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ACRL's Diversity Standards Toolkit

Language Diversity

Librarians and library staff shall support the preservation and promotion of linguistic diversity, and work to foster a climate of inclusion aimed at eliminating discrimination and oppression based on linguistic or other diversities.

ACRL's Interpretation of Standard 6

Linguistic restrictions and prohibitions, such as the English-only concept, have been used throughout American history as the dominant culture’s method of dealing with perceived threats to linguistic, and thus cultural, homogeneity.

Demographics in the United States have changed dramatically in the last ten years, and will continue to transform society. This change has affected our interaction with each other as colleagues, co-workers, and as information service providers striving to serve our diverse populations and to collaborate in our multiethnic/multicultural library workplaces. Among all the parameters affecting these interactions, language diversity—the vocal, audible aspect of diversity—poses challenges to librarians, library staff, and library administrators.

Language as a means of communication encompasses all languages spoken by librarians, library staff and constituents, and also includes the needs of the disabled (sign language) and those with speech and/or hearing difficulties. 

The following guidelines serve as incentives towards equity and understanding in interactions and communications with each other. Librarians and library staff shall seek to:

  • Provide and advocate for the provision of information, reference, referrals, instruction, collection management, and other services in the language appropriate to their constituencies, including the use of interpreters.
  • Master reference interviewing techniques that reflect an understanding of the role of language in the client’s culture.
  • Acknowledge the efforts of English-language learners or the constituent with speech impediments. Patient listening is necessary. Consider alternative ways (technology or writing) to communicate with the constituent.
  • Review the current and emergent demographic trends for the library’s constituent populations to determine the need for the provision of interpretation and translation services.
  • Collection managers should be attentive to represent the linguistic needs of library constituents, and assure that library resources in print or electronic formats are available, especially to support the academic curricula reflecting all diversity issues, including those of visually disabled constituents.
  • Clear signage, perhaps in more than one language appropriate to the library’s constituencies, should be used prominently. Translation of guides to the library and other important documents should also be considered.
  • A guide and/or directory containing the language (including sign language) proficiency of the library’s staff who would be willing to be called as interpreters should be created.

Potential Applications of Standard 6

Educate library staff on cultural and language diversity. Staff should learn that culturally, people communicate differently and to understand to respond appropiately.

ACRL's Standards Selection of Sites Disclosure

To the extent that it is possible, we have selected several national and state resources.  Note that the UAF libraries are not responsible for the content of external websites.  These news feeds are simply a starting point to your implementing of these standards.

Speaking Another Language to Strangers

Notice the various reactions. Use this video to open discussion about lanuage diversity.

Ice Breakers

"Blindfold...[participants], put them in a space where they can't bump into anything dangerous, tell them to line up in order of their mother's birth dates SILENTLY. Sometimes the biggest hurdle to learning  for highly educated, very accomplished professionals is admitting  they NEED to learn something. This is a great, and safe, way for  them to experience 'hindered communication', similar to what might  happen with people whose first language is not English or people new to their workgroup or people outside of their professional  field. It can launch some good discussions of communication paradigms,  barriers to good communication, etc." -