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Language Workers in Libraries

Hamilton Public Library (Canada)

Problem Statement

Hamilton is a community with a significant immigration population. Many of our immigrants come from war torn countries and are uncomfortable in “government” buildings. Many, as well, come from countries where no schools have been available. Their only means of communication is through speech and library staff rarely have the necessary language skills.


Working with local agencies, such as the YMCA, we ensure that new groups of immigrants (particularly refugees) are introduced to the concept of libraries by a person from their home country. New Canadians are assured that providing personal information to library staff does NOT mean that this information can be used by government. Many of our refugees have a fear of all things government and a reluctance to trust that what they read or view will not be shared with officials who might use it against them.

As well, library branches in communities where refugees tend to reside are staffed, on given evenings or days, by people who speech their language. Refugees and other new Canadians will know, for example, that Tuesday evening in a particular location is a time when a person speaking their language will be present and can help them with questions or can act as interpreter to other library staff members.

Working with partners, Toronto Public Library also operates a language workers in branches program.


We have a much higher percentage of refugees and other New Canadians who quickly learn the importance of the library. We have found that several branches are becoming community living rooms, since apartments can be crowded – containing more than one family. Families introduced to the library through the program often move to Conversation Circles, held in many branches, to assist new Canadians learn English. Other sign up for formal English training tutoring, held at the Central Library.