural populations and from the community at large. The multicultural community is not in any sense homogeneous and includes the following:

  • new immigrants and new citizens;
  • established immigrant populations;
  • migrant workers;
  • individuals who take an interest in the global society: transnational or cosmopolite individuals;
  • second or third generation immigrants; and
  • any person with an interest in materials that present different cultural perspectives or in materials in languages other than English, French or Aboriginal.

This section presents links and descriptions of currently accepted guidelines for the development of multicultural library collections and a template on how libraries can approach the development of multicultural collections.

2.1 Guidelines for Developing Multicultural Library Collections

There are four significant online guidelines for the development of multicultural library services:

Multicultural Communities: Guidelines for Library Service, 2nd edition, revised, 1996 (IFLA).
The IFLA guidelines were produced to "promote standards of fairness and equity in library service to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities." They are not intended as standalone guidelines but should be used with whatever other standards or strategic plans for library development are in effect in any given jurisdiction.

The revised IFLA guidelines represent an early Internet and Web perspective and are an excellent introduction to multicultural library services for any library contemplating the development of such services. This early online perspective is reflected in the guidelines. For example, the IFLA guidelines recommend that

"In global, networked library systems all cultures and languages must have access to and be able to participate in the global network."

"The development of online data bases for materials and the promulgation and implementation of international standards for the exchange of data in non-Roman scripts" should be coordinated by a central authority.

Section 2 of the IFLA guidelines, Library Materials, provides basic principles and general directions for the development of multicultural library collections. Section 2 is reproduced in Appendix A of this toolkit.

The IFLA standards also recognize that "effective service for ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities will normally require that, where it is possible, some services are provided centrally." When considering the development of multicultural library Web resources, this guideline can be updated to suggest that effective multicultural Web service for linguistic and cultural minorities will normally require that Web services be coordinated centrally, although much of the content will be distributed.

Guidelines for Multilingual Materials Collection and Development and Library Services (ALA)
ALA compiled these guidelines to "promote the development and maintenance of multilingual library services and collections."

The ALA guidelines suggest, as do the IFLA guidelines, that "in the case of small or widely scattered groups, a central or cooperative library effort is the best means to provide materials and services in order to maximize efficiency and reduce costs and still provide adequate materials and services."

Since the ALA guidelines were published in 1990, they do not reflect the impact of the Internet and the Web on multicultural library services. Nevertheless Section 2, Collection and Selection of Materials, provides a useful set of principles and directions for developing multicultural library services. Section 2 of the ALA guidelines is reproduced in Appendix B.

Concerning bibliographic access, the ALA guidelines point out that "libraries should catalog all materials in the original language and script. They should provide subject access both in English and in the original language." This is a very important recommendation, and library catalogues that are accessible on the Web should include multicultural holdings, which will dramatically increase the utility of these materials.

A World of Information: Creating Multicultural Collections and Programs in Canadian Public Libraries, 1994 (National Library of Canada)
The National Library of Canada produced this handbook "primarily for librarians in towns and small cities to help establish continuing contacts with the ethnocultural minority communities that may use the library's multilingual collection." The handbook provides a brief introduction to multiculturalism in Canada and provides some useful advice on how to initiate contact with minority communities.

Chapter two outlines an approach to developing a profile of a multicultural community from available statistical and demographic information. The chapter provides some basic data on ethnocultural communities, based on the 1991 Census of Canada. Although the numbers used are now dated, since the 2001 census figures have been released, the approach is still useful.

The handbook does not provide any detailed information on developing multicultural collections.

Responding to Our Diversity: Multicultural Service Guidelines for Victoria Public Libraries, July 2001 (Australia)
The multicultural service guidelines produced in Victoria are of considerable significance. An earlier set of guidelines, which was produced by Victoria in 1982, forms the basis for both the IFLA and ALA guidelines. With the release of the 2002 guidelines Victoria continues to provide leadership in multicultural library services to the rest of the world.

