Perspectives on cultural competence...

Submitted by jalee2 on Mon, 08/30/2010 - 13:00

From Luis Francisco Vargas:

When I was working for Phoenix Public Library, we had several efforts to try to bridge Cultural Competencies (CC) for Latinos at the library. In my opinion, CCs are basically broken down into 4 components:
    1.    Awareness of one's own cultural worldview,
    2.    Attitude towards cultural differences,
    3.    Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews, and
    4.    Cross-cultural skills.

The awareness piece is what most libraries will have in their Strategic Plan. For example, in Phoenix those of us who spoke Spanish wore a special staff badge that read "Hablo Espa�ol."  That was an easy way to put library users at ease, at least when it came to asking the first question.  

Attitude towards cultural differences is another one that comes to mind.  When ordering materials and building collections, we made sure we had books representative of our community (mostly Mexican American/ Mexican) so we ordered fotonovelas (illustrated adult harlequins), magazines, and newspapers from Mexico, bilingual children's picture books, popular author's from Mexico and had the signage in terms that were understandable as opposed to library jargon.  

Many cultural practices, for example, would be to offer a typewriter service, allowing for US mail for correspondence as opposed to only online or phone, also making specific publications in just Spanish.

Some of the words used when translating materials had to be altered to make it consistent with cultural background so that it would easily be understood without having to use slang or particular colloquial expressions only known to regions in Mexico.

It's definitely eye opening to hold "Community forums." We had not realized that the security guard was the first person library goers were coming into contact with as they entered the library or that having the children's Spanish section was a bad idea.  I believe for a while books were inter-shelved at the Main Library meaning at the end of each row you could find the Spanish counterparts of each and every topic.  I would have to show a picture for this.

I have another anecdote about CC. I was able to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico for the yearly International book fair. ALA sponsors it so our library did not have to pay for much.  This book fair is the largest in the world and it was an amazing learning opportunity about providing Library users appropriate materials.  It was a split between librarians and book sellers and they were by the most part all Spanish speakers.  We learned informally about the issues with Spanish Book Publishing/ and international book selling that helps us recognize that there is lack of information specially in Adult Non-Fiction and (in my opinion) Juvenile Fiction (Chapter books) where there are very few quality authors.  There is a huge need for authentic works (not translated materials) and for an authentic voice.  

I would go as far as to say that IMLS students should be required to travel to major events like these to get a broader sense and to learn from people directly making decisions.

I believe the Public Libraries in general (in the US) are at about midway in the spectrum of CC.  Some obviously are way ahead and others fall far behind.  Even well meaning institutions get it wrong because the outsource of CC to a � day training with some out of town consultant.  It's lip service but it is hardly enforced what the Strategic Plans mention in terms of CC.  If brought to their attention, the policies do work and get enforced but for that to happen we rely on "Cultural Warriors" within the institution who are not seen as fanatics or lone-rangers.  Many CW lose credibility because of their approach, so we have to be very careful and bring allies to the table and be strategic about which issues will be brought forward for policy makers to re-evaluate.  

Let me add another thought, host authentic Cultural Events!  (ie. Nuestras Raices)
We celebrated Dia de los Muertos (all the way) and this opened the opportunities to showcase the Library's own CC because the public then knew we had experts within our institution who understood them and who, they themselves, belong to this culture!  I think this is a very obvious example but how many times we forget to celebrate these important holidays (without having to make it a religious event) without taking the meaning away as well.  It also can go hand in hand with Branding which Library administration is crazy about.  We brand the library as the go-to point for a certain important yearly event and we have a great turn out to such and such event!  It's exactly the way to get library admin to notice CC and maintain the library looking good!
I hope this helps the conversation started
Luis Francisco Vargas
Yuma County Library District
Youth Services Manager
2951 S 21st. Dr
Yuma, AZ 85364
W (928) 373-6494