Whilst much of our group’s research is based on the use and availabilities of resources in different languages in library settings across Sydney, not much has been said about how users may differ beyond language usage. That is, for example, ‘how do different age groups apply the English language within one setting and how does this differ from older or younger users?’
With the example of Epping Branch Library, this concept is more immediately apparent as the majority of users appear to be either high school or tertiary students. Unfortunately, as the most recent 2016 census data for Epping is as of yet unavailable, it is difficult to develop a useful comparison for the changes in student populations in Epping throughout recent years. What may help however, is by identifying the educational institutions surrounding the library.
Within a three kilometre radius from the library, there are nine primary and high schools, not to mention numerous pre-schools and institutions that provide services to youth groups. A little further away, there is also Macquarie University, which may account for a portion of the student users.
Epping Branch Library does appear to cater to the needs of these students as one of its most prominent features is its extensive collection of high school textbooks and ‘HSC Materials’, as well as the relatively large children’s reading area.
This is also reflected in the various tutoring services advertised on the library’s community notice board.
Whilst many younger or presumably student users worked quietly in the ‘silent zone’ where individual cubical like desks were arranged, some were observed to be discussing their work on Skype. This particular patron used youth lingo, such as “lol” instead of laughing, “defs” instead of ‘definitely’ and so forth.
Several instances of this was seen throughout the observation period in both individual and group work areas.
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.
Australian Bureau of Statistics,. (2017a). Kensington – Kingsford : Region Data Summary. Stat.abs.gov.au. Retrieved 6 April 2017, from http://stat.abs.gov.au/itt/r.jsp?RegionSummary®ion=118021349&dataset=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&geoconcept=REGION&datasetASGS=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&datasetLGA=ABS_REGIONAL_LGA®ionLGA=REGION®ionASGS=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®ion=118021352&geoconcept=REGION&dataset=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&datasetLGA=ABS_REGIONAL_LGA&datasetASGS=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS®ionLGA=REGION®ionASGS=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
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.
The University of New South Wales Main Library
UNSW is Australia’s first international university with students coming from diverse and varied backgrounds. The university has approximately 53,500 students, about 25% of which are international students from over 120 countries. Given this vast array of cultural backgrounds, the university campus is undoubtedly, language-rich. Use of language on campus is thus very interesting to explore.
One of our chosen linguistic environment is the UNSW main library. It is first and foremost a research library, containing an extensive amount of scholarly resources and information. It is affiliated with research institutes and aims to provide academic staff and students with databases and sources of research appropriate to their fields of study. It is also an area for study and collaboration with other students and serves as a helpful environment for communication. Through observation, notable findings on the use of language were made.
- Use of Code-Switching by Korean students
On the 4th floor of the UNSW main library, a group of three female Korean Commerce students were observed to be discussing course material in an open-plan study area. What was notable was that during their discussion of their course content, they spoke mostly in English. Some exclamations and off-hand comments were in their own native tongue, but most of their study discussion was in English. However, when they took a break from study, their conversation reverted back to being more consistently in Korean. This is an example of code-switching, where speakers of more than one language alternate to and from different languages, often depending on the context they find themselves in. Consistent with Poplack’s model of code-switching, entire utterances (at the syntactic level) were being alternated between, distinguishing the behaviour from borrowing (which occurs at a lexical level).
When asked about their code-switching behaviour, one replied, “It is easier to speak in the language we learn in, when we are studying.” They also said that they were not fully conscious of the behaviour and that it “just happens that way, it feels natural.” This implies that their code-switching behaviour is not purposefully orchestrated with serious intent, but rather, it simply occurs for the sake of ease of communication and function.
When asked about their attitudes towards speaking another language in the UNSW library, they reported that they would only speak in Korean with people they knew and who were around them at the time. They do not expect to speak Korean with other people, especially the staff. They also said that when talking to other students, “we definitely speak English, because that is what is normal and expected.” It seemed that the general consensus was that one’s own native tongue is only used when conversing with people who are known for certain to have the same ethnolinguistic identity. Otherwise, the assumed language is English. This indicates that shared ethnolinguistic identity is important in communication, but also, the dominant language that is expected to be used is English.
This is confirmed by interviews with three other students (Psychology and Science students) who also reported that English is the expected language for communication. Even if they had knowledge of another language, they would not employ it if there was no one with the same linguistic identity present. Especially in a scholarly library, where the academic lingua franca is English, expectation for English is particularly high. This demonstrates an assimilation to the dominant or majority language, and as reported by library users, this assimilation is motivated by their understanding that English is the language of communication in an academic setting. Also conformation to English is motivated by attitudes towards the University itself, which is seen as an official national entity, and thus the national language must be spoken in its premises.
- Use of language in study areas
Through observation it was noted that individuals in both the common and individual study areas most often spoke in English, whether it was to other students or on the phone. Only in cases (such as the example mentioned earlier) where all members of a group shared the same ethnolinguistic identity was another language used in conversation. Even in such cases, borrowed words and even whole utterances from English were heard during speech.
Interestingly, when looking at internet use, it was more common to see students in individual study areas using the internet in foreign languages than students in common study areas. In other words, when by themselves, students (whose first language is not English) would revert back to their own native language, especially on social media or for entertainment purposes.
It remains though, that on academic sites, English is still the language used.