The Australian guidelines, which are the most recently published of the four reviewed here, represent the most current thinking on multicultural library services. These guidelines, to a great extent, also reflect the current state of planning for multicultural library services in Canada in that they are "intended to reflect the current climate in public library services … and to incorporate changes in information technology, increased diversity and changing community expectations."

The first part of the Victoria guidelines presents a good summary of the current state of multicultural library services and a framework within which multicultural library services can be developed. They emphasize the basic but important concept that "having a multicultural collection does not in itself constitute a multicultural service."

These guidelines present an excellent review of definitions and terminology and emphasize the need for "great sensitivity, both real and political," in developing multicultural library services.

The most important new development in the Victoria guidelines is the matrix or structured checklist that has been developed as an aid for helping and providing options for libraries in planning and delivering multicultural library services. The matrix is divided into four main stages:

  • Stage One - Needs Identification
  • Stage Two - Service Planning
  • Stage Three - Service Plan Implementation
  • Stage Four - Service Evaluation

The template provided in this toolkit (Section 2.2) for developing multicultural library collections is based in part on the Victoria guidelines.

2.2 A Template for Developing Multicultural Library Collections

The following template is based on a review of the four sets of guidelines reviewed in Section 2.1.
A version of the template in chart form appears in Appendix G.

Step 1: Conduct an environmental scan to determine the profile of the local multicultural community and of people who might use a multicultural library service.

Every community in Canada has a different demographic mix; some communities have very large multicultural populations, while some are fairly homogeneous. Large urban areas tend to have a cosmopolitan population with several large cultural groups and many smaller communities. Smaller communities tend to have only one or two language groupings of significant size and a few very small groups representing other communities. As global situations change and as immigration patterns adjust and new waves of immigrants from different countries come to Canada, new linguistic and cultural communities will develop and eventually integrate into Canada's multicultural and cosmopolitan fabric.

To properly serve the multicultural population in any community it is important to understand who they are, how many there are and what their library needs are. An environmental scan is essential to determine which multicultural population(s) reside within your library's service area and to begin the process of accurately defining the profile(s) of the group(s) to be served.

An elementary environmental scan can be initiated by examining the Statistics Canada reports on mother tongue and ethnicity for the community served by the library. This will enable the library to identify the community's major linguistic or cultural groups. This basic information can be augmented by gathering information locally, specifically by contacting multicultural councils and organizations that deal with immigration and immigrants, ESL classes and any similar organizations in the library's service area. Every library should consider establishing and maintaining a record of community-based multicultural organizations and agencies. Such a record is useful in the ongoing development of multicultural library services. A sample community agency inventory sheet is included in Appendix H.

Step 2: Conduct a needs assessment to determine the library and information needs of the multicultural community.

Fundamental to the delivery of multicultural library services is the need to have a clear understanding of the library and information needs and priorities of the diverse linguistic and cultural groups that make up the multicultural community within the library's service area.

The assessment of the library needs of large ethic, linguistic or culturally diverse groups within the community can be conducted as part of a general library needs assessment. Alternatively, a separate assessment can be conducted through consultation with these groups. The tools used are the same as those for general library needs assessments, including:

  • surveys (in-library surveys or mail surveys sent out to multicultural organizations located in the community);
  • interviews;
  • focus groups; and
  • in-house observations, including an analysis of circulation and other usage data from the library's automated systems. This process can be simplified through the use of a Library Multicultural Collections Inventory Sheet (See Appendix I).

The needs assessment process should include the collection of data on:

  • languages spoken at home;
  • preferred languages for library materials;
  • preferred types of multicultural library materials (books, periodicals, videos, audio, online); and
  • language materials currently in use in the library.

No matter which methodologies are used, the key to an effective multicultural needs assessment is the involvement of the library with the community. The library can engage the multicultural community through direct consultation.

Engaging the multicultural community in the needs assessment process can also be the first step in seeking financial support from the multicultural community for collection development.

