Greater Olney and the English as a Second Language Community

By Emily RSS Thu, October 5, 2006

Marsha, Children's Librarian at the Greater Olney Branch, supplied the Free Library Blog with an interesting story about a neighborhood ESL program:

“The English as a Second Language (ESL) program is housed at Incarnation Church, just down the street. The sponsoring religious order is Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM). Sister Mary Regina is the leader. They currently have 277 students for the fall term. In the spring they had 250 students. The registration in the spring was more than 4 to 1 Haitian. The Free Library Reader Development Program supplies a limited number of free books to programs like IHM. After class, students come down to the library looking for those giveaway books. These include the Oxford Picture Dictionary, Survival English and the Side-By-Side series. We also distribute GED prep books and a whole array of language support materials.

When Greater Olney reopened, after being closed for a year, traffic at the library started building. Initially ESL students at Incarnation were asked to call Reader Development to order books. More often than not, people would show up looking for the books, not having made that phone call. After I thought about it, I realized that making a phone call must be very daunting to someone who is just learning the language. As a consequence, I explained the situation to Reader Development and they have kept me supplied to the best of their ability. On days when people go to class at Incarnation I may have 3-5 requests for books.

At this time most of our current supply has been exhausted and I may not be re-supplied fully until January. I am networking with other librarians about other possible sources for books or funds.

Since January when I joined the Free Library, I have met people from over 20 countries at the Greater Olney branch. Last week it was Trinidad, the week before Mozambique and Côte d'Ivoire. This has to be one of the greatest joys of being a librarian.

What I try to do is when students stop in at the library, I hand out whatever free material I have and show them other support material the library owns. I tell them that learning to read or speak English is the same for children or adults. In the children's collection I have phonics books and videos and also "Learn to Read" videos and pre-school/kindergarten skills videos. Our storybooks on tape or CD allow someone to follow a simple story line and listen to the correct pronunciation. Our collection of bi-lingual children's books (predominantly Spanish) can be used to read a story in one's native language and see the English equivalent. Parents can also ‘partner read’ with their children, the parent reads the Spanish and the child reads the English. We have a few copies of the books used in the ESL program which can be borrowed from the library. I hope to increase this collection as I am able. Lastly I show new patrons our adult language tape and CD collection. We are trying to add to this collection in response to the demand. The Collection Development Department is very responsive to our input on changes in the population of the neighborhood. They try to choose material for us which more closely mirrors the ethnic composition of Olney in 2006. Lately, our English for French speakers has been in constant use.

Recently, I have been showing off our special literature collections in other languages. Alberto, a library trainee from Puerto Rico, does a lecture series with discussion, in Spanish on Spanish literature, called "Lectura y Tertulia." He is currently working at the Rodriguez Branch .

I always ask people where they come from and if they are French or Spanish speakers, I try to greet them accordingly. Since fall I have used Google's translation tool to carry on conversations with foreign speakers. We encourage people to come in and practice their English on us.

In December we are planning a Caribbean Fest for the neighborhood with ethnic food, music, and storytelling. This is a wonderful location to celebrate diversity everyday!

I would love to find a funding source to increase our ability to provide more free language tools in our community. Please pass on any contacts you can think of!"

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Ms. Marsha is a great librarian! I love her as do all the Olney kids!
phillygrrl - Olney
Sunday, March 15, 2009