This week our group chose to focus on gathering data through interviewing the staff members and library users of our specified libraries in order to gain insight into their subjective impressions of demographics, language use, and how the space influenced language choices. The following information will focus mainly on Penrith Library because, of the suburbs included in the research task, it had the lowest rates of foreign language use and interesting uses of English within the library, and UNSW library because it had the highest rates of people born overseas in surrounding suburbs and the demographic data was more easily connected to the people actually using the library.

Interestingly, Penrith was the suburb with the lowest population of people that were born overseas at 21.7% and that speak a second language at home, sitting at 14% (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010). This data seems to be reflective of the language used in the library, even though, of the five staff members available at the counter the day of the interview, all but one spoke at least one additional language other than English (German, Spanish, Afrikaans, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi) – identifying as falling somewhere between ‘conversational’ and ‘fluent’. Each staff member could recall a time when their LOTE had helped them interact with a library user, be it in providing information, assisting with inquiries, or simply helping them develop rapport. Though, for the most part, staff agreed that speakers of LOTE were becoming less common. They searched through book trends of the last 5 years to demonstrate that there has been a 50% decline in the books available in the foreign language section.

With regards to general interactions in English, Penrith also had interesting results. The library staff said that the majority of library users were high school and university students who used the space to study, but that this tended to result in interesting interactions. For instance, the staff member provided an example of dialog that had happened that morning – “Oi! You! Come here! I can’t find this fucking book.”. She specified that the interaction wasn’t meant to be offensive or rude – that it was simply how some patrons spoke to them, though she clarified that they were generally spoken to in casual, polite English such as “Can you help me with this?”. Overall, the language used in Penrith Library was almost exclusively casual English.

The UNSW library staff interviews also provided interesting insights. The Randwick and Kensington suburbs have extremely high population numbers of people born overseas, sitting at 45.5% and 57% respectively (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017b; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017a). UNSW’s status and promotion as an international university may have had an influence over these figures. The UNSW website specifies that approximately 25% (11,000 people) of the student body is made up of international students from 130 countries (University of New South Wales, 2016). Our data, from staff, library users, and our own observations tends to reflect these figures as there appears to be a vast number of foreign languages present in active use throughout the library, though staff members pointed out that, from their own observations, English appears to be the lingua franca, commonly used when discussing academic information. This was reinforced by a student who suggested that it was easier to discuss their class work in the language it was taught in. The UNSW library was also the easiest to connect between general demographic statistics and users as there were figures related to the number of international students at the university, who will likely use the library facilities during their studies.

The library, as a place specifically related to the policing and use of language, appears to have a number of complex factors influencing the ways that language is manifested. It is evident that for the most part English is the language most people assume will be used to navigate the library, even when using the foreign language sections. The fact that foreign languages appear to be less commonly spoken in libraries may be accounted for by this assumption. Many people will alter their behaviours and select their language use based on the social expectations of their immediate environment in order to identify or not identify with certain social groups, and in most cases people will attempt to assimilate their behaviours towards the greater social standard which, in this specific case, is the use of English in the library (Blommaert, 2013). The lack of strategies to encourage and foster greater linguistic diversity is likely the root cause of why English is clearly a dominating language within these spaces.

 

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics,. (2017a). Kensington – Kingsford : Region Data SummaryStat.abs.gov.au. Retrieved 6 April 2017, from http://stat.abs.gov.au/itt/r.jsp?RegionSummary&region=118021349&dataset=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&geoconcept=REGION&datasetASGS=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&datasetLGA=ABS_REGIONAL_LGA&regionLGA=REGION&regionASGS=REGION

 

Australian Bureau of Statistics,. (2010). National Regional Profile : Penrith (C) (Local Government Area). Abs.gov.au. Retrieved 4 April 2017, from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/LGA16350Population/People12004-2008?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=LGA16350&issue=2004-2008

 

Australian Bureau of Statistics,. (2017b). Randwick : Region Data Summary. Stat.abs.gov.au. Retrieved 4 April 2017, from http://stat.abs.gov.au/itt/r.jsp?RegionSummary&region=118021352&geoconcept=REGION&dataset=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&datasetLGA=ABS_REGIONAL_LGA&datasetASGS=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&regionLGA=REGION&regionASGS=REGION

 

Blommaert, J. (2013). Citizenship, Language, and Superdiversity: Towards Complexity. Journal Of Language, Identity & Education, 12(3), 193-196. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15348458.2013.797276

 

University of New South Wales,. (2016). Who are my learners?. Retrieved 11 April 2017, from https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/who-are-my-learners

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