Step 3: Develop a plan with specific goals and objectives to guide the delivery of multicultural library services

Based on the results of the environmental scan and the needs assessment, and following the principles outlined in the guidelines, libraries can develop a plan for multicultural library services with specific goals and objectives. The plan should define the library's level of commitment to providing multicultural library services and can be used to guide the library staff in the development of multicultural library services and to inform the community about the library's plans for these services.

The multicultural library service plan should include a section on developing collections, which should incorporate the following:

  • a clear statement of library collection development policy regarding the acquisition of library materials and the provision of access to online materials;
  • specifics on the role and responsibility of staff for multicultural acquisitions, including physical and online materials;
  • an outline of the procedures for material selection, purchasing, processing, cataloguing and lending;
  • a training program for staff engaged in developing multicultural collections (See Step 4);
  • information on budget allocations or on the formula for budget allocations for multicultural library materials;
  • performance measures and deliverables against which the success of the collection development process can be measured; and
  • a schedule for implementation of the plan

Step 4: Provide training for library personnel responsible for the acquisition of multicultural library materials

The multicultural library service plan should include a training plan for library personnel who will be responsible for its implementation, including training for those responsible for the development of multicultural library collections. Acquiring multicultural materials, whether physical materials or the provision of access to online materials, requires specific knowledge and skills above and beyond those required to build standard library collections.

Training in the skills needed to acquire multicultural library materials should include building knowledge and awareness of all of the following:

  • the publishing and distribution of "other language" materials in Canada. (Section 6 of this toolkit provides an introduction to the wide and varied sources of multicultural resources in Canada.);
  • the sources of multicultural e-content available on the Web. (Section 4 of this toolkit provides an introduction to the vast range of Web-based multicultural resources that are available.);
  • the issues, problems and solutions related to evaluating, providing access to, and using and developing Web-based multicultural resources. (Section 3 of this toolkit provides an introduction to the technology issues and solutions.); and
  • cross-cultural communications.

Step 5: Develop the multicultural collections

Once the multicultural collection development plan is in place, the next step is to acquire, catalogue and process the collections so that they are ready for use by the public. The library materials required to meet user needs will vary depending on the preferences of the different sectors within the multicultural community. Materials will often be available in a variety of formats, including books, periodicals, videos, audio recordings and ESL texts. They will be intended for a variety of age groups, from children to seniors, and can come in many languages, including roman and non-roman scripts.

Multicultural materials can be selected in most of the ways that general library materials are selected and in some ways that are unique to multicultural services, including:

  • selecting and purchasing from vendor and bookstore catalogues;
  • acquiring materials through visits to bookstores;
  • arranging for purchasing plans through vendors;
  • searching through reviews for recommended purchases;
  • attending book fairs (see section below on book fairs); and
  • seeking advice from the community through its organizations. This approach can also lead to donations of materials and of funds from these organizations. Recently, both the Windsor Public Library (Ontario) and the Richmond Public Library (British Columbia) have had success with this approach.

Book Fairs
Selecting materials by attending international book fairs is not an established practice among Canadian librarians responsible for the acquisition of multicultural materials. However it is a system much favoured by multicultural librarians in Australia and in Europe. For example, Benedikte Kragh-Schwarz 1, Director of the Danish Central Library for Immigrant Literature, states that the Cairo Book Fair is the best place for overall access to books from Arabic countries. She attends the book fair on behalf of Danish libraries and buys the books that they have requested. A trip to the fair is an ideal way to acquire books, and to upgrade general knowledge of both Arabic literature and the Arabic book market. Onsite selection provides high quality choices and fast and easy delivery and administration.

Robert Pestell 2 of the State Library of Queensland, Australia, also identifies international book fairs as a good source of multicultural library materials. Pestell points out that book fairs are great places for librarians to visit because they can:

  • afford an opportunity to see the current and planned publications of various countries;
  • provide a place to meet with publishers and booksellers;
  • enable the collecting of publishers' catalogues, posters and other publicity materials; and
  • provide a means to buy books at discounts of up to 50 percent, thus justifying the expense of attendance.

