Yakima Valley Libraries: Serving the Spanish-Speaking Community During the Pandemic
Sunday, July 25, 2021
by: Francisco Garcia-Ortiz, PhD

Section: News Articles


Spring/Summer 2021

Francisco Garcia-Ortiz, Ph.D., is the Public Library Services Director at Yakima Valley Libraries. He has been exercising his professional career in academic and public libraries since 1992, both in Spain and the United States. He currently oversees and directs public services staff in the delivery of system-wide programs and services. In addition, Francisco represents Cultural Diversity on the Library Council of Washington (2020 – 2022).

Buena Library
Buena Library

Yakima Valley Libraries (YVL) is located in the beautiful, agricultural Yakima County in south-central Washington State. Yakima County is 4,296 square miles and is the second-largest county in Washington State. Our Library District consists of a central library and 16 community libraries located throughout Yakima County, in addition to a brand-new library currently under construction. YVL presently serves a very diverse community with over 250,000 people.

When we plan services, the diversity of Yakima County is always on our minds. According to the most recent Census data (QuickFacts), the largest ethnic group in Yakima County is Hispanic/Latino, which comprises 50.2% of the population. Furthermore, 41.2% of County residents aged five and older speak a language other than English at home, with 100,000 reporting Spanish as the primary language spoken in the home.

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, our Governor implemented the Roadmap for Recovery Plan, our library buildings closed, and we moved to online services only. A few weeks later, the Washington State Library invited YVL to participate in a project led by Washington State University, in partnership with several other organizations, to install Drive-Fi WiFi extenders in some of our community libraries.

The outcomes were excellent. Once we marketed the new service, our patrons responded very well to the extended radius of our library WiFi, which allowed for patrons to access stronger and better wireless internet outside of our buildings. We also made WiFi access available 24/7 so patrons could connect at anytime.

However, increased internet access was only the first step in the adventure of servicing our patrons during the early days of the pandemic. We also developed a reopening plan that included services, programs, and resources specifically designed to engage and support our Spanish-speaking population.


LatinoAmericans Exhibit at Sunnyside Library
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Those services, programs, and resources include:
  • Virtual Tertulia is a social, educational, and cultural event that can be defined as a book-and-conversation group. This program, which was initially offered in person, has been active for almost five years, and is now 100% online due to the pandemic. In person and online, we created a safe and comfortable environment for patrons to talk in Spanish about literature, art, history, and music.

  • Our new Club Virtual de Lectura en Español, an online Spanish book club, received a warm welcome in the midst of the pandemic, and attendance has continued to grow. When selecting reading materials, we only choose books originally written in Spanish or by Spanish-speaking authors.

  • Phone-a-Story in Spanish (and English) was designed specifically for patrons without internet access, but can be enjoyed by anyone. Staff record a story weekly on the voicemail of a dedicated phone line, which patrons can then call to hear a story, either in Spanish or in English.

  • Online Storytime in Spanish, where bilingual library staff recorded storytimes in Spanish and shared them online using social media platforms, such as YouTube and Facebook.

  • Website enhancements, such as a new landing page featuring services, programs, and online assistance for Spanish-speaking patrons, were added to our website. In addition, the new page was easily accessible via direct links from some of the most-visited pages on the website.

  • New Translation Plugin from WordPress allowed us to improve the English/Spanish translation process on the YVL website. As a result, we now have more flexibility to manually translate English content, enhance the existing automatic translations, and provide quality Spanish translations for our patrons almost instantly.

  • We provided Communications & Promotions once the pandemic arrived by contributing informational articles to the local Spanish newspaper, El Sol de Yakima, to communicate our emergency response and reopening plans to our Spanish-speaking community. We were also interviewed on our local Spanish-language radio station, Radio KDNA.

  • Spanish as a second Language: Staff Training, a new project where a Spanish-speaking staff member will meet (virtually) for an hour once a week with other staff members who wish to improve their Spanish language skills. They will practice Spanish conversational skills under the guidance of the group leader. As a result, YVL's quality of service to Spanish-speaking patrons will increase as individual staff members' Spanish language skills improve.
We do not know what the future will bring us, but we want to be ready when it arrives. Our one-year strategic plan for 2021 is meant to address goals relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as developing stronger relationships with diverse communities, supporting staff by providing pertinent training, and using technology to increase customer access to our resources. Additionally, the strategic plan outlines the ways in which YVL will ensure our libraries continue to be safe and welcoming, and that library finances meet current community expectations and support future growth.

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