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Imperial Valley Libraries entice new patrons through Spanish-language videoconferences

Dan Theobald
i2i Communications

“What’s a public library?” Now, who would ask a question like that?

How about the large percentage of Imperial County’s Hispanic population who are recent immigrants from Mexico.

“The public library is not a staple of everyday life in Mexico,” says Sandra Tauler, director of the Camarena Memorial Library in Calexico. “Libraries have traditionally been used only by university students. In our community, we have a lot of Spanish-speaking residents who think we are a bookstore and charge for books and services.”

So how do you market public library services to folks who have little or no knowledge about what a public library is or does?

Faced with that stumper, Tauler and colleagues Marjo Mello (Brawley Public Library) and Connie Barrington (Imperial County Free Library) dreamed up Proyecto Televista. The project, funded by an LSTA grant, uses interactive videoconferencing to provide residents with live, interactive Spanish-language programs featuring nationally prominent Hispanic role models and subject matter experts. El Centro Public Library recently became the fourth project partner.

“By featuring prominent persons, particularly figures that people know from TV or radio, we hope to attract new users to the libraries and educate them about all the Spanish-language services we have to offer,” says Tauler. “Once we’ve got them in the door, they’re a captive audience for our message, at least till the videoconference is over. No one leaves without a library card!”

Another benefit of working with media personalities is that local affiliates of the big Spanish-language TV and radio networks are willing to help with local publicity if it also helps promote their own programming. So far, the Proyecto Televista team has made friends with the local Radio Unica and Telemundo affiliates, and is camping out on the doorstep of the local Univision affiliate.

Their tenacity is paying off. To date, five Proyecto Televista program have been produced, featuring celebrities such as Radio Unica’s Dr. Isabel Gomez-Bassols, a psychologist with a popular daily program on family and relationship issues, attorney Cristina Perez from the Telemundo television network’s “Family Court” show, and best-selling Latin American author Carlos Cuauhtemoc Sanchez. The programs have been attracting between 150 - 225 viewers among the four libraries, and the librarians estimate that at least 25 percent of each program’s audience is comprised of first-time library visitors. In addition to getting library cards, many of these new patrons have signed up for various library programs such as English language literacy and Internet classes.

Proyecto Televista plans to finish out its second year of LSTA funding with four programs in 2004, beginning with Radio Unica sportscaster and soccer expert Jorge Ramos on February 3.

“All of the speakers have been very supportive of our project goals, and have offered to speak again,” Tauler says. “That would be great, because we’ve had people standing in the aisles to ask them questions when the programs have ended - and to think we initially thought that our audiences would be shy about asking questions via videoconference!

“Without this technology, there is simply no way that we could present a speaker series like this, involving four public libraries in a rural community two hours away from the nearest big airport. But thanks to videoconferencing, we can open a window on the world for our patrons, while opening their eyes to our library resources at the same time.”

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