Tatiana Morales grew up in El Salvador where she didn’t have a good public library nearby. However, Morales says she was lucky to go to a school that had one she could use. Public libraries in the United States are different from libraries in other countries, a fact that is not common knowledge, she says.
“The libraries there, there’s not as many as we have here, which is a blessing that all of you born here do not understand,” Morales says. “It’s different, our relationship [with public libraries], and a lot of things you have to pay for.”
Educating communities of color about the free services provided by public libraries is one of the duties Morales has as the multicultural librarian for the Rogers Public Library. Community liaisons across the state like Morales are working to bridge the gap between libraries and BIPOC Arkansans.
“Because public libraries are funded by taxpayers I think we owe it to our communities to be making sure that what we’re providing is not only relevant, but is truly accessible to them,” says Diana Dominguez, Fayetteville Public Library’s multicultural community liaison.
In addition to providing access to free reading materials, public libraries provide access to computers and the internet, and offer programming that can vary from bilingual story time to GED preparation to citizenship classes to yoga instruction. Since joining the Central Arkansas Library System in May 2020, community liaison Maria Aguilar has developed programming targeting Spanish-speaking residents in her community.
“[I’m] very focused to try to cover what the Latinx community is looking for and how to connect them with a library and feel very welcome to this space that is very dynamic,” Aguilar says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted inequities that already existed in communities of color and the importance of providing free services to the public. One common issue throughout the pandemic has been access to broadband. With the switch to remote learning for many students, education officials quickly realized how many families don’t have internet access or own a computer. One solution for these families, could be visiting their local public library to access these resources.
“I believe that a library is a place where people can have equal access to information,” says Tanya Evans, Springdale Public Library’s multicultural outreach librarian. “I feel like in some respects it just levels the playing field.”
You can hear more from this conversation by listening to the podcast episode at the top of this page.