Why buy Spanish Books?

by Albert Milo, Director
Fullerton Public Library

At a recent Library Board meeting I was confronted by a community resident objecting to the Library's purchase of Spanish books with taxpayers' money. I thought I would share with you my response to him in case you should find yourself in a similar situation.


1. It is part of our library's written mission statement to serve the needs of a "culturally diverse community."

2. It is part of our library's collection development plan to purchase non-English materials whenever a group in the community reaches 5% or more of the pop. According to the 1990 Census, the Hispanic pop. of Fullerton is 21%.

3. Spanish-speakers are "taxpayers" too and contribute to the economic well being of the community. They pay sales, property and utility taxes like everyone else!

4. Not all important literary works ever written have been written only in English. There are authors like Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Isabelle Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Laura Esquivel and Cervantes, who all wrote original works in Spanish. Neruda even received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his efforts!

5. The Spanish-speaking have rights to information just like everyone else, particularly in areas of health (e.g. AIDS), law (e.g. how to become a citizen), and parenting (e.g. how to support the family unit). Their reading interests are as wide and varied as those of English speakers.

6. There is a strong correlation between literacy in one language and literacy in a second language. Just by being in the library, a Spanish speaker gets exposed to the wealth of material available in the English language. When I have done ESL tours I point out our pictures books and even the juvenile collection as starting points for learning basic English.

7. The library is helping to provide opportunities for recent immigrants to learn English. We have ESL tapes, bilingual dictionaries and literacy classes. How else are they going to learn! People don't learn English just because you pass a law. They need to be provided with opportunities to learn English.

8. The majority of Spanish speakers that I have met in the library agree that in order to function in the United States that they need to learn English. Most of them are "thirsting" for the ability to speak in English. Just look at the many names on waiting lists for ESL classes. Like many immigrants before them, however, it takes time. Usually by the 3rd generation they, like others before them, become monolingual English speakers. It was true of the Germans, the Irish, and other groups.

9. Traditionally, public libraries have always had non-English collections. Look at the large city libraries of NYPL, LAPL and Chicago PL. In California one of the main differences is that now the emphasis is on Pacific Rim languages and not European languages. Why weren't there complaints 10 years ago when Fullerton's collection was predominantly Italian, German, and French books?

10. Finally, the proportion of Spanish books purchased is still dwarfed by the proportion of English books in the collection. Fullerton has 3,000 Spanish books out of 250,000 books total. This translates into only 1% of the collection! If anything, we should be buying more Spanish books not less.