Multiculturalism in Boston Public Library  — Know how BPL operates in the 21st Century

In the basement of China World Trade Center on 2 Boylston Street, a group of primary school students sat listening stories as a librarian reading.

“Wan an, Zhu Ni Zuo Yi Ge Hao Meng,” the librarian finished reading the final chapter of a unique Chinese fairy tale. The sentence means “good night, wish you have a lovely dream.”

In February, Boston Chinatown finally opened its own public library in 60 years. More than 9,800 people came to visit this new branch of Boston Public Library within a month. The number of its stock of book has increased from 2,500 to 3,200 in a month, and there is a 30 percent of increase of books going off shelves than it was in February.

As Boston Public Library’s newest branch which opened in February 2018, Chinatown branch library has shown the trend of incorporating diversity and different cultures into the city. It joins other branches of Boston Public Library system that offer bilingual readings, books, and programs, such as Spanish, Russian, and French. The Media Relations Specialist, Heather Cho, said that most libraries in the U.S. show the trend of bringing more world languages’ books and becoming more diverse. Like most of those libraries across the country, the BPL is expanding its bilingual offering.

Allen Knight is the Chinatown branch’s librarian. He, like other people in the community, said he was really excited about its opening. Chinatown branch organized 13 programs in a month which attracted around 380 people to come. Librarians promote those by publishing information on social media, sending out flyers to other communities, and talking to people.  “We have excellent staff; the patrons are great to work with.” Knight said, “Here in Chinatown, we are happy.”

Knight’s daily job starts with checking emails, the condition of books, devices, and safety issues. He goes over people’s donation requests online, and talks to staff members and his supervisor from BPL main branch at Copley Square about what Chinatown branch needs.

Chinatown has built up regular programs to organize so far. Every Monday, it has programs for the infant to three years old children; Every Tuesday afternoons, it offers programs for elder children. Over the week, approximately 75 children and their families come to Chinatown branch.

Chinatown has not opened any bilingual programs so far. It is looking for some bilingual staff members who can speak Chinese or Cantonese to develop the potential programs. Copley Square branch is also looking for volunteers to help to organize the programs.

“We hope to hire someone in this summer.” Knight said, “ That is what we are working toward.” Although Chinatown branch has not offered bilingual programs yet, Knight has been organizing a special English as Second Language (ESL) conversational group to help the people in the community to learn and practice English.

Every branch of the library system has some friend groups to help get financial support or want to contribute to its development, so does Chinatown branch. They will meet once a month, and sometimes will help sell and buy books for the branch. Knight said that the branch would always keep the classics, but if books were kept on the shelf for years, they would replace them or send to other branches.

Now, there are four to five kinds of Chinese magazines in the branch. It also has DVDs, CDs, and books for young adults in English and Chinese. In the building where Chinatown is located, two ESL schools teach bilingual students. Knight usually invites students and teachers coming down to the branch, read newspapers and books, have a little talk together.

Most of the patrons of Chinatown tend to use laptops and read the newspaper more often than other services that library provides. It has 10 laptops now, and will receive 10 Apple Macs soon. The Boston Globe and Boston Herald are the only two English newspapers that deliver to Chinatown branch every day. One drawback is that it does not provide business journal, but Knight said patrons could search in the database for online resources or available copy from other libraries.

The 1,500-square-foot space is a temporary place for Chinatown branch. BPL plans to build a larger permanent one that can own the building like other branches. The Mayor strongly supports Chinatown searching for a location. “No one knows the date and place, but we will definitely find a new place,” Knight said.

Knight said that people would think the library might face financial difficulties. “But it does not because Mayor Walsh really cares about the libraries,” he said.

jo 304 final chartBPL gets the annual budget from the city and state. A whole library fiscal year is from July 1 to June 30, each branch under BPL will receive the budget on July 1 and can spend it monthly buying books and organizing programs. Money can be saved to spend until next months but will be terminated when the fiscal year ends.

Chinatown branch sends requests to Copley Square branch’s Collection Development Department if want to order more books or people donating books to the library. It takes one week to process and gets approval for donation, and three weeks for the department to check with vendors and buy books for certain branches.

Not far from the green line’s Copley Square station, the main branch of BPL system is located in this grand, historic building.

Melissa Andrews, the manager of Boston Public Library’s Collection Development Department, said that there is 16 languages’ collection in BPL system.

Twelve years ago, BPL stopped buying several languages, such as Estonia and some Indian languages because the library’s data showed the usage was very low and many books were falling apart.

But BPL is always considering adding more languages based on information provided by the city of Boston. Andrews said they would include factors, such as who lives in the city, what languages do they speak, and vendors’ availability when choosing new items to make sure BPL has regular books coming in and new materials on daily bases.

The three languages that are in high demand in BPL are Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. Last year, 3,280 items in Chinese, 645 items in Russian, 1,859 items in Spanish were added in. The number of all world languages’ items adding to shelves is 6,526. Staff members who can speak the three languages come to Collection Development Department and help decide what books should buy.

Andrews said that in Adams St. and Connolly branches, many Vietnam items are in high demand; In Brighton and Faneuil branches, people rent more Russian items; Basically in every branch, Spanish items are needed. The Department will balance the community’s need to order new items.

The main branch also keeps some world languages’ books, “We have ten or twenty books, like a small collection for the few patrons that come in so that they can refresh easily.” Andrews said.


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