Over the past two weeks or so, our group members visited their chosen libraries to make observations about the presence of languages other than English (“LOTE”). These libraries were the UNSW Library (Lucia), the State Library of NSW (Jordan), Pennant Hills Branch Library (Ellen), Penrith City Library (Tegan), Waverley Library (Philip), and Epping Branch Library (Kit).
We looked at LOTE presence in terms of a number of elements which we decided upon together and included in the guide that we took with us in order to compare the observations once we made them.
The first thing we looked at was the foreign language section. The State Library appears to have the largest range with over 50 languages available. Interestingly however, it is the only library without a physical foreign language section – books are provided upon request at the service desk. All the other libraries have actual shelf-space dedicated to foreign languages.
With the exception of Chinese, dominating languages in these spaces varied by location. Pennant Hills for instance, appears to be dominated by Persian; at Waverley Library, Russian is by far the largest section; in Epping, it’s Korean and Hindi; in Penrith, Spanish and Arabic, and at UNSW, Asian languages have the most resources available.
Overall though, Chinese appears to have the greatest presence across the libraries that we went to. At Epping Library, Chinese has its own stand-alone revolving shelves containing Chinese novel series, and Pennant Hills has a whole separate section for Chinese books and films which is in a different location to the rest of the foreign languages.
We also looked at signs posted around the library spaces. These were pretty much all exclusively in English with the exception of Pennant Hills which features some Chinese writing on the signs in its Chinese section. The libraries do all make use of semiotics however, labelling things like lifts, bathrooms and exits in a way that speakers of any language could understand. The State Library also uses arrows to direct users to various parts of the library, but these arrows are placed next to labels printed in English which you would have to understand for them to be of any use.
Above image demonstrates the use of semiotics at Penrith Library
Next, we looked at pamphlets and notice boards. Even though there were things advertised which related to foreign language (e.g. calligraphy and painting sessions, a Shanghai study tour, Spanish classes, etc), they were for the most part written in English. The State Library offers a library user-guide pamphlet in 6 languages other than English and Pennant Hills had some community notices in Chinese, but apart from this the libraries only used English.
We then looked at what support was available for non-native English speakers and this varied quite a bit. Waverley, Penrith, and Pennant Hills for example, offer no classes to learn English, but Pennant Hills does host LOTE meetings which are run by external parties. Waverley has a single shelf dedicated to learning English on one’s own, but unless you have a Chinese or Korean background, the available books and CDs will be of no help to you. Along similar lines, Epping offers conversational English classes, but they don’t specify any particular language background (the notice was translated solely in Chinese however, which would suggest that this is the only option).
While it also didn’t offer English classes, the State Library does provide support for users in 23 languages by way of translation services and inquiries. The problem with this is that there are no signs in LOTE identifying this service and you need to ask for it specifically (and in English) at the service desk. If it was obvious that you weren’t competent in English then they could probably go about determining your native language and find you a translator from the pool of staff that they have on call, however the fact that this service is so poorly publicised means that it is probably also under-used.
Epping has Chinese and Korean speakers on their regular staff, although on the day that Kit visited, the Korean speaking member wasn’t present (so they evidently aren’t always an option).
The UNSW Library doesn’t offer any support, but this is because the University itself provides support and courses for non-English speakers. For instance, UNSW Global provides a 6 month course to people starting at the university who have a language background other than English.
Lastly, we looked at the availability of language settings on the library software.
Penrith, UNSW and Waverley only have English available as a language setting. The State Library has various language settings, though interestingly enough these are only for peripheral services such as access to the lockers. All other formal processes are in English.
Epping and Pennant Hills on the other hand do have a number of different language settings available to users – the main ones being English, Chinese, and Korean.