Over the course of last week, each group member generated their own questions and set of observations that they would like to analyse at a library. We then collaborated during class, combining all our ideas together and noticed quite a bit of overlap in the questions we came up with. After some cutting and pasting we created a guide for all the data we wanted to collect over the next week. We split our guide into three main categories: observations, staff and library patrons. Our guide has space at the bottom that allows for any general observations not fitting into these categories to be made. We believe that a guide is the most effective way of comparing and analysing information and ensuring that everyone collects the same type of data. We hope that the data we collect will give us a more informed understanding of why and how languages are used in authentic contexts. In creating the guide as a team, we know that we all understand the aims of what we are trying to achieve so that our outcomes will appear cohesive. We used Google documents to create this guide, as that way everyone can access and change the document whenever necessary. It also means it is accessible to anyone in our group whenever we decide to collect the data.
We assume that there will be a range of users in each of our libraries as we have endeavoured to pick libraries from different areas around Sydney. Currently we aim to collect data from, The Main Library at the University of New South Wales, New South Wales State Library, Epping Library, Waverly Library, Penrith Library and Pennant Hills Library. It is possible that data from the University of New South Wales’ Law and College of Fine Arts Libraries will be included.
We have discussed the idea of entering the library to make observations at two different times of a weekday. We think that the demographic of users would be very different on the weekend to on a weekday so we are trying to keep this variable consistent across our data collection by all going on a weekday. We also want to collect data twice in one day because we believe that the morning and afternoon will have different people using the space with the possibility of different language groups meeting at different points in the day.
We will also be considering the layout of the library. What sort of signage and symbols are used to explain the location of books, check out and toilets? And how effective these signs are at conveying this information? We will also be observing the areas available to patrons including whether or not there are places to sit as a group or as an individual or both and whether these spaces have a formal or informal atmosphere.
We also want to focus on the noticeboard and pamphlets that are available to the public and will make note of which language is used and what activities are being promoted. We will also hypothesise which audience these notices are reaching out to.
Other than our general observations, we will also be asking questions to both the staff and patrons of our respective libraries. The questions that the staff will be asked will relate to their interactions with the patrons and the resources available in the library, especially relating to the foreign language section. We are curious as to the nature of their interactions with patrons – are the conversations formal, polite, civil or do they encounter swearing, slang, or other signs of informal speech. We also intend on inquiring as to whether the staff received any training when it comes to the appropriate way to handle patrons who are not native English speakers.
We will be observing the dominant language spoken in the library, but also noting the presence of other languages and identifying them where possible. We also thought it would be important to make note of spaces where language is restricted. By this we mean any silent zones in the library where no language at all is allowed to be spoken.
We hope that with our methodological approach we will uncover data that is both interesting and accurate.
Our Linguistic Landscapes project is going to be focused on libraries. As a library is quite a formal space, non-verbal, semiotic language is often used to direct library patrons in their experience, potentially as a way to minimize spoken language in the formal library space. As a start on the project, we have begun to work out a framework of tasks and refine our aims.
The preliminary work on this topic has found us trying to refine exactly what we are looking for and what to look at. These first few weeks have been mainly occupied with identifying the task at hand and dividing the tasks up.
The main aim of our research report is to investigate and report upon the linguistic landscape of libraries. We have decided that this is an important landscape as libraries are a cultural sanctuary of written language, but noted for their refraining of verbal language. We are interested in not only the semiotic landscape of signs to be found in the landscape, but also the dialogue and language that is used in different library contexts.
The libraries we are choosing to investigate (roughly one per group member) vary from university (formal and informal spaces within these), state library (top-down) and local libraries to reveal a more informal and potentially representative space of languages other than English that mirror demographic variances found in those areas. These spaces will give us data surrounding the usage of language across various degrees of formality surrounding the space. The demographic data surrounding local libraries will be examined from official Australian Bureau of Statistics data. By talking and recording not only patrons of the library, but also the staff, we will be able to identify the formality of the space, and identify how it plays a role in the linguistic landscape.
A further aim we are interested in is the demarcation of the space of the library. Many libraries have a vestibule or area of transition from the outside world to inside the space of the library. This serves to increase the formality of the space from outside life. Thus, we will also compare the signage and transitions into the library spaces across our different locations and hope to see how they differ or correlate.
When talking to the patrons and staff, we will have common sets of questions to ask them. Also we will record for a set timeframe some linguistic utterances or conversations taking place in the different libraries, while obtaining the relevant permission surrounding use of this data collection. Photographs will be taken of any salient signage or semiotics that are present in our chosen linguistic landscapes. The placement and language used on the signs will be noted and analysed. Other aims and methodology of collecting data we have not yet formulated will be constructed over the following few weeks.
In the interest of efficacy of our efforts towards the project, we have prepared an outline of where we want to be in the tasks. This schedule will help us stay on track and hit milestones in our task development. We have allocated the first few weeks to preliminary task identification and laying foundations for our work. The middle weeks of the project will be utilised for data collection and analysis. The final weeks will be used to discuss data and correlate and interpret differences between the levels of formality and context that we have chosen to investigate. Theoretical discussions will be researched during this time for critical analysis of our research and for explanation of the findings we discover.
This blog space will be updated weekly, with a different writer (or two) for every week as we will decide. Recommendations from other group members on interesting finds from the weeks topic will be communicated and incorporated into the blog entry if applicable. The blog will be further used for communicating our progress, but also to explore any interesting finds or things we don’t expect. We look forward to undertaking this task and investigation of our chosen linguistic landscape.