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Reflecting Our Diverse Community

Multnomah County Library
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Innovation Leader: Vailey Oehlke, Director of Libraries , vaileyo@multcolib.org

Problem Statement

Over the past 10 years our county’s population rapidly has become more diverse, with 13% of county residents now speaking Spanish, Chinese, Russian or Vietnamese in their homes. These communities are fast growing, increasing by 32%, whereas the English-speaking Multnomah County population has increased by 5% in that same period of time.

Portland State University’s analysis of our county’s demographic trends reveals that:

  • Our county’s current population growth is due to international migration
  • One in four children entering kindergarten is Latino
  • Only about one in two of these students graduate from high school

In 2005 we had no staff who spoke Chinese, Russian or Vietnamese in our library system; nor did we have any bilingual youth librarians.

Innovation

With funding from an LSTA grant we conducted a needs assessment in 2006 to learn more about the Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese communities. We subsequently expanded our staffing, services and collections using community input and data to drive those decisions. In 2009 we also conducted three focus groups in the Latino community to refresh our understanding of that community’s current needs and assessment of our library’s services.

Five years later we now have 19 staff who speak Russian, Chinese or Vietnamese languages. We have doubled the number of Spanish speaking staff. We have four bilingual youth librarians in our system, and will have a fifth when we open a new branch this summer. Our goal is to provide bilingual staff in identified locations to meet community needs every hour that we are open.

Progress

Circulation of library materials in these four languages has increased by 39%. Reference questions (conducted in these four languages) have increased by 13%, whereas other reference questions are almost at flat growth of .5%.

Community partnerships have blossomed. For example , the Vietnamese Community of Oregon presented the library’s Midland Regional Library with a community service recognition award. We have been a key stakeholder in a regional effort to increase the Census count among underserved communities and have held successful Census programs for these four communities.

The following remark shared by a Latino community leader during one of our focus groups in 2009 captures this effort nicely:

“When I think of the libraries, I see that it takes into account the neighborhoods, the people in its area. The services, the languages, the staff – for the Russian community, the Spanish-speaking community, the Chinese community.”