World Language Collection at the California State Library

“Biblioteka” (Basque), “pustAghawr” (Bengali), “bibliteka” (Serbo-Croatian), “kutuphane” (Turkish), “thu vien” (Vietnamese), “bibliotek” (Yiddish), and “kozkonyvtar” (Hungarian) are the words for “library” in the languages that many Californians speak and read. Since the 1800s, immigrants have woven rich languages such as these into the vibrant tapestry of California culture.

And for decades, the California State Library (CSL), by providing California’s newest citizens with reading material in the languages most familiar to them, has eased those immigrants transition into a new culture.

Since the CSL began collecting world language books, the collection has grown to more than 25,000 titles in at least 50 Arabic, Asian, European, Hispanic, Indic, Scandinavian, and Slavic languages. The collection includes fiction and non-fiction in both original works and translations from English.

The CSL circulates these materials as a service to libraries that serve residents who speak other languages. California libraries may borrow the CSL’s world language materials by specifying title, subject, genre, or age level. As a special service, libraries may request a small collection of books for the use of a group of borrowers rather than for only one person. All a library staff member need do is define the group need, and a CSL staff member in Sacramento will select and send up to 25 fiction and/or non-fiction titles anywhere in the state.

Julie Davidson, the librarian in charge of the World Language Collection in the CSL’s State Information and Reference Center (SIRC), has seen the “grouping” service make a real difference in people’s lives. Davidson tells of a group of Chernobyl children who were visiting Nevada County last summer and grappling with homesickness. Davidson sent about 50 Russian children’s books for the group to the Nevada County Library. Nevada County’s Katrin Olafsson wrote to Davidson, “I cannot thank you enough for all the wonderful children’s books you sent our way! The children were starved for books in Russian and were thrilled with the selection!”

Davidson prizes a note that Steve Sherr from the San Mateo County library forwarded from one of his Korean customers. “This is such a wonderful service!” the customer wrote, “I am so appreciative and my 8 year-old is reading Korean each day!” Davidson also chuckles about a user who staff at one local library described as a “very hungry reader,” who gobbles up every Japanese language mystery in the library’s collection.

Many California libraries have good world language collections but the CSL’s collection has unique benefits including an unusually wide variety of languages - from Arabic to Vietnamese. There are also books from many different time periods. Vicki Blegen from SIRC recently noticed a number of Italian romance novels in the stacks from the early part of the last century.

Although all libraries have customers who will enjoy these books, the smaller, rural libraries with “very hungry readers,” will find this collection especially valuable.

For further information, please contact: California State Library, State Information and Reference Center, 914 Capitol Mall, Room 301, P.O. Box 942837, Sacramento, CA 94237-0001, Phone: 916-654-0261, Fax: 916-654-0241, Email: cslsirc@library.ca.gov


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