However, to succeed at purchasing books effectively at an international book fair is not easy. Pestell offers some excellent advice in his article in the fall 2002 issue of the IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Newsletter.

Since few bookstores or book jobbers in Canada stock books in all the languages required to support multicultural library services, one of the best sources for acquiring these books are international book fairs. The fairs also provide an opportunity to deal with suppliers abroad who have contact with a broad number of publishers.

Some of the more important international book fairs include:

  • Children's Book Fair, Bologna
  • Frankfurt Book Fair
  • Guadalajara International Book Fair (Latin American / Spanish Books)
  • Zimbabwe International Book Fair (Books published in Africa)

Step 6: Develop a multicultural library resources Web presence

The Internet and other new technologies have removed many of the traditional limitations that inhibited the development of multicultural collections by libraries. Although it does not eliminate the need to provide physical materials in other languages, the Internet provides the means for libraries to provide access to materials in any language that is present on the Internet. It enables libraries to provide digital material in languages for which the library may not have the resources to develop physical collections.

A library with a mandate to provide multicultural services should develop a Web presence with electronic resources of interest to the multicultural community. The library should provide virtual access to global multicultural resources through accessible Web sites. This is best done by providing pointers (links) to Web-based multicultural resources. The library Web site should provide access to Web-based services that are of relevance to the demographic makeup of the community, including:

  • Multilingual and international search engines (See Section 3.2 of this toolkit)
  • Multicultural Web directories - especially for any small, minority languages that may be part of the community's multicultural fabric (See Section 3.2 of this toolkit)
  • Multicultural reference resources (See Section 4 of this toolkit)
  • Links to sources of information on the country of origin for the larger linguistic groups resident within the library's service area (See Section 5 of this toolkit for a description of libraries that have already taken this step.)
  • Links to machine translation sites (See Section 3.3 of this toolkit.)
  • Instructions on the use of library services and collections in the main community languages

At a minimum, a library with a Web site should provide links on their Web site to:

  • sites such as onlinenewspapers.com http://onlinenewspapers.com/ that provide free access to thousands of the world's newspapers;
  • sites such as yourDictionary.com www.yourdictionary.com/languages.html that provide a directory of more than 1,500 online dictionaries for more than 230 languages; and
  • highlights of new multicultural materials received with reviews and recommendations.

Today in Canada a handful of libraries have done an excellent job of developing a Web presence for multicultural library services. Rather than having all public libraries in Canada develop multicultural Web pages and re-create what several libraries have already started, a co-ordinated approach to a decentralized system of developing multicultural Web services should be considered. This topic is covered in greater detail in Section 8 of this toolkit.

Step 7: Evaluate multicultural collections and the collection development process

By following the first six steps of this template libraries will have engaged the community in the planning and delivery of multicultural library services and therefore, the relevance, and even legitimacy of their programs, will have been established. This makes the monitoring and evaluation phase much easier.

Methods of evaluating multicultural library services and collections are:

  • User feedback and satisfaction ratings using questionnaires, surveys, complaint systems and facilitated focus groups.
  • Analysis of statistics, such as circulation statistics, to determine the actual use made of the multicultural collections.
  • Assessing the performance measures and deliverables that were developed as part of the plan for multicultural library services.

An analysis of the results of the evaluation process may lead the library to develop a new or revised plan for multicultural library services, and corresponding revisions or additions to the plan's section on multicultural collection development.


1 Benedikte Kragh-Schwarz, "Book Fairs - A Marketplace for Librarians," Newsletter: Library Services to Multicultural Populations, no.1, (fall 2002):1.3.

2 Robert Pestell, "The Logistics of International Book Buying," Newsletter: Library Services to Multicultural Populations, no.1, (fall 2002):8-9.

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