Notes on Starting a Foreign Language Book Discussion Group #PLA12

This was a converstation, which I heard is a new concept for PLA. The program says that they were formerly known as Talk Tables that are engaging forums on timely issues and concerns. it’s essentially more a discussion than just listening to a speaker and asking questions.

This session was facilitated by two Librarians from King County Library System in Washington.

Wendy Pender had us begin by saying our names and what population we were hoping to reach. She then spoke about her experience trying to begin a Chinese book discussion group.

She mentioned that she realized that out of their multiple language storytimes, the biggest was for the Chinese speaking population. That was used as a great indicator of what services would be helpful; she decided to get the parents involved as well.
Wendy stressed the importance of culture. To help in this understanding, form partnerships and find advisors. One such partnership is with the people one already has, staff and spouses of staff. She has a page teaching her book group and the husband of a coworker works for some kind of Chinese foundation.

She found out that because of culture and technological abilities, written communication was best.

After trial and error, they realized that open-ended questions were best and that just by asking them what they wanted, there was an enormous amount of goodwill generated.

Media outlets specific to the population like Chinese markets.

A useful tip was about acquiring the materials. Make friend with the people who buy your books, there are tons of procedures one must go through and its easier to work within that system.

What was particularly interesting to me in this portion was that a page at her library said she wanted to write a grant for them, so they put her to work on one for the book group. I think that’s great advice for a student such as myself to get some experience in that aspect.

This page, who teaches the group, uses a lot of different mediums in the groups like connecting the book to movies and, if possible, using social media.

She also invited everyone to contact her if there was a need for help finding funding.

Jose Garcia currently worked in outreach with the Latino population, so he spoke about his experiences there.

He noted that a lot of Latinos view the library as being for children only. He reiterated Wendy’s statement that community partnerships are important, but in his case it still took a year to a year and a half to get it off the ground. He also echoed her statement that email and written communication worked best.

His book group had mostly moms and a format that worked well was to have them write questions and then chose at random the ones to answer.

While, for Wendy’s Chinese group, political and religious topics didn’t go well, for Jose’s group, political and immigrant experience books were well-received. I told him about my frustration with only having Spanish language classics to read (I don’t like them in English, I certainly don’t want to read them in Spanish) and asked him for any resources on Spanish books from Spanish authors. He said there really isn’t any one source. A book that went over well for him was an immigrant experience book by Jorge Ramos and he also mentioned America Reads Spanish.

A great idea was instead of choosing a book, have oral stories told by members.

Nearing the end, Wendy mentioned a product from DEMCO in the exhibit hall called reader to reader cards, where patrons can leave reviews for other patrons on the cards hanging from the shelves. Afterward, another attendee mentioned the Guadalajara Book Fair as a Spanish book resource. The only downside is that I’m fairly certain you have to be a professional.

It was an informative session of things to do and what not to do. It was indeed interactive, although it felt that a few individuals took the conversation. Overall, I enjoyed it and got some great new tips and confirmation that I don’t have to be completely useless as a page. 🙂


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