Ah, the public library – the place you perhaps went to as a child to sign out books so you could read and escape to new worlds in your imagination. But when was the last time you walked into your local public library as an educator (before social distancing)? And when did you realize the library offered more than just books? While there are some avid library users in the education field, there are still many who don’t recognize the underrated value the library has for the ESL community.
The library is a community hub of resources and opportunities. Working in the academic field for ten years, I admittedly used the library for my own personal interests and relied on the school library for resources for my students. When I found myself later in a role within a public library, my eyes were opened to the multitude of opportunities newcomers are able to explore. Public libraries are incredible at observing their surrounding community and creating programming that speaks to the needs around them. These hidden gems are what I want to share with you today.
1. English Conversation Circles
Many public libraries host English Conversation Circles, especially when they recognize a need in their community. At my local library, these circles really are a community effort. Led by volunteers who enjoy teaching and bringing the community together, these circles offer a supportive environment for ESL learners to practice their skills outside of the classroom.
2. Community Support Resources
Some libraries offer programs where a community professional comes to the library to provide support specifically for newcomers to discuss life topics such as housing, taxes, school, etc. For example, at our library, a settlement worker comes to the library each week so that newcomers can meet with them and ask questions. This type of partnership allows members of the community to have diverse access to information and support.
3. Audiobook Collections
Reading can be a daunting task for ELLs, so a good way to introduce English fiction is to provide audiobook versions. This is also a great suggestion you can give learners who have young children. Reading to your child is something we encourage in North America, but if the parent is not confident reading aloud in English, I often suggest signing out book kits that contain the book and a CD. The child and parent can follow along in the book while they listen to the CD. Another option is to ask library staff about digital resources. There are often many online learning resources for children and adults.
4. Technology Support
Technology is all around us – and even more so right now – but we have to recognize that many newcomers and refugees don’t have the same kind of access. Public libraries offer many tools and services for the community so that everyone can have fair access. Most libraries provide computers to use inside for free, which can be very helpful for ELLs who need to access educational material or print documents. Our library even offers hot spots to sign out for those who don’t have internet access at home.
5. Library Visits
This is by far the best opportunity for your learners to experience the library. Many libraries offer different experiences for the needs of the class either in your classroom or at the library. No matter which option, most libraries are happy to customize the visit or tour. Getting a library card is a simple process in most library systems, so be sure to research the process and prepare your students before the visit. Even now, many libraries are creating innovative ways to provide digital library cards to their communities.
Even though we’re not physically able to attend public libraries right now, libraries across the country are finding ways to stay connected to their communities and provide access to information and development. As you support your learners through virtual means, consider researching your local public library for virtual opportunities for your learners whether those be e-books/audiobooks, online conversation circles, or other virtual workshops and programs.
If there are some hidden gems I haven’t mentioned here, please share in the comments below.